Monday, May 31, 2021

Reader's Diary #2207 - Harlen Coben: The Key to My Father

 With the prolific output of a pulp fiction writer, I wasn't sure what to expect with a short story by Harlen Coben. I'll say though that I definitely enjoyed it enough to try his novels some day. 

In "The Key to My Father" the descriptions of his father's physical appearance were exceptionally well done. I'll admit that I didn't however understand why he focused so heavily on that aspect of his father at first. Without giving anything else away, it definitely wound up having a point.

One odd moment for me though was a comment that the narrator hadn't known that his father had served in the military. On the one hand, he seems to have been closer to his father than I consider me to mine, but I definitely talked to mine enough growing up to know such significant details of his past. This is not a criticism of Coben's writing or a way of saying it's implausible, but more of a general comment that people have weird relationships with their parents.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Reader's Diary #2206 - Walter Scott: Wendy Master of Art


I wasn't initially drawn into Walter Scott's graphic novel Wendy Master of Art. I started off thinking the art was bad and the story was going to be over-the-top just for the shock value. It opens with Wendy, a Canadian art student, stoned and chatting it up with a naked couple in a weird German bar.

Slowly but surely though, it won me over. There are mini-plots here or there among the larger plot of Wendy's art school journey. The plot isn't anything major, but there's a lot of humour and while it seems to take nothing seriously, especially not art, I wondered at the end if that was the point after all; that's it's all bullshit, but you have to find that balance between pretending it's not and just giving up altogether if you're to find any sort of happiness while we're going through it. 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Reader's Diary #2205 - Marianne Boucher: Talking to Strangers

I'm sure that when most of us hear about cults, we're fascinated and also over-confident that we'd never fall victim to such a thing. 

Marianne Boucher's Talking to Strangers is a graphic memoir about her experience as a cult member in the early 80s. She was a Canadian, fresh out of high school and off on her own in California to pursue a career in figure skating. That's when she had a chance encounter with a couple of Moonies on a beach. 

If I was hoping for more understanding of how someone falls for such people in the first place, I don't feel like I got it here. Perhaps that part was rushed, maybe not really giving enough depth to her psychological, emotional state at the time.

Granted, once she's in, Boucher spends a bit more time showing the brainwashing techniques. Again though, it felt somewhat emotionally distant to me. The art is good, though again I didn't really connect to it. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Reader's Diary #2204 - Nick Sheri: A Passing Trance

 I often see people on Twitter laughing about their reluctance to answer a phone call, even (or in many cases, especially) of people they know. I'm guilty of that one. Hate talking on the phone and it's almost unbearable if I didn't initiate the phone call. And then people talking about dreading or ignoring emails and texts. Muting or blocking people on social media. It's so easy to disengage. I mean, I get it. We're bombarded like never before with media. Some disassociation is surely healthy. But sometimes, normal, healthy face-your-problems needs to happen to. 

This is what I found myself thinking about while reading Nick Sheri's flash fiction "A Passing Trance." The guy in his story doesn't use technology to distance himself, but has the ability to zone out to avoid stressful times or difficult conversations. I loved the depressing, edge of a cliff mood.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Reader's Diary #2203 - Adrian Tomine: Shortcomings

It was recently announced that Randall Park would be adapting Adrian Tomine's graphic novel Shortcomings into a film. 

Now having read it, I'm not sure how I feel about that news. I enjoyed the book, mostly, and for sure there's human interest, some humour, and current, important topics (such as internalized racism and toxic masculinity). These are all told through the lens of Ben Tanaka, a not-exactly likeable but entirely plausible guy with insecurities and a lack of self awareness. You suspect over the course of the book that he's approaching becoming a better person, but the story... well, comes up short.

We'll see if the screenwriters find more of sense of resolution. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Reader's Diary #2202 - Tom Alexander: The Cabin

 I'm not sure why but there's something so satisfying about a story where you're forced to watch everything go to hell. You hold your breath and yet can't look away. 

