Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Reader's Diary #225- Anosh Irani: The Song of Kahunsha (FINISHED)

I'm trying so hard not to make Canada Reads predictions, especially since I still have to read Gabrielle Roy's Children on My Heart. However, if The Song of Kahunsha wins, I will not be surprised.

How would I feel about that? I'm not sure. It is a remarkably good book, maybe even as strong and as well written as Lullabies For Little Criminals. But there are a few insanely horrific scenes. And while I think it's a great book, perhaps even an important book, there are scenes that make me incredibly squeamish. Of course, I'm sure other readers will have varying degrees of sensitivities, but I found myself longing for the more pervasive humour of Lullabies for Little Criminals. Whereas that book had a few of its own ugly scenarios, they paled in comparison and at least O'Neill threw in ample doses of comic relief to keep us sane.

But Kahunsha is a terrific book. If at first I might have found protagonist Chamdi a little square compared to Lullabies' Baby, towards the end I didn't care. If you, as a reader, didn't feel compelled to reach into the book and grab him the hell out of there, I question your humanity. Perhaps that was a part of the appeal (?) of Irani's third person choice. Still keeping close to Chamdi at all times, it made me feel all the more helpless to protect him. Like a powerless guardian angel. It is not a book filled with hope. It's dark and bleak and I'm sure someone on the Canada Reads panel will try and make the case that the book is optimistic. And when they do, I want to hear it. I almost need it. The only solace I got, even at the end, was that Chamdi himself might have some hope despite his miserable experiences. Though I didn't feel it with him, I even felt he had a bit of childish naivete, I was thankful for it. I'd never tell him otherwise. (And yes, I'm talking like he's real. Credit that to Irani's writing).

An intriguing part of this book was the use of dogs as symbols. They came up a lot; sometimes in actual presence, often used as an insult, and there's even the mention of eating one. I guess the connotations are different for everyone depending on whether or not you're a "dog person". However, I'm sure Irani was aware of this, and coming from India he may have had even more associations with dogs than I am aware. Yet the differences do not matter. If you're not a dog person, you probably think of stupidity, subservience, savagery and uncleanliness. No doubt this is the way it was intended as an insult and it would represent how some people did feel about the street children. Yet for the dog people who believe them to be smart, loyal, protective and playful, Irani shows this side of the street children as well. The fact that we, as a species, can be so easily compared to an animal is a great statement about where we've come (or haven't come) as a civilization. Yet we are not dogs and our ability to rationalize makes the cruelty and hypocrisy all the more evil and unforgivable. Sadly, the book is not unbelievable.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Reader's Diary #224- Ellen Bryan Obed (Author) and Shawn Steffler (Illustrator): Wind In My Pocket


I've been reading Wind In My Pocket to my kids for a while, and it's been an oversight not to have blogged about it until now.

Strongly influenced by Newfoundland, Labrador and the Quebec North Shore, I have an obvious bias for this collection. However, I'd love these poems regardless.

As a book of children's poems, Ellen Bryan Obed employs the usual tactics to capture the attention of the young reader; rhymes, varied and (usually) upbeat rhythms, alliteration and occasional humour. But what sets Obed apart from the majority of children's poets, is her lack of condescension. I find it so frustrating when poets dumb down their work for younger readers. Children are supposed to have the richest imaginations yet try to find figurative language in most children's poems and all you get is some inane junk about getting toes stuck in your nose.
Obed's poems are bursting with figurative language. Picked almost at random, check out these lines:
"Ribbons of sunlight,/Ribbons of seaweed" - from "Ribbon Seller's Song"

"when there's a fragrant breeze/ and a ripening sky." - from "Let's Sing of
Strawberries"

"In goose-down fields/ we leave our tracks/ while black-crow cliffs/ look down our backs." - from "Winter Journey"

"Gently the sun/ with steady eye/ whittled at winter/ from the sky." - from
"Sky Carver"

