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Monday, October 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2144 - Maryse Meijer: Good Girls

I came across Maryse Meijer's "Good Girls" in an article about horror stories one can find online. But when I read it, it didn't immediately feel like a horror story. It was certainly off-putting (heads up, there's some animal abuse) and there are supernatural elements (reincarnation) but nothing that aims to be obviously scary. Still after thinking about it, I guess it could be horror, just with a stretched definition.

Told from a dog's perspective, it's also a pretty unique piece of writing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Reader's Diary #2143- Brianna Jonmie with Nahanni Shingoose (witers), Nshannacappo (artist): If I Go Missing

If I Go Missing
is an illustrated adaptation of an actual letter written by Brianna Jonmie, a 14 year old Objiwe girl to the chief of the Winnipeg Police Service. It follows the disappearance and search for a young white boy. She thanks the police for their service in this case but cannot help but note the differences in the way missing Indigenous girls are treated both by the police and the media, despite the shocking and sobering statistics about missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women. Should she ever go missing, she pleads not to be treated as just a statistic. 

It's powerful to say the least. It's also beyond upsetting that a 14 year old girl would even have to think about these things let alone take the responsibility upon herself to help change the reality. But huge praise to her for doing so. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Reader's Diary #2142- Edgar Allan Poe: The Oval Portrait

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Oval Portrait" is a short story, the shortest of his stories actually, involving a mesmerizing portrait found by a traveler at an inn and the dark story of its origin. There are themes about art and its ability to capture the essence of life and of obsession.

It made me recall how much I love Poe's ability to paint these really dense, atmospheric scenes. 

This one is tainted by the focus on the young age of the bride in the painting, making me also recall how young Poe's own bride was in real life and yeah, that makes the story creepy but not in the good Halloween sense. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2141 - Derek McCulloch (writer), Shepherd Hendrix (artist): Stagger Lee

There are many different versions of songs detailing the violent exchange between "Stag" Lee Shelton and Billy Lyons, the latter of whom was shot dead. Lloyd Price's 1958 rock version of "Stagger Lee" is undoubtedly the most famous and successful. 

Knowing how widely these songs interpret the case, I was interested in finding a graphic novel that discussed these while also speculating and/or reporting what actually happened that night. Alberta writer Derek McCulloch has written a fictionalized account, but still seems to have researched enough to suggest that the truth was likely less exciting than any of the songs would imply. He also assumes (and given the time and Shelton's race I have no reason to believe it otherwise), that even if Shelton was guilty of murder (vs self-defense; that Billy Lyons wound up dead at Lee's hand isn't in dispute) he didn't exactly get a fair trial. 

Still, there's a lot of padding in the book. There are subplots with only remote connections to Lee and never does McCulloch suggest any real reason why the story of these two men captured the imaginations of songwriters through history (beginning even before Lee died in prison). 

Shepherd Hendrix's art is good though, especially with exclusive use of brown and white which added to the air of history.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Reader's Diary #2140 - Peter Orner: My Dead

It took a few reads for me to appreciate Peter Orner's "My Dead" but it's flash so rereading wasn't a big deal.

I think my initial reading was challenging because I was trying to ascribe a supernatural explanation for the ending. It's called "My Dead" and deals with a séance, so it's not an unreasonable assumption. Was it a trick ending? Was Beth really dead this whole time? Was the narrator forced to live a Groundhog's Day sort of existence with her ghost? 

The funny thing I eventually made this work in my head but still felt I had to force it and faulted the story. Then when I reread it a couple of times, I realized I didn't need to go beyond the literal. The story could simply be a story about regret. 

Now however I have two interpretations in my head (a la the two endings of Life of Pi) and I like the story even more because of it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Reader's Diary #2139 - John Kennedy Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces


It's been 9 years since I visited New Orleans and believe it or not that's when I picked up my copy of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces in a local secondhand bookstore. Believe it or not, this is how long it's taken me to finally get around to it. I'm not sure what prompted me now. Maybe something about the bizarre upheaval and uprising of idiots south of the border?

In any case, having visited the city helped me envision some of the locals, especially the French Quarter. More interesting, to me at least, is that it reminded me of some other New Orleans books I've read. In particular the way Toole seemed to keep adding to his cast of characters, vastly different yet similarly troubled, reminded me of Amanda Boyden's excellent Babylon Rolling. I wonder if this is common in New Orleans literature and if so, if it's a reflection on the diversity in the city.

It also reminded me a lot of Mordecai Richler's writing. The humour, a satirical volume-turning look at society complete with despicable characters has Richler written all over it. I was a little nervous going into the book as I'd heard mixed reactions from library patrons who'd read it and the ones that stuck out to me were along the lines of "this is supposed to be funny?" I should have remembered that humour is subjective and yes, Toole's brand of cynical humour is indeed up my alley. I'd go as far as saying cynicism is a central theme of the book. It's a cynical look at cynicism. Brilliant.

Of course, there could be more serious takeaways as well and one of the more serious angles I wished had occurred to me earlier in the book was the idea that the central character, Ignatius J. Reilly, may be an example of an incel, even long before there was such a term. 

Monday, October 05, 2020

Reader's Diary #2138 - Sheila Massie: Ghost Collecting

Not many would consider Twilight to be a horror novel, despite it centering around vampires and werewolves. Likewise, it would be hard to classify Sheila Massie's short story "Ghost Collecting" as horror despite it being about ghosts. But whereas Twilight could easily be classified as romance, I'm not sure "Ghost Collecting" fits into any genre. Unless interesting is a genre.

It deals with a Craigslist ad in which someone is selling a haunted rocking chair. Reminding me of the Simpson's haunted trampoline, I thought it would therefore be an ill-intended spirit. But this is not the case. It also deals with collecting ghosts, which is a fascinating premise and expertly pulled off.