Category: Book Review
I feel like I’m writing a lot about Juliet lately. I apologize. But this blog is an accurate reflection of my life and interests and the way I spend my hours, and truthfully, Juliet is filling up a lot of hours. And a lot of mental space.
Some cliches pop to mind. This too shall pass. Strike while the iron’s hot.
It’s not every day that I can tell you to go and buy April’s Chatelaine magazine. Look for Juliet! She’s in there (the review is not available online). And she’s in the latest Quill & Quire too. A thoroughly lovely and thoughtful review. There is also today’s post up on The Afterword titled “My time in Nicaragua.”
So it’s busy. It’s tumbling me along.
And I’m grateful for getting up early and working as hard as was physically possible this morning in spin class. I’m pretty sure exercise is the answer to some of my questions, and some of my anxiety. It has the effect of transporting me somewhere quite beyond the scribbling scurrying superficial thoughts. It empties and clarifies my mind. I’ve hit the stage of the publishing process over which I have no control. Let’s just say I have some learning to do, yet, in the roll-with-it department. Look at that sky in the photo up above. Those clouds know how to roll with it.
If you’re in Waterloo, I should also let you know that I’ll be reading tomorrow evening at Conrad Grebel College’s series called “Mennonite/s Writing in Canada.” 7pm. I’ll read something different from what I read at the launch. Books will be available for sale. Hope to see you there.
this morning’s paper
Kevin and I slept in this morning. Indoor soccer season *at 8am for six-year-olds! is finally over. We must have been tired.
When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, I picked up my phone to check messages. Here is the first one I saw: “Congratulations on your Globe review, Carrie. You’re probably going to want to read this one.”
Without saying a word, I beelined for the porch, retrieved today’s Globe & Mail, flipped through to the Arts section, and to Books. And found my own self-portrait, which my brother tells me has a Zoolander flavour to it (nooooo!). I also found a really solid review of The Juliet Stories. Exhale.
And then Fooey came to see. “I found your name, Mommy!” She tried to sound out the headline: “sp, sp, sp …” And then Albus asked if he could have the section. It has the funnies in it.
At dinner the other night one of the other writers with whom I was reading said a good review is like a sugar rush. This feels like a caffeine high. I’m not sure it’s quite healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing in favour of bad reviews, not at all. It’s that attention of any kind has an unpredictable effect on the human spirit. It’s a dangerous flirtation. This may be my Mennonite roots showing. Guarding against vanity; humility of spirit.
But this is a good and happy and out-of-the-ordinary moment in my life.
So on behalf of all Obscure CanLit Mamas out there, I embrace this unsettling rush, with deep appreciation for a continuing dream. My feet are off the ground — one flash-frozen stride in a long journey.
1. Giving away food. On Tuesday afternoon I cooked a giant pot of pasta sauce using my home-canned tomatoes. We ate some for supper and I froze three containers. And then along came Friday, a beast of a day; the worst of it was not what was happening, but how I felt I was handling what was happening. Performing poorly all around; know the feeling? By the time 3pm arrived, I was feeling downright down. And then an opportunity presented itself: to provide not one, but TWO meals to families in need of a little extra help. And I had these containers of frozen pasta sauce, plus lots of extra pasta on hand. It was the best part of my day, I’ll tell you honestly. Packing up food and giving it away. A reminder that being asked to help is a real gift, not to be taken for granted.
2. One good run. I ran super-fast on Friday night. My leg didn’t trouble me, and I covered ground quickly: 6km in under half an hour, at a pace of better than 5 minutes/km. Speedy! As speedy as I’ve ever run. In truth, it was probably too much, too soon, because yesterday afternoon’s follow-up run was slow and pained; good news tempered by bad. But at least I know speed is still there, waiting for me; and I feel certain that if I can retrain my muscles, I will be able to run faster than before. Plus just being outside, no matter how chilly, is a small good thing in itself.
3. Downtime. Friday night, Kevin and I finally spent some time together, just the two of us. And thankfully we both wanted the same thing: to rest our weary minds. So he made us each a martini with big juicy olives, and we vegged on the couch and watched Downton Abbey. An ahhhhh, thank you, Life, moment.
4. A nice review in the Montreal Gazette this weekend. A couple of really lovely things about this review. a) The reviewer remembers Hair Hat, which he read eight years ago; it stayed with him. b) He’s rooting for Juliet: “It will be interesting to see how this book, at least as mature and powerful as several recent major award winners, performs in the marketplace.” He’s rooting, but he knows the reality. Juliet is one in a crowd. Will she break out and be found? He thinks she has a chance, if people pick her up and read her. (Is it weird that I’ve started referring to the book as if it were a person? Hm. I’m just going to file that observation away rather than subject it to analysis.)
