Feature Column - Resource Links V. 8, # 1, October 2002
Contemporary Canadian Adult Books with Teen Appeal
Joanne deGroot, Gail de Vos, Heather Ganshorn, Merle Harris,
Ingrid Johnston, Elaine Jones, and Jill Kedersha McClay
Our main criterion for selection for this list is that the books should be worth reading and, crucially, should have something to say to teens. Some excellent novels do not appear here because their appeal is more for the middle-aged reader. Interest and good writing are our major criteria; we do not censor on grounds of language or subject matter. We consider that if teen readers are capable of dealing with the complexities of adult fiction, they are also able to reach their own conclusions on such topics.
Ingrid Johnston and I started this work in 1996; since that time, a number of other reviewers have joined the project. Many hands certainly do make the work lighter, and I would like to thank all those listed above for their contributions this year. We all hope you enjoy using this list as much as we have enjoyed reading the books that comprise it. MM
Stories of Crisis
Toronto: HarperFlamingoCanada, 2001. 281 pages. Hardback. 0-00-225524-3
Bock begins his compelling novel with a memorable date "August 6, 1945, "and an unforgettable opening line: "One morning toward the end of the summer they burned away my face, my little brother and I were playing on the bank of the river that flowed past the eastern edge of our old neighbourhood, on the grassy floodplain that had been my people's home and misery for centuries." Grounding his book in two of the horrors of the twentieth century, the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and the Holocaust, Bock skillfully draws readers into the lives of three characters whose lives and destinies are shaped by these events.
Emiko is the young girl of the opening line, a six-year old child who loses both her family and her face on the day the atomic bomb falls. The novel takes us through her traumatic early life in Japan, her arrival in the U.S. for reconstructive surgery, and her adult life as a documentary film producer. Anton is a brilliant German scientist who comes to Los Alamos in the U.S. to refine the atomic bomb and then visits Hiroshima to see the devastating effects of his creation. For the rest of his life he tries to come to terms with what he has seen and his part in the tragedy. Sophie, Anton's part-Jewish wife is orphaned by the holocaust and struggles to understand her history and to help Anton deal with his own guilt. When the three characters meet, their intertwined lives create a fascinating story of a search for identity in an evocative redefining of the past.
Bock has successfully woven three fascinating and complex characters into the horrors of war and the aftermath of loss. Each of the three characters is well drawn and believable, and their relationships create a tapestry of guilt, anger, compassion and understanding. Bock is an imaginative and lucid writer. The Ash Garden is his first full-length novel and it has received in-depth praise and acclaim from Canadian and international critics. It is a rewarding and thought-provoking read. IJ
River Thieves by Michael Crummey.
Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2001.
335 pages. Hardback. 0-385-65810-9
This is a tremendous book. Historical fiction has a misplaced reputation for sometimes being dry and dusty, but the characters in this book step into life from their first appearance onwards. Like the best historical novels, this one makes you feel that the characters are the way they are partly because of the time and place they inhabit: in this case of this book, that location is 19th century Newfoundland, a hard and challenging home for anyone but particularly for the last surviving Beothuks.
The story of the Beothuks, who became extinct before the 19th century was a third over, is a haunting one; in this book they are already half-vanished, seen only fleetingly, with one exception. That exception is Mary, a young woman captured and kept against her will in the Peyton household. John Peyton Sr. and John Peyton Jr. struggle to manage a harsh life. The son constantly battles for his father's respect, and even sees him as a rival for the love of Cassie, their servant.
Crummey does an excellent job of answering the question that often baffles those who sample the worst of Newfoundland's winters: how on earth did anyone survive here when life was harder than it is now? The extreme difficulties of clawing a bare living out of the unforgiving rock are brought vividly to life in this very readable story. As well as history, the book includes romance, suspense, and terror. A stimulating exploration of a fascinating story. MM
The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart.