Metaphors, beautiful imagery, and even anthropomorphism. Great, intelligent poetry for young and old alike.
In terms of illustrations, Steffler's work doesn't really appeal to me personally. I will grant however, that they have a unique style that some might like. I do appreciate when a book offers up illustrations that are interesting and not run-of-the-mill.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Reader's Diary #223- Anosh Irani: The Song of Kahunsha (up to p. 125)

I have to admit, after reading Lullabies For Little Criminals I both assumed and hoped that it would win this year's Canada Reads competition. I liked it more than Natasha and Other Stories. Then I read Stanley Park. I really didn't enjoy that one. It was beginning to look like Lullabies had it in the bag. But now, I'm 125 pages into Song of Kahunsha and I'm no longer sure. And really, I shouldn't be surprised. Donna Morrissey, who is defending this book, is the same panelist that brought my favourite of all the past winners to the table; Rockbound.

Normally, I don't compare books to one another all that much. Unless there are blatantly obvious similarities in the story, I try to let each book speak for itself. Canada Reads books are different though. The contest itself, if you take the time to read all five books, forces readers to rank each book. Which is my favourite? Which would I like see gone first? and so forth. But with Lullabies and Kahunsha, there are blatantly obvious similarities. Despite the former being set in Montreal and the latter being set in Bombay, they both tell the story of a child's life on the street. And both are thoroughly enjoyable reads.

But compare I must, and despite how much I'm loving Kahunsha, I'd have to put Lullabies on top. And perhaps the only reason I'd do that (at this point in the story anyhow), is humour. Heather O'Neill, author of Lullabies, infuses her main character with a quirky and witty voice that is absent from the more straight edged protagonist of Irani's Song of Kahunsha. This is not to say Kahunsha is void of humour, but it comes across differently. I think the major reason lies in the authors' choice of perspective. Told in the first person, I found myself laughing along with Baby (Lullabies). But told in the third person, it almost feels like I'm laughing at Chamdi (Kahunsha). I'm not implying that Irani is unsympathetic towards his central character, I'm not laughing meanly at Chamdi. But when he writes such lines as "He wonders if Jesus knows that he has left the the orphanage. He did not get a chance to say goodbye" (referring to a statue), it is an entirely different feeling than if he had chosen to write "I wonder if Jesus knows that I have left the orphanage." The first has a slight adult edge of superiority in it, while the second almost gives the reader the same naive sense of superficial faith. Subtle some might say, but enough to make Lullabies the stronger of the two books, in my opinion.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Reader's Diary #222- Timothy Taylor: Stanley Park (FINISHED!)

It seems that come every Canada Reads there's a book I want to lose almost as much as a book I want to win. Without even reading two of the books yet, I'm pretty sure that Stanley Park will be this year's Deafening.

I've begun to consider that maybe my postings are a little too extreme- books are either great marvels of writing or colossal pieces of crap. Actually, I'm probably more level headed with my good reviews. It's the bad ones that show lack of balance. This book will not break the trend. My theory is, when you waste a lot of time reading a bad book, you get bitter about it. When you read a good book, you rarely reflect back on all the good hours you spent with it.

Earlier I said that Stanley Park felt elitist. After completing the book, I'm under the impression that Taylor hoped readers would feel the opposite. Without going into the ending too much, the reader is supposed to think that the protagonist, Jeremy Papier, sticks it to those snooty, rich folk. But while Papier might have accomplished that, Taylor did not. His attempt to have readers cheer over his ending is obvious, "See, I've shown how phony those people really are! And not only that, I got them good in the end!" Unfortunately, it comes across as greasy and untrustworthy as a politician running for office. If we're truly to believe in his over-the-top preaching (evil rich guy at 12:00!), he shouldn't have wasted our time for the first 3/4 of the book essentially showing off what he knows about business and the world of the wealthy. It's like he wanted to defend the downtrodden "real" people, but not until he made it perfectly clear that he wasn't one of those poor unfortunate souls. If you're really out to stand up for someone, is it really be necessary to distance yourself from them first?

