Thursday, July 08, 2010

Reader's Diary #628- AmberLee Kolson: Wings of Glass

Though the Theytus Books website lists the publication date of Wings of Glass at May of 2010, it also says "Coming Soon!" Amazon.ca says that the title has not yet been released and Chapters.ca lists the publication date as July 18, 2010. My copy, sent to me by the author, is a draft copy and this review reflects a version that may or may not be different from the final, published book.

Wings of Glass, by AmberLee Kolson, begins:
I was going to kill myself on the Monday after Gord's birthday but then I remembered I had to bake muffins for school and had to cancel.
I mistakenly thought this would be a darkly comedic book. Yes, there are darkly funny and just plain funny parts peppered throughout the book, but they provide comic relief rather than a consistent style. Which is okay, of course, it just took me a while to overcome my initial expectations. A predominately melancholy book with some comic relief is certainly not the same as dark humour.

Wings of Glass is basically the story of a woman who stalls on her way to suicide and winds up trying to work through her past and what has led her to this unfortunate state of mind. I welcomed it as a chance for to play psychologist. However, before long I realized how artificial that was and if this woman (she remains nameless) was actually spilling her guts out on my couch, I'd have interjected more than a few times to keep her on track. Then again, maybe if I was being paid by the hour...

The woman is contemplating suicide, some introspection is necessary. Hell, a lot of introspection is necessary. Those weren't the details that dragged the book down. Unfortunately, there were also tedious and unnecessary descriptions of everything else. In one instance she mentions "strains of the Beatles hit 'Ob-La Di, Ob-La-Da' waft[ing] from the radio." Of the Beatles hit? Is there another "Ob-La Di, Ob-La-Da"? But the best example comes near the end when she decides to make a stew:
I browned the chunks of meat in a frying pan at high heat in oil. I picked the crisp pieces of meat up with tongs and put them in the bean pot. I slid the chunks of onion, celery and carrot into the pot from the plastic cutting board where they lay segregated into their own personal piles. I cut the bitter ends off five large cloves of garlic, smashed them on the board, peeled off the skin, and tossed them into the pot. I poured a can of consommé, a can of Molson Canadian beer, a twenty-eight-ounce of plum tomatoes, a few squirts of Worcestershire sauce, half a bottle of hickory flavoured barbecue sauce, some salt, pepper and thyme.
A few paragraphs later she slides it into an oven set at 325°. Sounds good, doesn't it? Except this isn't a cookbook!

A book with so much introspection and little action, the book is a likely tough slog as it is. Gratuitous and insignificant details as these don't help. It's a shame really because they take away from the few times when Kolson's gift of observation actually worked. I almost brushed aside this piece a few pages later:
"Catching mice?" he asked, slamming the fridge door.

The Kleenex box, always precarious on the top corner of the fridge, fell to the floor. A picture of Batman, painted by Stevie in kindergarten and anchored to the fridge door by a weak magnet advertising a local take out pizza parlour, slid to the floor.
An argument is about to explode between her and husband Gord, which leads to her running away from her family. I can't think of a better complementary image than the scene Kolson has described.

Stevie, however, represents another problem. For a mother of two, whose biggest issue seems to have been the absence of a caring mother for the majority of her childhood, she doesn't seem overly concerned about her own kids. At one point she decides not to kill herself in the bathroom because she doesn't want them to walk in her body, but there's no thought about how they would cope without her after the fact. When she runs away later, not once on her 18 hour drive from Edmonton to Yellowknife does she wonder what Gord will tell the children, how they're supposed to deal with this sudden abandonment.

However, this is not necessarily a problem with the writing like I had with the descriptions. Suicide is, after all, a selfish act. Maybe the profile is accurate.

1 comment:

Wanda said...

That stew does sound good and I seem to remember another northern novel (despite a few flaws) that I liked and you didn't. Hmmm, maybe I'll keep this one in mind for a future NWT read?