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001. 392 pages. Hardback. 0-7710-8687-3
One twentieth-century revolution that has become almost invisible to us, we now take it so for granted, is the development of ready-made articles for domestic use - clothes, kitchen tools, window frames, roof shingles, and so forth. What we now buy without a moment's thought, we used to create for ourselves. The bond thus forged between hand, tool and artifact is something we now experience less often, but that bond is one element of our past that Jane Urquhart successfully recreates in this intriguing historical novel. Skill and love of craft are not specific to one gender, but our forebears behaved as if they were, and the heroine of this book, Klara Becker, must fight assumptions about what she can and cannot do because she is a woman. With such material to work with, it is not surprising that Urquhart also foregrounds the craft of novel-making as well.
Daily life in a German-settled part of Ontario in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is at the heart of the early part of this novel. The First World War plays its awful part in shattering the assumptions that had previously worked so comfortably, and when it is over the question of how to commemorate the dead and lost becomes primary. The action moves to the creation of the great Canadian War Memorial at Vimy in France but questions of craft and art and assumptions about gender continue to motivate the plot. This highly readable book never loses its sense of the impact and importance of what our hands can manipulate and what our hearts need to know. MM
Families Under Pressure
Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2002. 487 pages. Hardback. 0-7710-6127-7
Rohinton Mistry's new novel Family Matters takes us to Bombay in the mid-1990s. Nariman Vakeel is a seventy-nine year old widower with Parkinson's disease who lives with his two middle-aged stepchildren in a once elegant apartment. Coomy, a bitter and domineering woman, and her brother Jal, quiet and mild mannered, resent the care and attention they must provide to their ailing stepfather. Coomy plots to turn his round-the-clock care over to Roxana, Nariman's sweet-tempered daughter after he falls and breaks his ankle. When Nariman takes up residence with Roxana, her husband Yezad, and their two young sons, it sets in motion a chain of events that lead the whole family into turmoil. Already facing financial problems, the added responsibility of having his father-in-law living with them, pushes Yezad into a scheme of deception involving his eccentric employer at Bombay Sporting Goods Emporium. Ultimately, the family must face the truths about their past and confront situations over which they have no control.
Family Matters is beautifully written with remarkable characters who are living their lives in the best way they can. As they overcome tragedy and ultimately accept each other 'for better or worse', this family is strengthened and unified by their shared experiences. Readers will immerse themselves in the lives of these people and be sorry to say good bye to them when they turn the final page. JdG
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2002. 294 pages. Hardback. 0-676-97479-1
Kate Morrison is seven when her parents die without warning in a car crash. Her older brothers Luke, 19, and Matt, 17, undertake the substantial task of looking after Kate and their baby sister Bo. It is a heroic undertaking for two boys in their late teens, although Kate, who narrates the story, only partially understands how difficult their lives become.
Kate hero-worships Matt, and readers of this book must move beyond her account to find ways of rendering justice to Luke, who is the lynch-pin who keeps the family together. Throughout this elegantly told story, Kate is consistently limited by the boundaries of her own perceptions and readers must fill in the gaps in her storytelling. Kate not only doesn't understand her brothers very well; she is also unaware of the many undercurrents and tensions in the broader community of the small town of Crow Lake that drive the plot of this story at an ever faster pace.
This is a story about a family under duress; it is also a story about education, the value placed on education in some cultures, and the mischief such a valuation can cause when it is not balanced by respect for other human virtues. The story reads simply, but there is a sharp angle of rising tension as the young Morrisons grow older, frustrated in many different ways without parents to help them or provide opportunities for them, and caught in the web of Crow Lake life.
Cleverly told, deceptively simple, and subtle in its social insights, this is a book to enjoy at more than one level. MM
Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright.