Yet it all makes for a great piece of irony. Much of Taylor's book seems to dwell on one's need to have a sense of place. Odd seeing as Taylor himself doesn't seem able to fit in anywhere himself- too good for the rich, too good for the poor. Pretty arrogant stuff if you ask me.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Reader's Diary #221- Christopher Dewdney: Demon Pond (FINISHED)

Christopher Dewdney, husband of novelist Barbara Gowdy, is sometimes said to be an avant garde poet. Maybe someone more familiar with his work might be able to explain this to me. I certainly didn't get that impression from Demon Pond. This book was creative sure, but shouldn't all poets be creative?

Despite the fact that the majority of Canadians live in urban centres, most of us have had memorable encounters with nature. Perhaps a vast tundra has made you feel small and insignificant, perhaps a surprise whale surfacing has made you feel intuned with the universe, perhaps an intimate moment in the rain has made you feel alive. Who knows. Dewdney, that's who.

Somehow he manages to avoid overly sentimental, transcendental pulp and instead shows an appreciation for the wonder and magic that is nature. It's a fine line for anyone, yet he pulls it off. He beautifully captures those moments when we feel tiny, he ponders the stars and our place in the universe, and he implies that nature is magical. All with surprisingly uplifting poems.

I'm also struck by the humility in his work. Too often I find poets trying too hard to be omniscient sages. Yet despite the clear indication that Dewdney has a good grasp on science and nature, he doesn't provide any answers. Instead, he consistently uses words like "complexity", "inconceivable", and "miracle" that reflect the awe and curiousity that nature should inspire in all of us.

Writer's Diary #16- When Creation Kills (Rough Draft)

When Creation Kills

“Everything we write/ will be used against us.”
-Adrienne Rich (North American Time)

“1.0 Language is like a hole for the future.”
-Christopher Dewdney (Language)

On the day they killed God, no
Virgin Mary shed tears
And while Bibles were burned, no
Angels could be heard weeping.
They went to work that day.
As did I.

On the day they killed humans, no
President made a final speech
And while bodies lay rotting in the sun, no
Computer sent spam email
Subject: “Party at my house”
All are welcome.

On the day they killed my poem
No one was left to butcher
Its sorry carcass.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Reader's Diary #220- Timothy Taylor: Stanley Park (up to p. 225)


If Stanley Park was a restaurant, reading it would be like going to the weekend buffet. You just know the chef is getting rid of the scraps and leftovers that otherwise would be discarded come Monday.
And going the one step further, the food which smelled a bit funky in the pantry would be buried up under copious drops of Tabasco to mask any potentially offending taste.
The scraps, I've alluded to before; the bits and pieces of a love story, the occasional chunk of a mystery novel, and the tiniest morsels of satire. The Tabasco would be Taylor's obvious and annoying attempts at symbolism and metaphor. In case you're wondering how the actual park comes into play in the book, its trees provide the springboard for Taylor to talk endlessly about roots. People need roots, blah, blah, blah. Page after page of this.
And there's also Dante, the CEO of a chain of hip coffee joints known as "The Inferno". If this hint that the tycoon is evil, perhaps even the devil himself, is too subtle, not to worry. Taylor will ram that angle down your throat. Instead of leaving it to clever readers to perhaps see similarities between this character and Satan, Taylor treats the readers like idiots and does all the work for them. Just in case they missed it, he has other characters come right out with it, asking if he is, in fact, the Antichrist. (I cared so little, I don't even remember what the answer was.)
So if this book is as bad as I'm making it out to be, how the heck did it get so much praise (even becoming a finalist for the Giller)? My immediate answer to that question is to guess that he knows people, or has an agent that knows people, something along those lines. But there must be more. I suspect that many artists are caught up in the business story. I also figure that might be a part of the reason Jim Cuddy has chosen to defend it for this year's Canada Reads debate. While the business storyline doesn't do anything for me personally, I understand that there's a point being made about the turmoil an artist (in the case, a chef) must go through living in a capitalist society; do I create true art, the art I love? Or do I pander to the masses, pumping out products designed with market research in mind? I do think such a topic could make for an interesting story, I just don't think Stanley Park is it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Writer's Diary #15- First Short Story Attempt

