Sunday, December 31, 2006
While the three of these characters might be a little too mainstream for Shaidle, I'm sure she could pull off a few masterpieces with these respective lives. Sinners and saints all found immortality in Shaidle's poems and while a blurb on the back implies that she is preoccupied with death, I think the opposite. In fact, her message seems to be that every life is a poem. Not all are poems about roses, mind you, but poems nonetheless.
And the party was going just fine until Frida Kahlo showed up. She's quickly becoming the Samuel L. Jackson of these shindigs. Of course everyone gathered around asking about her accident, leaving me with just my brandy-soaked cocktail weenie as company. As if they hadn't heard her story before.
Don't get me wrong, I've nothing personally against the unibrowed lady, but after the onslaught of movies and poems, I'm just about Frida'd out. When Lobotomy Magnifcat was published in 1998, maybe there was more of a danger of her being lost to history, but since then Hollywood, Fate, or someone or other decided to make her the artiste-du-jour again. Shaidle couldn't have foreseen this of course (or maybe she could, maybe she was partly responsible for the sudden fascination) and so, it's just a minor problem.
Regardless, Shaidle has a masterful and often unique way of reflecting on lives of the past. I bet when she sings "Auld Lang Syne" she does it loudest. Good for her.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Lullabies For Little Criminals, with Natasha and Other Stories, are the two Harper Perennial books found in the upcoming Canada Reads on CBC. For those of you who haven't picked up copies yet, look closely at the bottom right-hand corner of the cover of these books for the P.S..
According to the Harper Perennial's website, these P.S.s (post-scripts, maybe?) are meant to mimic the "extras" found on DVDs. Unlike DVD extras however, I actually enjoy these (though I doubt they'll make any difference to the book sales). These book extras include things like interviews, author-recommended books, and bios.
I bring it up now because I sort of cheated and skipped to O'Neill's P.S. before finishing the book (luckily there are no spoilers). She's an interesting woman, no doubt about, but unfortunately she did support a theory I've had for some time: if I want my children to grow up to be artists, I need to start being mean to them and divorce their mom. Oh well, I hope they'll be happy with manual labour.
That's all off topic of course. Getting back to the book at hand, I am enjoying it. But then, who doesn't enjoy a good old fashioned heroin tale, am I right? Basketball Diaries, Trainspotting, ah. I gost ta get me some schmack. And gee whiz, future employers, can't a guy make a drug joke from time to time?
One of the best things I like about Lullabies so far, is the strength O'Neill has given the children in the book. Furthermore, the strength comes from their imaginations essentially. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that an author should see the value in imagination, but I don't think the world at large does. The majority of adults don't seem to have a problem with children's imagination per se, but I don't think they take it seriously either- basically it's considered frivolous. Yet Baby, O'Neill's 12 year old protagonist, uses her imagination to keep her sane and optimistic in a world that would crush most adults (including her father). And it's nothing extravagant either- she hasn't given Baby a collection of imaginary friends, she doesn't go off on Walter Mitty like daydreams, and she doesn't come across as ridiculously naive, yet she remains optimistic, she loves her dad despite his obvious flaws, and copes. As I write this I realize that maybe it isn't imagination at all- it's just a positive outlook on life. Either way, it's something more common to children than to adults. There's one chapter in which Baby recounts being teased, mostly about her bizarre father but also about her looks, name and so on. It's pretty merciless and relentless, yet she ends the chapter by saying how the treatment made her go off and read by herself, write a book report and get 100%. It made her feel good, "Not great, of course, but it made [her] feel calmer." And that showcases her personality quite well.
Yet, the brilliance of O'Neill's work (asides from insanely funny wit), is O'Neill's choice of placing Baby at twelve- the "doorstep," according to her, of adulthood. Now we see the coping mechanisms begin to crumble- she wants to try drugs, begins to dwell on the negative and so forth. Several times she makes comments about how sad it is when a childhood slips away (or you are booted from it), and you begin to see why.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Reader's Diary #210- Kathy Shaidle: Lobotomy Magnificat (up to "Dusting For Fingerprints in Hamilton, Ontario")
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
1. Bezmozgis says so much with so little. His writing comes across as factual, almost void of any flowery language whatsoever. And while I love occasional similes and metaphors, I found Bezmozgis' style refreshing. It reminded me of haiku. Traditional haiku, as is my understanding, was skimpy on figurative language, opting instead to describe a moment in nature that could inspire any number of epiphanies within readers. Like a still life painting, I suppose. But see how hard that is? Already I've compared Bezmozgis' writing to a haiku and to a still life painting.