Toronto: HarperFlamingo, 2001. 415 pages. Hardback. 0-00-200501-8
This award-winning novel by Richard Wright tells the story of two sisters who are facing the future with both hope and uncertainty. Clara Callan is a schoolteacher in a small Ontario town near Toronto. Her sister, Nora, is a radio soap opera star and lives in New York City. The stories of both their lives are told through a series of letters and diary entries. Interwoven with the sisters' personal stories of love and loss and adventure, Clara Callan is also the story of the times. It is the 1930s and the Dionne quintuplets are making headlines around the world, the Depression is affecting people in both Canada and the United States, people escape from their own lives through radio and television, and war is brewing in Europe.
Although these two sisters are very different, their lives are woven together by both family history and social expectations for young women at this time. With vivid imagery and rich, wonderful characters, Clara Callan is by turns dark, funny, joyful, and sad. JdG
Robbiestime by Don Dickinson. Scarborough : HarperCollins Canada, 2001 (first published 2000). 324 p. Paperback. 0-006-48530-8
Robbie Hendershot is the 11-year-old son of a World War II airman and his British war bride. Though he is growing up in Saskatchewan in the 1950s, his life has been shaped by the European war that brought his parents together. After completing a timeline assignment for a history class, he applies the concept to his family history, dividing it into three eras: "beforethewar," "duringthewar," and "afterthewar." He puzzles over his parents' troubled marriage, certain that their problems are caused by something that happened "duringthewar." When his mother takes his little brother back to England for a visit, Robbie grapples with the possibility that they may not return. While the setting is suggestive of W.O. Mitchell, the story is more hard-edged and less sentimental than Who Has Seen the Wind? The character, narrative style, and the portrayal of the relationships between brothers are reminiscent of Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke, Ha, Ha, Ha. HG
Adams Richards. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2001 (first published 2000). 432 pages. Paperback. 0-38525-995-6
Lyle Henderson is an angry young man - angry at his neighbours, but most of all at his father, Sydney. When Sydney was 12, he pushed another boy off a roof in a fit of anger, and swore that if God let the boy live, Sydney "would never raise his hand or his voice to another soul." The boy lived, and Sydney has kept his promise during the rest of his life. As a result, he has been persecuted by the residents of his hardscrabble community in rural New Brunswick. Even when he is accused of murder, he refuses to defend himself. Lyle and his sister Autumn grow up in the shadow of their father's persecution, and Lyle struggles to reconcile his father's pacifist teachings with the code of violence and self-interest that appears to bring success to others. He both hates and tries to emulate Mathew Pit, the tough-guy neighbour who is the cause of much of the family's trouble. He feels both love and contempt for his father, who refuses to fight back against the family's enemies. Richards crafts a painfully realistic portrait of confused adolescence. In the aftermath of last year's terrorist attacks, this book is a timely meditation on the ultimate futility of both extreme pacifism and extreme vengefulness. There is no neat and tidy ending here, but the book's moral ambiguity will provide food for thought for adolescent readers. HG
Things That Must Not Be Forgotten: A Childhood in Wartime China by Michael David Kwan. Toronto: Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 2000. 244 pages. Paperback. 1-55199-069-5
This is the story of a very unusual childhood. David Kwan, born in 1934, was the son of a Chinese businessman and a much younger Swiss woman whom the child barely knew (she left when he was still very small). He grew up through the 1930s and 1940s in times of great turmoil and then war as the Japanese over-ran China. From early days of utter luxury, the family, which soon included a stepmother, was soon embroiled in the topsy-turvy politics of the time. David's father became mysteriously involved in the resistance to the Japanese, but this well-concealed fact did not protect him from prosecution and imprisonment after the war ended.