If writers are alchemists trying to make gold from words and phrases, then I guess it's okay to start with lead. Here's my lead: a rough, first draft of a short story I'm writing for Writer's Club. We decided to explore magic for our next meeting, "What is Magic?" While any genre was deemed acceptable, I've decided to forego the poetry this time around. I'm always bringing poems and I want to branch out a little. However, I read a lot more poetry than short stories and I'm afraid that will be more than a little obvious. Rough and amateur as it might be, here it is. Feel free to pick it apart like a boxing day turkey...

+What is magic?
-Life.
Too fast. He should have thought it through.

+Life?
-Yeah. See, some people are always looking for magic when really
+Don't do that. Don't lecture me.
-I wasn't going
+Yes, you were. But don't. I appreciate life as much as anyone. But we both know that's a cop out answer.

He could be angry. He could be defensive. Then
He smiled.

-You got me

She smiled.

-So what do you think? What is magic?
+I wish I knew. That's why I asked.

Why did she wish she knew? He'd had no chance to ask. At that moment their waiter approached. Reality always transcended such conversations.

He ordered hot wings. Normally he'd never order those on a first date but this wasn't shaping up to be a typical first date.
...

>I think magic goes beyond life. It's the mysteries, the unanswered.

Interesting. He had to chew, to mull this over. Then
-So geniuses have no magic in their lives?

This caught her attention.

+What?
-If magic means having unanswered questions, those with the answers should have less magic in their lives right? Therefore, geniuses
+Even the smartest person in the world wouldn't come close to having all the answers- she'd still have magic.
-Just less.
+I guess. But. Did you ever read Flowers For Algernon?
-No.
+Well. It was about a...an idiot. Charly. He had some sort of surgery that turned him into a genius. At the end he found out that he'd been happier as an idiot.

He took another bite of his steak, glancing over her shoulder at their books. Actually his books and her books. At this point they were still in two identifiable stacks on the shelf. Then
-Are you saying happiness is the same as magic?
...

+It is, you know.
-What?
+Magical.
-Life?
+Life yes. Especially life. But this feeling, too.
-Happiness?
+Extreme happiness.

He peered down into his son's eyes. Turning almost randomly, his pupils stretched to the limits of their circumference. He was trying to focus. Trying to make sense, to define this new world. Then
-I wonder what he'll be like.

She looked down. Who knew this day, this child would come? Then
+That's the missing part.
-Part of what?

But he knew. They would always return to this, eventually.
Magic.

-I mean, what's the missing part?
...

They watched him more than they watched the show. He was standing on his chair to get a better view. They'd never let him do that at home. But both knew they couldn't get him down now, even if they wanted.

His eyes were trained on the magician.

The lady was in no real danger. He knew that. That blade hadn't really cut her across the middle.

What he didn't know, what he then vowed to learn was how the trick was pulled off. It was the happiest moment of his life.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Reader's Diary #219- Louise Bernice Halfe: Blue Marrow (FINISHED)

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this book is Halfe's use of voice. Without any warning poems change from male to female, whites to Cree, and more. There are no headings or other obvious characteristics to distinguish whose voice is speaking. Yet it is not jarring. Obviously this approach was risky for Halfe and she should get the utmost respect for pulling it off. Instead of confusing a reader, grammar switches, value changes and so forth help differentiate voices and the result of having them switch without warning is almost a surreal look at history, like looking through various eyes at once.

