Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reader's Diary #745- Ivan Coyote: Missed Her

In her passionate and humourous new collection, Ivan takes readers on an intimate journey, both literal and figurative, through the experiences of her life: from her year spent in eastern Canada,to her return to the west coast, to travels in between.
-- From the back cover

Yet on the inside there's a note that says, "This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to persons either living or deceased is purely coincidental."

Fiction? I don't know, maybe she changed some names or locales to protect anonymity, but at the very least the resemblance of the narrator of these stories (essays?) to Ivan herself is not purely coincidental. That the other characters are based on actual friends and family members I don't doubt, but certainly couldn't state as fact. But whatever, false disclaimer aside, a resemblance to Ivan is not a bad thing. I'd even go as far as saying it's the selling point.

Ivan, who I had the pleasure of hearing read at the local Northwords Writers Festival, is an amazingly funny, warm, witty, down-to-Earth storyteller. I remember sharing a beer with her and poet Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm a couple of years back, but apparently my memory's faulty as, according to a story in Missed Her Ivan is gluten intolerant and can't drink beer. Anyway, Ivan is also a lesbian, butch, and in her own words, a "predominately estrogen-based organism."

I mention that last part because I think amongst us in the heterosexual community, I'm not supposed to. She's a human. Why the other labels? Sure, we'll allow "writing human" or better still "human who writes" but let's not get carried away with labels. That would be akin to "seeing colour" and we don't do that anymore. Except that the majority of the stories in Missed Her revolve around the butch lesbian aspect of Coyote's life.

For many summers my wife Debbie and I used to watch Last Comic Standing. Interesting reality show really-- the only one where those that suck aren't funny. But I started to be bugged that too often I could tell exactly what a comedian's jokes were all going to be about before they even opened their mouth. The overweight one was going to tell jokes about being overweight. The Asian one was going to make jokes about being Asian. The butch was going to tell jokes about being a lesbian. "Why shouldn't they?" Debbie would argue. "Because it's predictable!" I'd shoot back. But deep down I'd question if I wasn't a bigot. What if I wasn't the accepting neighbour who loved thy neighbour I thought I was?

Fast forward to now and Ivan has finally enabled me to address my inner bigot. See, I loved Missed Her. I thought it was fantastic. And am I bothered that most of the stories were on a predictable theme? Not at all. Because they were so well written! My problem isn't that John Pinette, for instance only tells fat jokes, it's that his fat jokes aren't funny. Ivan's writing on the other hand is funny. And sad and beautiful and inspiring and real.

One thing I really admired was Ivan's insight into the smallest of actions. Here's an example, when Ivan gets a call from her grandmother:
"Did you get my envelope?" she asks me, as always speaking far too loud into the speaker, as though she doesn't quite trust in the technology.
And yet the overriding message in Missed Her is that Ivan isn't some superhero with an innate sense of human nature, instead she's continually honing her understanding based on her experiences, her conversations, and reflection. I found it quite compelling that many stories involved Coyote expecting to meet prejudice from straight people, yet finding acceptance while expecting the gay community to be more open-minded but meeting those that insist, for instance, that a butch woman should not love fluffy towels.

There's a Simpsons episode where a gay pride parade marches past 742 Evergreen Terrace. To the chants of "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!" Lisa shouts back, "You do this every year. We are used to it!"

Perhaps we're not quite at that point yet, but Ivan Coyote gives me hope. Who could ask for more?


Wanda said...

Well, who doesn't love fluffy towels? From the dryer fluffy towels are the one plus to this never ending rainy season, so much better than the scratcy things I usually pluck from the clothesline.

The cover of 'Missed Her' reminds me a little of 'The Winterhouse', it's why I was quick to click when I spotted it in my reader. Could that note on the inside cover have something to do with legalities, a way for I.C. to cover her butt should anyone not be so charmed to find themselves within the book?

Predictable or not, an author whose writing is funny, sad, beautiful, inspiring and real is an author worth reading.

Gotta love, Lisa! :)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

If Ivan Coyote's book is half as interesting and thought-provoking as your review of it, then of course I want to read it!

John Mutford said...

Wanda: I will not share your clothesline comment with Debbie. I've been on a clothesline kick this summer but she keeps insisting that I don't put the towels on their because they get all, as you say, "scratchy."

Barbara: I think you'd quite enjoy it actually. Themes aside, her writing reminds me of your blog.

Amy said...

One of my favorite books last year but I somehow missed that it was fiction... huh... thanks for this review.

John Mutford said...

Amy: I don't actually think it is fiction, I suspect it's as Wanda suggested above. However, I doubt the disclaimer would hold up well in court if it was easy to prove otherwise. Saying it's fiction doesn't necessarily make it so.

And yes, I suspect it'll make my year end top 10 list (fiction or nonfiction?) as well. Wonderful book.

Heather said...

must add this to my reading list. Thanks.