In Tom Alexander's "The Cabin" a group of people are not only nonplussed to find themselves in a cabin just as a snowstorms hits, but even consider themselves fortunate. Then they celebrate. Unfortunately their resources don't last as long as the blizzard...

Friday, May 14, 2021

Reader's Diary #2201 - Joe Sacco: Paying the Land

When Joe Sacco's Paying the Land first came out, I recall some locals being concerned that this would be yet another southerner coming to the north for a very short time, declaring themselves an expert and writing an error-filled, misguided book. 

Indeed, I wasn't far into it, before I noticed the first mistake: Inuits. (Inuit is already plural, the S is wrong, and this is a super common mistake for non-Inuktitut speakers.) I was immediately on guard. A fan of other works of Sacco's (Palestine and War's End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995-96) I then began to wonder how the locals from those areas felt about his writing. Did they feel it was accurate?

Eventually though my reservations fell to the wayside as I wasn't picking up on other mistakes until near the end when he draws a map with Nunavut listed as Nanavut! While that one really hit me like nails on a chalkboard, I still suspect he gets more right than wrong in the book. Largely, I'm basing this on a couple of things:
1. Most of the text consists of quotes from locals, not Sacco himself
2. There hasn't been a lot of published criticism from those people featured in the book that they'd been misrepresented. In fact, there has even been a push by some folks to have it used as a textbook for the grade 10 Northern Studies course. If the mistakes were edited out, I actually think it's a good idea. He really condenses a lot of history, highlights current issues, and has a real knack of explaining some really complex issues while not portraying the Dene as a monolithic culture. 

One of the more interesting subtexts in the book, I thought, was the generational divide. While generational divides are common worldwide (I don't have half the skills my grandparents would have had and vice versa, and I'm sure my values have been influenced way more by TV and the internet), the impact that colonialism and residential schools in particular have had in magnifying that divide is downright appalling. I feel Sacco has illustrated this with utmost sensitivity and clarity. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Reader's Diary #2200 - Frances Gapper: My Mother Made Me

The beginning of Frances Gapper's flash fiction "My Mother Made Me" is surreal and poetic. Not a huge fan of surrealism, it nonetheless worked here even if that style was largely dropped for the remainder of the story.

It's a tragic little piece about intergenerational trauma. Though I suppose, it could be seen as having a bit of a silver lining in that the narrator has gained some understanding about her mother. This has got to be an important first step, right?

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Reader's Diary #2199 - Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves: The Shadow of the Wind

I didn't have high hopes for Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind. For one the title seemed cheesy and overly flowery. (Though to be fair, I also feel that way about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and I wound up quite liking that book.) Also, it was recommended by a friend who's previous recommendations didn't really the hit the mark. 

However, I was hooked very early on with this magical, epic book and loved it through to the end.

Set in 1940s Spain, it deals with a teenage boy named Daniel who's been enraptured by a book he's discovered and more importantly by the mysterious writer who seems to have disappeared and left many enemies in his wake. And as Daniel digs up the past, the more it seems that the author's tragedies will soon be his own.

On top of the great story is a fantastic cast of 3 dimensional characters and richly described settings. 

Spain is in my travel plans for the next 5 years and at the end of this book is something I hadn't seen before: a walking guide to visit some of the real life settings in the novel. What a great idea!

Monday, May 03, 2021

Reader's Diary #2188 - Mike Johnson: Behind the Mask

 Despite the title, the contemporary fear explored in Mike Johnson's flash fiction story "Behind the Mask" isn't Covid related. Instead it's about artificial intelligence taking over. 

Or is it?

While I found it engaging, and certainly it comes out of the gate with a strong action sequence, it also has a twist ending. The twist is interesting, I guess, but I don't know if it really adds anything. The way the story was going was good without it. 

I recently saw a horror movie where the twist ending seemed tacked on and implausible. This isn't that, but I also didn't find it particularly profound.