2. Growing up Jewish in Toronto was very different than growing up in outport Newfoundland. Yes, I have a penchant for stating the obvious, but it was another reason I enjoyed this book. As this blog would attest, I read a lot of Newfoundland and Arctic books. Maybe it's pride, maybe it's trying to connect to my roots and to my new home, maybe there's a comfort in familiarity- whatever the reason, the downside is missing out on other facets of life in Canada (or the world at large for that matter). Reading Natasha and Other Stories was a great reminder to broaden my library and also that the Canadian experience does not exist.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Thursday, December 21, 2006
So far, I'm just two short stories into Natasha and Other Stories. Both are pleasant reads with a nostalgia that rings so true I have to keep reminding myself that they're fiction, not memoirs. Both "Tapka" and "Roman Berman, Massage Therapist" deal with life lessons and remind me somewhat of The Wonder Years. However, they're from a Jewish point of view, so imagine that Paul had a spin off.
"Tapka" is definitely the superior of the two stories. There's just so much buried under this story, cleverly disguised as simple. On the surface it looks like a story about a mishap that tears apart a friendship almost as quickly as it began, yet underneath it there are complex themes of miscommunication and values.
On an off topic, why am I being haunted by Babel? First the Brad Pitt flick plays here. Then it comes up as a character's name in Lighthousekeeping. Next it's referenced in Riffs. And now in the cover blurbs of Natasha, there is a quote from Isaac Babel. Maybe someone's trying to tell me something...
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Riffs is a fantastic piece of poetic fiction. While it would be trite to say it's a roller coaster ride, the more accepted cliche for this book seems to be jazz music. Both comparisons work. The story behind the poems is a love affair- the beginning, the middle, and the end. And Lee takes you through all the beautiful and sordid details while capturing the emotions of such a tale as only a brilliant poet can. When he's ecstatic the poems are erratic. When he's contemplative, the poems are structured. When he's horny, he's heavy on the "h" words. I can't stress enough how much I loved this book.
Occasionally, it was easy to conjure up images of Mike Myers in So I Married An Axe Murderer with his cliched jazz/hip lingo (jive, hot potato momma, cosmos, and so on) and I'm sure some people might find it distracting or annoying, but to me, it just gave the voice a character, or maybe it gave the character a voice, ya dig?
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
I'll start with the good. I liked the "cameos" of Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Darwin. Not only because messing around with historical characters is always fun, but also because both were good choices to expand on her story theme. Stevenson, and in particular his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde book, could be used to illustrate many points; for instance, story characters have more than one side and neither side's escapades by themselves is a complete story (I think Winterson goes further by suggesting that the idea of a "complete story" is fictional anyhow).
Darwin appears after Babel Dark discovers a rich fossil bed. Babel is a clergyman, and the fossils along with Darwin's Origin of Species throws him into a bit of emotional turmoil. Stories, as it seems, are open to interpretation, subject to change, and often coincide with multiple versions.
Interesting stuff, right? It was a quick read and did hold my attention. Winterson's stories themselves though didn't quite measure up to her theses. Towards the end, any investment I had in the characters of Pew and Silver was gone, lost in a quagmire of broken fragments and attempts at originality. I understand that fragmentation was another part of Winterson's point, but it didn't seem to work for me. I was just left confused. Likewise, with the poetic parts. Even down to the character names, Winterson tried hard to infuse the book with metaphors and other figurative language, symbols, and other poetic elements. And like poems, further reads of the book might bring it more into focus. Still the poetic attributes seemed inconsistent with the brash and obvious tactics that Winterson employed while injecting (what I feel) are her own opinions on storytelling. I mentioned this in my last post, but I'll end with another example. Maybe I'm committing a sin here by confusing Winterson's opinions with that of one of her characters, but in my defense, the whole book echoes this sentiment and so I don't think I'm stretching the truth...
"I do not accept that life has an ordinary shape, or that there is anything
ordinary about life at all. We make it ordinary, but it is not."
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Perhaps I could have done without Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. It's quirky, but not enough so keep this reader's attention (not even for a mere 64 pages). Eliot's joke seems to be assigning anthropomorphic attributes to cats. For anyone with a cat (self included) that is not a difficult task. Mine for instance, is a slightly bitter fellow, who seems to think it's just me and him against the world.
