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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Reader's Diary #2247 - Angélique Lalonde: Glorious Frazzled Beings

I don't know if any story from my youth has had as much impact on me as "The Emperor's New Clothes." At least when it comes to judging art in any case. I really struggle with the balance between "just because I don't get it, doesn't mean it's not great" and "really? am I the only one going to point out that the emperor is naked?"

Many of the stories in Angélique Lalonde's Glorious Frazzled Beings fall into the surreal category (especially the ones at the beginning) and that's an area, I'll admit, I struggle with. Are people really getting this? I wondered. Clearly these stories resonated with enough people that the collection is a finalist for a Giller Prize. 

Fortunately, I did enjoy the more lucid stories, and even the more more lucid moments in the surreal stories. In these I thought there was a lot of great exploration on some pretty important topics such as motherhood, race, homelessness, and so on. 

As for the surreal moments? I suppose I enjoyed them a little from a poetic standpoint, but I was hoping for more narrative prose. Lalonde can't really be faulted for that.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Reader's Diary #2246- Jennifer Murvin: Mom to You

In Jennifer Murvin's short story "Mom to You," a young son returns from a birthday party wearing a mask and claiming a new identity. It's an old man mask, not a Halloween mask, she wants us to know and yet there something surreal and off-putting about the rest of the story that I would still classify as horror. 

I'm dwelling on whether or not there was some message in the story about letting kids be themselves (which seems counter to wearing a mask), but even if I can't pin it down to a moral or crack some symbolism that I've yet missed, it's still an entertaining story even on the surface.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Reader's Diary #2245 - Cornell Woolrich: It Had to Be Murder

 I only recently saw the Hitchcock classic Rear Window for the first time and was surprised to see that it had been adapted from Cornell Woolrich's short story "It Had to Be Murder."

Of course, it's next to impossible not to compare so I won't bother trying. I'll also say that it's one of the few cases where I think the film is better than the book (or story in this case). I didn't dislike the story but Hitchcock played up the paranoia angle better. In Woolrich's story, the narrator is always convinced he's right and his bored isolation isn't played up. 

Still, it's got a good voice and a bit of a noir detective vibe working for it. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Reader's Diary #2244 - Jordan Tannahill: The Listeners

This year I was asked to be on a Shadow Giller Jury with Lindy and Penny and happily joined the team, knowing full well I'm amateur-hour compared to those two! (Seriously, check out their blogs!)

Anyway, the short list came out just recently so I've had to jump in fast. The first I read was Omar El Akkad's What Strange Paradise and the second was Jordan Tannahill's The Listeners. Already I'm excited for the debate as these are so different from one another.

The Listeners is about a woman whose life is turned upside down when she inexplicably starts to hear a hum. It's distracting, sometimes gives her nosebleeds, and worst of all her family thinks it's all in her head. Finally, she meets a group of others who can hear it and they lean on one another for support as they lose their once normal lives.

But more than the obvious plot differences, the two books are written so stylistically different. If Akkad is Margaret Atwood, Tannahill is Stephen King. That's not the insult some will make it out to be. It's just that Some Strange Paradise seems to wear its literary aspirations on its sleeve, whereas The Listeners is more grounded. Some like to refer to this a Literature (with capital L) versus literature (with a lowercase L) but I feel this is too elitist. To me it's more like the difference between impressionist art versus realistic art, there's value in both. 

There's a scene in The Listeners for example when the narrator goes into detail about a Mexican dish brought by one of the support group. It doesn't further the plot and there's nothing particularly remarkable about the description, but it does help set the scene and make the reader feel more a part of the story. Such a scene is common place in this novel, but rare in Some Strange Paradise; the latter is more concise and poetic. 

I would say The Listeners is more accessible and entertaining of the two, but still offers poignant thoughts on contemporary themes (alienation, conspiracy theories, complex love). Choosing one book over another though? I think it would come down to the style of writing you enjoy. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Reader's Diary #2243 - Shashi Bhat: The Most Precious Substance on Earth

 I truly loved Sashi Bhat's short story, "The Most Precious Substance on Earth" and those are often the ones I find hardest to discuss.

Honestly there's not a misstep. The voice, the setting, the characterization, imagery, themes. It's all perfect.

But a story can be technically perfect and still not resonate. Fortunately that's not the case here. 

Told from the perspective of a high school band student on an important band trip away from home. She's caught somewhat between a bully and victim who she's been roomed with. It's a particularly heavy topic considering it's set not long after the Columbine shooting. Towards the end, there's a bit of an awakening about the importance of belonging (not just "fitting in") but it isn't heavy handed. 

Wonderful, wonderful story.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Reader's Diary #2241 - Steve Foxe (writer), Shadia Amin (artist): Spider-Ham Great Power, No Responsibility

 


As a lifetime fan of MAD Magazine, it's no wonder I have a thing for parodies. And in the Marvel world, Spider-Ham comics certainly scratch that itch. 

In these comics, really it's the Marvel Universe that is parodied more than just Spider-Man and the obvious approach is changing all the heroes and villains into animals with puns or similar sounding names. There's also Scarlet Pooch, Squawkeye and so on. (We're talking parody, not political satire here!)

But Spider-Ham is given just enough of his own personality and backstory to make him a character in his own right, not just a Peter Parker riff. In his case, he's an overly confident bumbling but still likeable sort. 

He's also in good hands with Steve Foxe and Shadia Amin who have written a very silly kid-friendly escapade in Great Power, No Responsibility. Spider-Ham has lost the key to the City and must find it before it falls into the wrong hands...

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Reader's Diary #2240 - Norma Dunning: Tainna

There isn't a lot of fiction with Inuit characters, and certainly much less with Inuit characters who don't live in northern Canada. More important than filling a niche, however, Norma Dunning's stories in Tainna are really good.

They're also by and large depressing. Touching upon themes of colonialism, residential schools, sexual assault, alcoholism, and racism, this isn't unexpected. But there's some dark humour in the mix (which I'm always up for) and though my guard was up toward the end to not be optimistic for a happy ending, there are some that end on more positive, hopeful notes.


Monday, October 04, 2021

Reader's Diary #2239 - E.R. Murray: Another Day

I wonder if E.R. Murray worried about making her short story "Another Day," about a terminally (I think) ill woman and a homeless man finding comfort in one another one Christmas season night.

She needed of been, at least in my estimation. Yes, there's a glimpse of home and in that it's touching, but I don't think she abandons reality altogether. Just offers a break from from it. 

It's quite lovely.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Reader's Diary #2238 - Omar El Akkad: What Strange Paradise


Omar El Akkad's novel What Strange Paradise is getting a lot of praise. And no wonder, it's very topical and has a lot of heart. 

It follows a young Syrian immigrant named who was lucky enough to have survived a harrowing illegal sea crossing, washing up on the shore in Greece, only be hunted by the army. Luckily, a local teenage girl named Vänna decides to help him out.

There are so many well developed themes in the book, it would make for an excellent book club pick: escape (Vänna herself wants to escape her own troubled life), compassion, hope, cynicism, and so on. It's also laid out wonderfully, fluctuating between before (dealing with Amir's boat voyage and the strangers he'd met) and after (being chased across the Greek island). Besides keeping the book from ever growing monotonous, it also makes you never able to forget Amir's backstory and the lives of the other refugees. 

My sole issue was the authenticity of Amil and Vänna. Told in the 3rd person, El Akkad nonetheless attempts at times to describe their thoughts. However they seemed too mature and too literary and too similar to one another to convince me they were thoughts of an 8 year old boy and a teenage girl. 

Nonetheless, I still liked the book overall.