Throughout his childhood, David moved, often very unskillfully, through different worlds, torn between home and school, between his Chinese identity and his mixed heritage, between his nurse and his stepmother, between the sheltered life of the rich and the more perilous existence of those who are politically exposed to peril. His account of this extraordinary time is always engaging, and he is frank about the complexities of growing up in such a fragile setting and about the ways he sometimes seemed to specialize in making things more difficult for himself. MM
Don't read this book on public transit, in a doctor's waiting room, or anywhere else where people will stare at you strangely if you start laughing out loud. Munroe's hilarious first novel tells the story of Ryan Slint, a 22-year-old student at the University of Toronto who has a secret identity - he can turn into a fly. He has never told anyone about his ability, until he meets Cassandra, a waitress at the local diner. She's not exactly normal either - she's an ex punk rocker who can make things disappear into thin air. Naturally, they were made for each other. Inspired by the heroics of Sailor Moon, Ryan and Cassandra become the Superheroes for Social Justice and set out to battle the forces of darkness: cigarette companies, sexist police officers, and the Toronto Sun. Though much of the book is uproariously funny, things take a serious turn in the end. Riding high on the success of their playful superhero pranks, Ryan and Cassandra are unprepared for a confrontation with true evil. Despite its over-the-top themes, the book is a realistic portrayal of undergraduate life: the room mates, the parties, the boredom of classes, the uncertainty about one's future, and the ups and downs of first love. Ryan is a likable character with a wry wit, and his observations of the cultural scene around him ring true. HG
This powerful and intriguing tale of "going underground" is a carefully conceived and beautifully told contemporary echo of the Demeter and Persephone myth. Twelve-year old Mere has lived her entire life sailing the Great Lakes on the boat her mother Faye captains. Twice a year, they dock briefly to pick up supplies and an envelope of money. Faye manages in this way to evade capture by the FBI, from whom she has lived as a fugitive for thirteen years. This "underground" existence also enables her to raise and protect her daughter. Mere, however, needs to discover her father Merrill and his world. Her opportunity comes when Merrill appears at the dock seeking refuge. In her desperate bid to gain a measure of freedom, Mere launches an inexorable chain of events.
The mother and daughter team of Linda and Esta Spalding, each an accomplished writer, together creates a seamless telling of a tale both mythic and contemporary; rarely does a narrative succeed on both levels so powerfully. Mere is as elemental as a child seeking independence from parental protection, as aching as a child's yearning for a father, and as intricate as the political intrigue of its time. JKM
Dagmar's Daughter by Kim Echlin.
Toronto: Penguin, 2001. 207 pages. Paperback. 0-14-029092-3
Dagmar's Daughter is an unusual, but compelling, story of three generations of Nolan women: Norea, who creates life with her tears, Dagmar who can control the weather and make anything grow, and Nyssa who is unequaled on the fiddle. It is also the story of Moll, an outcast and hag, whose dark presence weaves in and out of the lives of the other inhabitants of Millstone Nether.
Echlin has based her story on two myths: the myth of the Sumerian goddess Ianna who descends into the underworld and the Greek myth of Dementer who searches for her daughter Persephone after Persephone's abduction by Hades. This mythic base and the setting, on an isolated island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, gives Dagmar's Daughter a timeless quality which is complemented by Echlin's lyrical and stylized writing. It sounds like this novel might be heavy going, but it isn't. The plot moves quickly and the characters' relationships are very interesting. The end result is a powerful and intriguing story. EJ
Seven Wild Sisters by Charles de Lint.
Illustrated by Charles Vess. Burton, MI: Subterranean Press, 2002. 152 pages. Hardback. 1-931081-33-6
This superbly illustrated novella, commissioned by the publisher, had its genesis at the annual feminist science fiction convention, WisCon, in 2000. Vess's fey black-and-white drawings, vignettes and full-page illustrations, complement de Lint's tight pacing and poetic prose. While the cover and overall packaging of the book is reminiscent of an old-fashioned children's book, the story is as current as all of de Lint's urban fantasy writing.