Friday, December 15, 2006
or this line,
"Tell me a story, Pew.
What kind of story, child?
A story with a happy
There's no such thing in all the world.
As a happy ending?
As an ending."
"A beginning, a middle, and an end is the proper way to tell a story. But I have
difficulty with that method."
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
The last poem in Ice Age will be added to the macabre lot. "The Survivor" is a deliciously creepy tale of a woman and a corpse after a plane has crashed. The predictable happens; the survivor turns to the corpse for...sustenance. And then the unpredictable happens; the survivor herself begins to freeze and is devoured by the corpse. While I suspect the poem has more to say about growing old and one's slow separation from an ailing, aging body, it's brilliantly horrific even on the surface level.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Thursday, December 07, 2006
But I'm getting sidetracked. Ice Age was written late in the life and career of Dorothy Livesay. Maybe that's where her confidence or lack of self-consciousness as a poet came from. And while many of the poems do remind the reader that it is of an older woman looking back (some are written to her grandchildren, for instance) it does not feel old-fashioned or unhip. A favourite is "Widow" which tells of a woman masturbating while remembering her dead husband. She doesn't seem fulfilled at the end, as the loss remains her focus. I'm sure some would cringe at a grandmother writing such a poem, but it's this sort of honesty that makes Livesay's poetry so compelling. Another favourite is "Manifesto" which makes a large jump from murder to music. She talks of a human condition that makes us desire to commit irrational acts, such as murder, and theorizes that perhaps music gets us there without the guilt. It's a very profound piece and I'm still pondering it now, after reading it a dozen or so times.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
There is one thing that puzzles me about this book and Nemirovsky's intentions. When I think of WWII, the Jews are forever linked to that part of history. To me, the horror they went through is what defines the War. Yet, oddly there has been almost no mention of them. When any character's faith has been mentioned, it's been Catholic. I'm two thirds of the way through and the only reference to the Jews has been a single paragraph describing how some of the posters the Germans had put up around France showed caricatures of Jews and Englishmen. I realize that Nemirovsky was focussing on how the War affected specific individuals, but I wonder why she didn't write about a Jewish character. Did the plight of the Jews really seem so insignificant? Was that her point?
What makes the notable absence of Jews even more surprising is that Nemirosky herself was Jewish. She'd eventually be captured at die at a concentration camp. Another theory is that maybe she didn't want to face her worst fears, and Suite Francaise, with its bleakness, was all the escapism she could muster in such a troubled time.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Many of Brebner's poems revolved around paintings. Works by Karel Fabritius, Jan Vermeer, Mary Cassatt and Mary Pratt are the inspiration behind many of the poems contained in The Golden Lotus. I like the idea of art inspired by art- even if I wasn't fussy on Brebner's material. It made me think about the impact that the internet has on this type of poem. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that poetry publishers are going to invest a lot of money into the books. With returns just above abysmal (if they're lucky), it's no wonder that you don't see a lot of the paintings referenced by poems within the books themselves. I'm assuming that they'd have to pay for the right to use the images and so readers typically would be left in the dark about the artwork unless they had a familiarity with it from a previous experience. Now with the internet, the reader, should s/he be so inclined, can do some of the legwork and look up said artwork online. I wasn't able to find all of the paintings referenced in The Golden Lotus, but I was able to find some, and it made for a more complete reading experience.
What do you make of poems inspired by paintings, sculptures, and so on? Of course it all depends on what the poem has to say, and how well it says it, but for the most part I think art should be allowed to comment on art, just as on on any other facet of life. Different interpretations are always interesting and could only add to the value of the original artwork. I do wonder if some of the original artists would be upset, thinking that maybe their piece should stand on its own, but personally, if it was me, I'd just be interested in how my work was perceived. Any artists out there want to weigh in on this one?
Friday, December 01, 2006
I remembered this contrast and bring it up now because such differences have become my focus in the book. I love the different traits and personalities explored by Nemirovsky. How easy is it to group victims together as one homogeneous group? Yet it seems to have been one of Nemirovsky's goals to remind readers that this was not the case. In one of the most intense illustrations of contrasts, she writes,
"Panic-stricken, some of the women threw down their babies as if they were cumbersome packages and ran. Others grabbed their children and held them so tightly they seemed to want to force them back into the womb, as if that were the only truly safe place."