I also liked her theme of love and its challenges. Often she tells of love between Cree women and the furtraders. While most are idealistic at first, challenges soon become apparent. The Church, the government and in fact, societies at large seem bent on coming between them. Yet the real destruction comes when the influence of outside forces begins to change the lovers themselves. They get under the skin, meet some resistance at the bone, but finally make it into the marrow. The way Halfe seems to contrast nature with man seems to make a subtle point about love; Love is natural, resistance is manmade.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Reader's Diary #218- Timothy Taylor: Stanley Park (up to p. 200)

I admit I have a phobia of money. Maybe not a phobia exactly, but a wall at least. Start talking about money and I tune out. Start talking about RRSPs and if you look closely, you'll see a dull glaze form over my eyes. I know that's irresponsible and the reason why I'll probably be stuck on the corner of Bloor Street singing an off-key version of "I'se Da B'y" for loonies by the time of 70.

But for the time being, I can't get into to money talk (my apologies to AC/DC) and so, I can't get into Stanley Park. The publishers, from the liner notes, seem to be selling it on its merit as a murder mystery. It is not. Taylor himself, in the interview posted on the Canada Reads website, refers to it as a love story. It is not. Both parties must understand that calling it what it is, i.e., a business drama, would not sell and that's why I suspect they're milking the tacked on bits. I am so bored.

I had wanted a little something about Stanley Park itself. It has yet to make much of an impression. Guess I'll just have to watch CBC news for a glimpse of Stanley Park. Now that's a story.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Reader's Diary #217- Louise Bernice Halfe: Blue Marrow (up to p. 35)


Not long ago I watched Transamerica and found myself laughing at the name of Graham Greene's character, Calvin Two Goats. At the time I felt it seemed too much of a Hollywood "Indian" name. Then recently I was watching the news and there was a similar sounding name. I can't remember what the name was now but searching for it in the CBC archives, I came across a similar sounding name, Matthew Coon Come. Apparently such names are possible and not some Hollywood creation.
My point is that, despite my looming awareness that popular conceptions of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples are often wrong, my own conceptions aren't always correct either. I know many of the "informed" Canadians have made the transition from "Eskimo" to "Inuit." But I wonder how many people know why the earlier term is no longer accepted? An often quoted reason is that "Eskimo" means "Eaters of Raw Meat" and that is no longer the case. Just like they no longer live in igloos, right? Wrong. While the igloo thing is true, raw meat is still eaten in abundance. I've gone to more than one feast where the main course has been a smorgasbord of raw caribou, char and whale blubber. So why the offence with "Eskimo"? It is my understanding that the main reason is that "Eskimo" is not their own word, it is not an Inuktitut word. I'd also like to believe that they don't want to be defined simply by what they eat. Though calling me Cheesey, wouldn't be far off the mark.
Novelist Thomas King has had a lot of fun with our confusions and stereotypes. Blue Marrow, on the other hand and for all my digression, seems blissfully unaware of a white man's misconceptions and xenophobia. It is probably why the latter book was a little jarring to me at first. Littered with such images as spruce, drums, moose, dancing, elk, wood, buffalo, mosquitoes and so forth, I was surprised to see how "stereotypical" it seemed. Alas I needed more reminders; just because First Nations peoples are often portrayed on T.V. as having close relationships to nature, doesn't mean it isn't true. It's so hard to tell what's a cliche and what's accurate. But Halfe's poems refer back to her grandmothers as a rule and so the more traditional way of life is probably fine. While King might have a lot of fun writing of modernized, urban "Indians", Halfe focuses mostly on the past. While occasionally she mentions modern tools such as printers, her reflection on history allows for more traditional (and perhaps predictable) tools such as bone scrapers. It's not that she is unconcerned with the present, it's just that she seems to want to show how they (the Cree) got here, to this time and situation.
I don't often comment on titles, but I love Blue Marrow so much, that I feel compelled. Of "Blue", it brings to mind the old standbys in terms of symbolism; sadness, sexual encounters and natural grandness (think sky, sea). And those are all accurate descriptions in the book. Sadness is found in poems that deal with loss of culture and broken trust, sexual encounters in poems dealing with rape at residential schools and between fur traders and Cree women, and grandness in poems which deal with nature. "Marrow" implies the core of our being and Halfe consistently makes history personal. It also implies life coming from bones, and her conversations with her grandmothers are reflective of that. Finally putting the two terms together reminds me of "Blue Blood" and while that terms usually refers to aristocracy and royalty, it seems to suggest pride of her culture in this case. It might just be one of my favourite titles ever.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Writer's Diary #14- Pumpkin (Edit)

Grammar police, arrest these man, he talk in maths...