The adventures of the seven feisty Dillard sisters are told through the agency of multiple voices but the main narrator is seventeen-year-old Sarah Jane, the middle child. The reader follows along the path that curiosity takes Sarah Jane to the isolated home of Aunt Lillian who befriends her and introduces her to tales of several strange characters that reside in the forest and trees just beyond her land. Through example and her stories, Aunt Lillian also introduces Sarah Jane to a new understanding of herself. One day, while out in the woods gathering ginseng, Sarah Jane comes across an injured creature whom she rescues. This disturbs the age-old feud between the 'sang and the bees in which Sarah Jane and her sisters become entangled. They become captive pawns for both sides of the faery war. Neither side, however, realize how resilient the sisters could be, and by the story's end, both the fey and the reader gain a great appreciation for the wild Dillards.
Full of danger and suspense, the tale leaves the reader feeling refreshed and satisfied. De Lint's lyrical and conversational tone makes the magic of the story both inevitable and acceptable. This book is a treat for both the eyes and the ears. Aunt Lillian also appears in a short story prequel, published about the same time, in a collection of short stories, The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Winding with decorations by Charles Vess. GdV
Galveston by Sean Stewart. New York: Ace, 2001. 454 pages. Paperback. 0441008003; Reissue of hard cover Edition
This is a complicated novel that follows two damaged characters as they intertwine with the fate of the twin personalities of the city of Galveston, which was created by a tidal wave of magic during Mardi Gras 2004. Sloane Gardner, the daughter of Jane and goddaughter of Odessa, has been groomed by these two powerful women to take up the responsibilities of keeping the magic from the perpetual Mardi Gras of Galveston Island out of the outside world. Sloane does not want the responsibility and so travels to the Mardi Gras world to strike a bargain with the god/demon Lord Momus. She successfully travels between the two worlds with the aid of a facemask made by Odessa, also a powerful magician. The wording of the bargain, as always, is very important and Jane pays the price of not paying close attention to what is said. She becomes seduced by the magic but gains, through her trials, a more honest understanding of who she is and her role. Joshua Cane was an early playmate of Sloan's, whose fortune and family was lost by his father in a card game when both Josh and Sloan were young. By the time they are reunited, Josh, a frustrated and bitter apothecary, and a friend of his are charged with Sloane's murder when she disappears into the magic after the death of her mother.
The reuniting of these main characters and the disjointed aspects of the city are the result of a horrific hurricane. Strong character development, superior command of language and pacing, Galveston is a tale that is enthralling, frightening, and memorable. Strong themes of searching for identity, parental expectations and personal responsibility make this a powerful read for a strong young adult reader. GdV
The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint. New York: TOR. 508 pages. Hardcover. 0-312-87397-2
Painter Jilly Coppercorn, a familiar and popular character in de Lint's other stories of the city of Newford, is the focus of this multi-layered novel. Jilly's story has not been told before and, in fact, she has kept her early history buried from herself as well as her friends as much as possible. The journey begins as Jilly is hospitalized as the result of being hit by a car. Her story and history come to light, one small step at a time, through the memories and adventures of her many faithful hospital visitors and a parallel tale of a young woman embittered by the early desertion of her older sister. By the time the stories merge, the two "children of the secret" confront each other in the other world, leaving Jilly in a very precarious physical state in this one.
This novel of urban fantasy blends Celtic, Native American and other mythical beliefs into a seamless story that reverberates with magic and truth. Like the Onion Girl of the title, the many layers of the novel are peeled back with delicacy and precision. An assured and accomplished writer, de Lint, weaves his magic, creating once again not only strong characters that readers easily identify with and want to revisit again and again, but establishes a vibrant world of possibilities and hope just on the edge of the here and now. This is a story, often harsh and unbending, that emphasises personal responsibility, family obligations, choices, and friendship and loyalty. More so than other of the Newford stories, Jilly's story focuses on the teen experience. GdV
Out in the World and Back at Home
A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging by Dionne Brand. Toronto: Doubleday, 2001. 224 pages. Hardback. 0-385-25865-8
Dionne Brand, the award-winning poet, has created a powerful exploration of identity and belonging in a culturally diverse world. A Map to the Door of No Return is a poetic and provocative look at her own origins and identity through the imagined and historic "Middle Passage" that brought slaves from their homelands in Africa north to the New World. For Brand, her early search for identity was a "moment of rupture," and a realization that she had no traceable beginnings. "We were not from the place where we lived and we could not remember where we were from or who we were" (p. 5).