I’ve been reading Charles Foran’s biography of Mordecai Richler. It’s a fat book and I’m not even halfway through, but already lines are jumping off the page. I’m deeply intrigued by the portrait of the formative writer–the kid, no more than twenty, who set off to Europe cadging money from any willing family member or friend, working as if possessed, carousing, ambitious. That’s what strikes me most about his formative years, when he was writing frantically and receiving nothing but rejection letters–the sheer volume of his ambition. Of course, in part what he displays is youth. And he had talent even if it was awfully raw at that point in his life. He had luck too. Just before he left Europe to return to Montreal, broke, just twenty-one, he found an agent who admired his potential, and helped him see his way into this life he was demanding for himself.
Charles Foran writes about what might have happened, had Richler not been found and professionally validated; he had a lead on a job at the CBC and in fact worked there briefly writing news copy; but not for long. “By 1952, CBC radio and the new television network were already the destination of choice for those with talent and culture who dared not risk seeing if they could really make a go of it as artists…” [my emphasis]
Guess what Mordecai Richler dared to do?
What elements make up the personality of someone willing, as Foran writes, “to hustle, do what was required. … Henceforth, he would be freelance, his own master and servant. Without security. Without nets.” Brash? Egocentric? Bold? Calculating? Intensely focused? In many ways, it’s not the nicest personality, is it? It can’t really be. You can’t worry about pleasing others, or meeting conventional expectations. It helps not to be apologetic in your approach. Why apologize for being who you are?
(Side question: Does this apply mainly to male artists? Personally, I don’t think so, though traditionally it’s been less acceptable for women to be unapologetic in their ambitions. Now where the heck does motherhood fit into the bold/brash/intensely focused rubric?).
One more thing. Around this same time, Richler wrote to his editor Diana Athill: “Often I think I don’t like or dislike writing, it’s just something I’ve got to do.”
I read those words and felt like something in me had been struck. Yes.
This week has been a flurry. There’s a lot of hustling going on. At various moments during any given day it feels like I’m keeping up; not keeping up; almost keeping up; hanging on by sheer will; taking a tumble; staying with it; losing track; back in the game; organized; overwhelmed. But mostly, okay.
I’m okay because I keep landing on this thought that completely amazes me: I’m doing what I want to do. No, you know, it’s even more amazing than that: I’m doing what I’ve got to do.
I’ve been wanting to blog about this book since finishing it, and should have written my thoughts down immediately, as I’m now into a completely different book called Eaarth, by Bill McKibbon (also worth blogging about in a welcome-to-the-present-and-happening-nightmare-of-climate-change way).
Unlike Eaarth, Annabel is fiction, and an entirely different book, though the situation it describes could easily represent another kind of nightmare. That it doesn’t tells a great deal about the author’s sensibility. Imagine giving birth to a baby with ambiguous genitalia: the child is both a boy and a girl. There are a variety of directions in which a writer could take this idea. Kathleen Winter doesn’t go anywhere expected, yet the story she tells has the familiarity of truth about it.
Set in a tiny town in Labrador, in a landscape that is brutal and stark and wild, Winter writes about this child as if he were as natural and normal as any other. He is loved, in all the complicated and heart-breakingly ordinary ways, by his parents. But he is also different. His difference depends on who is looking at him, and on what he means to the other person — what he represents. To his mother, he is partly the daughter she did not let live (in the sense that her child’s femaleness was denied from birth onward). To his father, he is a child that must be trained the right way, to become a man, no matter the pain and consequences; his father sees that choosing a stable identity will protect the child from harm. To the neighbour who attended his birth, and knows his body’s secret, the boy is just as much a girl, and she quietly nurtures the girl-side of the child.
His body is a secret to everyone but these three, including to the child himself, until he is a teenager, and he is raised as a boy; but Winter delicately draws him so that we understand that he is both. He is not one or the other. He is himself.
The book made me reflect not only on gender, and how gendered our world is — the way there are clothes and colours and toys and emotions and expectations for boys and different clothes and colours and toys and emotions and expectations for girls — but it also made me reflect on individuality, and the preciousness and potential of each and every life.
Roles are rigid. Individuals are not. What potential any of us have if we are loved. How the self longs to flower in the light of love.
Today marks the launch of a debut collection of stories: Up Up Up, by Julie Booker. It also marks the first time I’ve “blurbed” for a book. You can go to bookstores (in Canada), pick up this brightly titled book, and turn it over to the back cover where you will find these words:
“Up Up Up is perfectly titled: a debut collection that positively bubbles with life, humour, and surprise. In these swift and sparkling stories — confections of unexpected density –Booker’s voice never fails to illuminate the bright side of the dark side. Booker’s radiant charm is in her seeming artlesness: dialogue that leaps from page to ear, flawed characters who try and try again, and — listen, you can almost hear it — the joyful hum of boundless curiosity.”
And then you’ll see my name. Woot! (Why is woot a word? I don’t know, but I like it).
I had not heard of Julie Booker–this is her first book–before reading these stories, and it was a delight to put my stamp of approval on them. So go get the book and get reading! Twenty short stories make for excellent just-before-bed fare.
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