That's enough Yankovicing for today. I brought my "Pumpkin" poem to Writer's Club last night, seeing as a couple of you said that you liked it back in November. For the most part it was well recieved. There was, however, a small issue with the grammar in one particular line. Originally I had written, "for someone else/ and cheap amusement" But there was a problem with parallel structure. "For" would also have to go in front of "cheap". I wasn't happy with the rhythm when it was added, so here is my compromise.


Pumpkin

I don't know why you're
being so unreasonable.
We've all had our heads
cut open.......our brains pulled out
left with stupid grins
for someone else,
for cheap amusement.

So what if
it is November?
You were enjoyed.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Reader's Diary #216- Timothy Taylor: Stanley Park (up to p. 52)


My third Canada Reads 2007 book, the third by a rockstar, and the third set in a major Canadian city...coincidence? Hmmm.
Unlike the previous two books, I'm not yet enjoying this one. It's not terrible, but I'm missing the humour of the others. Surprising since the back cover declares it a "scaldingly funny satire of the urban 'fooderati'". While yes, it is about the urban fooderati, funny it is not. At least not yet- I'm aware I'm only 50 pages in. To be quite honest, my first impression is that it is a little elitist. Not En Route magazine elitist, but close. I really want it to get better. The role of Jeremy's eccentric "participatory anthropologist" gives me some hope. But if it doesn't improve, it's Canada Reads future looks bleak...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Reader's Diary #215- Michael Ondaatje: Secular Love (FINISHED!)

My first experience with Michael Ondaatje was reading In The Skin Of A Lion after it won the very first Canada Reads competition back in 2002. I wasn't crazy about his writing then, and things haven't changed.

Normally, I concurrently read two books at a time. A novel or nonfiction book and a poetry book. This is the first time the former has overshadowed the latter. Maybe it's a compliment to O'Neill that I just wanted to read Lullabies for Little Criminals, or maybe it's an insult to Ondaatje that I just didn't want to read Secular Love.

While I was still reading Lullabies, I kept thinking how completely unremarkable Secular Love was. Then, as I finished Lullabies first and was left all alone with Secular Love, I realized that wasn't the case. Ondaatje's book was just as remarkable, but maybe not in as many good ways.

My biggest issue with his poetry is the hyperbole. I know it's sometimes human nature to exaggerate the importance of our experiences. When we're listening to great music, it feels like the stars have aligned. When our hearts get broken, the Earth stops rotating. And so on. Still, I hoped such a respected author as Ondaatje would be above that. But no. When describing a Fats Waller recording, he asks, "What else of importance happened on May 8th, 1935?". Describing his lover's grim expression, he writes, "her mouth forever as horizon". In moderation such lines might not seem excessive. They might even have some poetic merit (especially the mouth as horizon line). But with so many over-the-top references to the universe, time, and so forth I started to suspect and resent that I was living in Ondaatje's world instead of my own. I began to fear that he'd stub his toe and the Earth would be sent spiralling into the sun.

For all that, he did have occasional lines that I did enjoy. A favourite was "These country hearts, a county conspiracy." I love the use of "country" and "county". Same word, except the latter is missing an "r". Why? (It's a conspiracy)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Reader's Diary #214- Heather O'Neill: Lullabies For Little Criminals (FINISHED)