Brand's book describes stories of her childhood in the Caribbean and her later life in England and in various parts of Canada. She draws on travel memoirs, cartography, history, politics and literature. Many of her stories of childhood and adolescence are woven through with excerpts of writing and quotes from favourite authors. Her accounts of travel around the world are narrated in fragments, with remembered incidents highlighted. Excerpts from newspaper articles dramatically recreate difficulties of discrimination and racism encountered by some "visible minority" immigrants to Canada.
Brand weaves fact and fantasy, history, memories, and the imagination in a seemingly effortless way. Her facility with language and her ability to deal with the subtleties of emotion make her work a pleasure to read, yet never detract from her ability to cut to the bone with her condemnations of slavery and discrimination. Her sense of dislocation, of being cut off from her past and her efforts to situate herself in a fragmented world will resonate with many readers. This book is not for everyone, but it is an evocative and important Canadian work. IJ
Freetown Ambush: A Reporter's Year in Africa by Ian Stewart. Toronto: Penguin, 2002. 306 pages. Hardcover. 067089479-6
This is the story of a young reporter whose career has taken him to some of the world's toughest places: Afghanistan, Vietnam, and West Africa. As the Associated Press Bureau Chief for West Africa, he covered wars in the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone. During his time in these war-torn countries, Stewart witnessed and reported on brutal executions and mob killings in Kinshasa and the virtual enslavement and maiming of children in Sierra Leone. In Freetown Ambush, Ian Stewart describes his year in West Africa as one that moved between the adrenaline-filled highs of putting his life in danger as he reported from these war zones to the friendships he made during the quieter times at his home base in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Stewart's story abruptly changes in January, 1999 when he and a car full of other reporters were ambushed in Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown. Shot in the head by armed rebels, he survived to tell his story as a casualty of the war he covered. Freetown Ambush is part personal memoir and part historical record of places and people that are often forgotten. Ian Stewart weaves together a heart-lifting story of his own recovery with the heartbreak and fear that is faced everyday by the people of West Africa. That Ian Stewart lived to tell his story is remarkable, that he does it so eloquently and with great courage and frankness is even more extraordinary. Readers will come away changed by the experience of reading such a tremendous book. JdG
Fatal Passage: The Untold Story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer Who Discovered the Fate of Franklin, by Ken McGoogan. Toronto: Harper Flamingo Canada, 2001. 328 pages. Hardcover. 0-00-200054-7
This book should lay to rest the thought that Canadian history is not interesting. Well researched, with an abundance of primary source material, maps and illustrations, this is a fascinating book on John Rae, the young doctor chosen by the Hudson Bay Company to map the coast of the Arctic mainland in the mid-nineteenth century. Not only did Rae map the final link of the Northwest Passage, he also discovered, from Inuit hunters, the fate of the Franklin Expedition.
McGoogan writes of Rae's appreciation of both the Cree and Inuit customs and lore. When he returned to England and made his report, including the fact that the Franklin survivors had resorted to cannibalism, Lady Franklin and Charles Dickens helped destroy his reputation. Although later discoveries proved Rae correct, until this book, neither his name nor his accomplishments have been well known.
Fatal Passage won the Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize, CAA Lela Common Award for Canadian History, and was co-winner of The Grant MacEwan Author's Award. MH
Poetry and Wordplay
Eunoia by Christian Bök. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2001. 105 pages. Paperback. 1-55234-092-9
"Hassan drafts a Magna Carta and asks that a taxman pass a Tax Act" (p. 19) "Whenever Helen dresses herself en fête, her sewn vestments reflect her resplendence" (p. 35)"Writing is inhibiting. Sighing, I sit, scribbling in ink with pidgin script" (p. 50) "Brown storks flock to brooks to look for schools of smolt or schools of snook" (p. 69) "Duluth dump trucks lurch, pull U-turns" (p.78.) Bök's clever poetry book, this year's winner of the Griffin Prize, is an incredible achievement that took Bök seven years to complete. Each chapter contains only one vowel, and the unique character and flavour of each vowel shine through in the narratives that emerge in the book. From the lyrical nature of the "I," to the jocular tone of the "O" and the more vulgar "U," the book makes it clear that Bök has achieved more than a clever wordgame.