(Spoiler alert)
I'm questioning my memory. No surprise there. In the shower, I often can't remember if I've shampooed yet or not. But this time, my faulty memory may have made me more critical of O'Neill than I needed.
In my last post about this book, I accused her of being inconsistent with her details. I'm not sure if this is necessarily so. Whereas I thought she had implied she had no childhood toys except a puppet (which was a problem for me as later she talks about a teddy bear she had since she was 6). Maybe this implication was not really made, maybe it was my own faulty conclusion. Simply because she hadn't mentioned other toys earlier, I assumed she had no others. This selective aspect of memory was illustrated quite often by O'Neill and it will no doubt be troublesome for other readers other than myself.
However, O'Neill would not be as much to blame as the reader. The more I reflected on it, the more I realized her portrayal of memory is probably more accurate than I've seen in other books. If you think about it, each time we recall memories of certain points in our lives, not all the details come flowing back each time. I might go on endlessly about cliff climbing when I was a child, recounting many zany and dangerous details. Yet the next time I bring it up might be the first time you've heard any account of my cousin and I throwing rocks down at a third friend who just wanted us to wait up. It's not that I made up additional details the second time around, it's just that maybe it was more relevant to the current circumstance the 2nd time around.
So when Baby talks about her months in Juvenile Detention and fails to mention her time doing solitude there, we needn't think it's a fault of the writing when it is mentioned further down the line. In hindsight, this reflection about memory (while being a secondary theme, for sure), was one of the many things I enjoyed about this book.
I also enjoyed the way O'Neill played with some of the assumptions we have about childhood and adulthood. Are adults necessarily more responsible? Maybe, maybe not. Most certainly have a clearer sense of what dangerous is, but that doesn't mean they know how to address it any better. Is childhood romance frivolous and insignificant? It certainly wasn't in Baby's case. In fact, her relationship with classmate Xavier was more real, substantial and precious than her relationship with the adult Alphonse. While childhood romances are rarely lasting, that doesn't mean they don't play an important role and have lasting impacts.
I wonder if people will find the ending a little too convenient. On the one hand, O'Neill doesn't give a "happily ever after" ending and does leave some ambiguity, but Alphonse's death and the sudden appearance of a cousin offering a helping hand could turn some people off. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. Happy endings are possible of course, I'm not that cynical yet. If, and when, you read this book, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
So far, Lullabies For Little Criminals would get my vote in Canada Reads over Natasha and Other Stories. While I loved three of the short stories in Natasha, the book overall was not as consistently great as Lullabies. Now on to Stanley Park...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Cheers to Canada Reads 2007!

I've made it no secret that I'm a huge fan of CBC's Canada Reads program. I get all giddy thinking about it.

I remember getting into it in their 2nd year and at that time I loved checking out all the online discussions they had on their website. Since then, while the show has always remained stellar, I've found the website lacking. I'm sure they had their reasons, but online fan participation seemed to have been discouraged, if not banned altogether. This year however, they've made up for it in spades. They are posting fan comments again and continue to raise new, provocative questions. Even panelists and authors are getting into the action. Great job CBC!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Reader's Diary #213- Heather O'Neill: Lullabies For Little Criminals (up to p. 230)


(Spoiler alert)

There have been times while reading this book that I've been shocked at how well written it is. There's a particularly brilliant moment when Baby first starts into prostitution when she starts to think about Jack and the Beanstalk during intercourse. It really captures the tragedy of the situation. Being young and naive, she's a little blind to the real danger and sadness of the situation but her subconscious is not. She, like Jack, wants a way out of her situation. And that it's a fairy-tale further captures the crime of what is going on.

Yet there are other times, I'm less than thrilled with the writing. The details seem a little too inconsistent. She gives the impression that she has no treasured childhood toys except a doll given to her by her by her mother, yet further down the road she suddenly has had a teddy bear since she was six. She's a loner whose only shot at a friend was frightened off by her dad, and then suddenly she's talking about a friend named Zoe who seems to have been there all along. And while it's not an inconsistency, she makes reference to the Polish Cook from the Muppet Show. Now maybe she knew the difference of this, the way the memory works and all, but it was the Swedish Chef I believe she was referring. However, despite these tiny issues I'm greatly enjoying this book. If initially it had reminded me of A Complicated Kindness, that has quickly vanished under its layers of evil.