The word "Eunoia" means "beautiful thinking"; it is the shortest English word that contains all five vowels. Bok describes his book Eunoia as "a univocal lipogram" that "willfully cripples its language in order to show that, even under such improbable conditions of duress, language can still express an uncanny, if not sublime, thought" (p. 103). This is not a text to read in one sitting. The intensity of the language and the complexity of the strange narratives encourage readers to dip in and out of the book, savouring the language and enjoying the wit and intensity of the writing. It is hard not to be intrigued by Eunoia and impossible not to admire the skill, dexterity and musical texture of this unique book. IJ
Rita Kleinhart disappeared in 1992 at the age of 55, according to this unusual and attractive book. According to Raymond, the compiler of this collection, she had published 98 short poems before her disappearance from an art museum in Frankfurt. The hornbooks are fragmentary texts, including both Rita's other, often unfinished poems and Raymond's rueful reflections on Rita's life. Numbered and presented out of chronological order, they build up to a picture of a life and also a story of a relationship. Rita's artistic intentions, Raymond's proprietorial archival efforts, and the blurring of both chronology and actual events open many spaces for a reader to engage in making sense of the whole. Over the course of the book, this project becomes an unsettling operation that creates oddly prismatic and shimmering effects without ever leading to a sense of securely knowing what really matters. MM
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001. 322 pages. Hardback. 0-7710-6525-6
Once again, Alice Munro astonishes with the power of her fiction. This collection of nine stories, most of which were previously published in The New Yorker or the London Review of Books, is hypnotic reading for mature readers who welcome the intensity and wit of Munro's storytelling. Despite the awkward title, which is taken from a girls' counting game, the collection itself is elegant and spare, as Munro creates characters whose lives are fully fleshed and realized on the page. To provide a description of stories and characters here would miss the point of them entirely, as Munro's artistry makes lives unfold with such logic and wisdom that even peculiar twists of fate seem inevitable. Her characters become what they must be, and do what they must. Seemingly minor characters may be the hinges that support and turn the story, as when two adolescent girls forge letters that set a relationship in motion. The consequence of a child's birth from this relationship strikes young Edith as "fantastical, but dull." In "Floating Bridge" and "A Bear Came Over the Mountain," physical and mental illness work their way organically through lives and marriages. It is impossible to do justice to this wonderful collection in a brief review; readers must experience it for themselves. JKM
Given the popularity of South East Asia as a tourist destination for young Westerners, this collection of seven short stories should have widespread appeal. With the exception of "Distance," which is set in Prague, all the stories take place in the South Pacific - Singapore, Bali, Indonesia, Thailand, Borneo and the Philippines - in time periods ranging from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. Whether funny, sad, thoughtful, satirical, or poignant, these stories all deal in some way with the impact of the West - through colonialism, tourism, Christian evangelism - on the cultures of the East. For example, in the first story, "Seven Years with Wallace," a nineteenth century British naturalist leaves the young Dyak boy he had purchased as a field assistant seven years previously alone and friendless in Singapore, despite the boy's wish to accompany him to England, because "It is not done." In the title story, "Kingdom of Monkeys" a very physical, strong-minded, foul-mouthed, female tourist travelling with her boyfriend in Borneo is pitted against their male Muslim guides who expect her to conform to their idea of femininity. The final, and strongest, story in the collection is "Beautiful Feet." In it a Canadian missionary drags his family to the Philippines to "plant churches" and finds himself trying to convert a tribe living among the ruins of a movie set and following a religion based on characters from Apocalypse Now.
Like all fine travel writers, Schroeder does more than just highlight intriguing aspects of exotic cultures and locales, he manages to show that by leaving home and experiencing foreign cultures we can learn more about ourselves. EJ
Dead Girls, by Nancy Lee. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 2002. 296 pages. Paperback. 0-7710-5250-2
Dead Girls is a collection of powerful, edgy, disturbing, dark stories about young people who, more than anything, want to be loved, but get involved in bad relationships. Although the main thread in these stories is of missing or murdered young women and a serial killer, Lee also weaves everyday occurrences of skateboarding and telling jokes through the collection.
Lee has a keen observation of humanity, and she captures perfectly the isolation these teenagers face and their need for some form of guidance. She takes her readers behind the headlines, and on journeys into places and situations they rarely visit. These stories resonate long after the last page is read. MH
Our Life with the Rocket: The Maurice Richard Story by Roch Carrier. Trans. Sheila Fischman. Toronto: Penguin Viking, 2001. 304 pages. Hardback. 0-670-88375-1
Roch Carrier is famous as the author of The Hockey Sweater, the sad story of a Quebecois boy humiliated when his mother inadvertently buys him a Toronto Maple Leaf jersey instead of the famous Canadiens number 9 jersey of Rocket Richard. In this full-length account of the life of Maurice Richard, Carrier fleshes out that story, with autobiographical passages about his own early life in Quebec, with historical and sociological explanations of the rage that festered in Quebec at the perception of Anglo discrimination at every turn, and with hockey - lots of hockey. Most of the book is told in a present tense that both captures the stream-of-consciousness awareness of a growing boy and also faithfully reflects the tone of the play-by-play calling of a game.
It is probably fair to say that you do have to know something about hockey and to like reading about it to get much from this book. However, readers who meet those conditions will find considerable illumination not only of hockey but also of an important passage of Canadian history. Carrier is very interesting on the subject of how French Canadian identity and pride were bound up in the success or failure of the Canadiens, at a time (from the 1940s into the 1960s) when very few other opportunities were open to the Quebecois. "It's only a sport," but Carrier shows how very important a sport can be. MM
Mystery and More
Spadework by Timothy Findley. Toronto: HarperFlamingo, 2001. 408 pages. Hardback. 0-00-225508-1
One of Canada's best-known authors has written a new novel that will delight his fans and entice new readers. Set in a fictional version of Stratford, Ontario, Findley tells a story of love, infidelity, betrayal, and ultimately, redemption. It is also a story that intertwines the lives of seemingly unrelated characters as they struggle to find acceptance, love, and friendship in this theatre town. Many seemingly different plotlines all result from the errant thrust of a gardener's spade, which slices a telephone cable. The ensuing disconnection has devastating results when one call fails to reach the house and an ambitious young actor becomes the victim of blackmail. A second call that cannot be made leads to murder.
Findley cleverly develops all these plots and brings the stories back together for a satisfying conclusion. Filled with glimpses of the theatre world, highly developed, multi-layered characters, and the evocative language that Findley is known for, Spadework is an absorbing novel that I highly recommend. JdG
Bones to Pick by Suzanne North. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2002. 268 pages. Paperback. 0-7710-6800-X
Phoebe Fairfax is billed on the back cover of this book as Canada's most reluctant sleuth. In her third outing, she finds trouble among the dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. Phoebe, who makes her living as the camerawoman for a frivolous Calgary television show and engages her true avocation as a nature photographer, is a very engaging heroine. She lives in the foothills of the Rockies and the vivid depiction of her southern Alberta environment is one of the attractions of the books. Phoebe's skeptical personality is another delight. In this book, she takes on the perpetrators of phoney science. Like its predecessors, Healthy, Wealthy, and Dead, and Seeing is Deceiving, it is a lightweight and enjoyable read without being completely empty-headed. MM