Giller Shortlist: Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis

November 8, 2019 by

This is the first time I’ve read a book by David Bezmozgis. Marcie, on the other hand, has read several. Did this have any effect on the way we reacted to the book?

 

Here is an excerpt from Marcie’s review, which can be read in full at Buried in Print

 

Along the way, I’ve missed only one of David Bezmozgis’ books. The last novel of his I read was The Free World and, reading through the quotations I saved from that reading, I was struck by how many older passages resonate with this new collection.

Here is one which strikes me today because I’ve been thinking about how we move through patterns in the ways we relate to people and how we yearn to connect. About how many challenges to that desire exist. About the additional challenge when one must navigate that challenge while building a new home somewhere that used to be just ‘elsewhere’.

“The thrill was in saying the words and having someone say them back. The conversation was always the same anyway. You repeated at twenty-six what you’d said at sixteen. And, if you were lucky, you got to repeat it again at fifty-six and ninety-six. To see yourself through admiring eyes, to tell a woman what you wanted – what could be better? How could you tire of that? Emigration had already spoiled too many pleasures and hadn’t granted many new ones in return.”

You can spot a shift in focus between these two works immediately with the last sentence about ‘emigration’ and the title of this year’s Giller-nominated stories, Immigrant City. The former emphasizes the process of leaving one’s country to settle in a new country and the latter emphasizes the process of resettling in a new country having left another country behind. But of course these states are intertwined.

 

Here is an excerpt from Naomi’s review, which can be read in full at Consumed by Ink.

 

Although David Bezmozgis has been on the Giller list before (with Free World in 2011 and The Betrayers in 2014), this is the first of his books I’ve read. And the only short story collection on the shortlist this year.

Not only did I find his writing style engaging, it was my first experience reading about the Latvian Jewish community. David Bezmozgis himself was born in Riga, Latvia.

The title story, Immigrant City, was probably my favourite. I could connect to the narrator who is the father of three young daughters – one of which loves to go with him everywhere. He doesn’t hesitate to take her across the city of Toronto on the subway to find a used door to match his car. “Didn’t every kind of flotsam wash up on the blasted shores of the Internet, including a black 2012 Toyota Highlander front passenger-side door? Indeed, there was one, offered for sale by Mohamed Abdi Mohamed of Rexdale.”

I love the image of the father and daughter riding home again on the subway; one carrying a car door and one wearing a hijab (given to the daughter by Mohamed’s wife).

In an immigrant city, a city of innumerable struggles and ambitions, a white man with a car door and a daughter wearing a blue hijab attract less attention than you might expect.

 

Interested in more? You can find the Shadow Giller reading schedule here.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Immigrant City. Or any other bookish thing you’d like to say! Do you read short stories? How do you feel about short story collections competing against novels for literary prizes? 

 

Giller Shortlist: Small Game Hunting At the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

November 1, 2019 by

Judging by our reviews, this book seems to have made an emotional impact. As Megan Gail Coles warned us it might, it hurt to read.  

 

An excerpt from Marcie’s review, which can be read in full at Buried in Print

Despite the rather long title, the core idea of this novel is succinct: “Your truth is not more fucking true than my truth.”

Megan Gail Coles situates her story around a downtown restaurant in St. John’s Newfoundland. There, a handful of characters, who are navigating the daily grind, present their truths. The structure is simultaneously expansive and focussed: so many characters and so little time.

Readers spend time with these men and women in and out of this restaurant (but mostly out). It’s perfect for illustrating the power dynamics in everyday life.

Waiters and waitresses: they’re servers, right? There’s an inherent power dynamic. And a hierarchy within the staff and management, the age-old conflict between front- and back-of-house, and the sexism rampant in the food industry: a restaurant is the perfect scene to explore inequity.

Coles doesn’t illustrate the scenes in which the servers have an opportunity to be comfortable in their role. There’s no table with a happy couple that overtips their server at the end of the night because they are so content with their own relationship that their gratitude expresses itself in an increased gratuity. There’s no table set for the back- and front-of-house staff to share a meal together before or after the dinner shift.g.

One of my favourite scenes, an uncomfortable one, depicts a waitress at table-side, a full table too. A potentially lucrative group (large, moneyed, influential). Some interior aspects of the scene are spelled out in detail. Some are left to readers to assemble. The details are useful, but the unwritten parts – they are what made me seethe. (If you’ve ever worked in the service industry, any service industry, you can imagine.)

It’s not a comfortable scene. And neither are the other aspects of these characters’ lives. The ugliest bits are on display and unkindnesses echo and repeat (there is one notable exception, but that would be spoilery). Initially, the cast overwhelms, not for their numbers but for their natures.

 

An excerpt from Naomi’s review, which can be read in full at Consumed by Ink

Self-destructive behaviour runs rampant in this book. Grieving for Tom, Damian has just come off one of the biggest benders of his life. He came into work reeking of alcohol and is dipping into more to get through the day.

He has the look of a person who has not been eating food recently. Ben hands him an OJ and ginger ale and everyone watches it disperse through his body like African rivers flooding the great plains after the seasonal drought. John can see the vitamins and minerals moving like emergency service providers dispatched at an accident scene.

Calv seems like a good guy who has made some terrible decisions – one in particular – and it’s wreaking havoc on his conscience. To make matters worse, he continues to go out with the repugnant Roger, and is with him now at The Hazel. He knows how his sister Amanda feels about Roger (He knows how his sister feels about a lot of things!), and desperately hopes not to run into her.

Everything was always about her, about being nice to Amanda, watching her prance around, or listening to her every jesus thought on why fast food was not food and hydro projects was evil and oil was dirty and how everything and anything Calv was ever interested in or into was wrong, wrong, wrong. Amanda made Calv feel like he was destroying the fucking planet by his own self, but he was just doing what every other jesus human was doing.

Amanda is going to give herself bad nerves worrying over shit she got no control over.

And she says that’s his fault too. That he don’t do his share of worrying over anything. None of them do, so all the women is left to worry their own worries and the worries of every man nearby who is too busy playing some fake game in a fantasy world.

And then there’s Major David, Mayor of St. John’s, who seems to collect all the misconceptions and stereotypes there ever were and use them to form ludicrous opinions.

She doesn’t like him. It’s perceptible. That, or she’s on her period. Probably both. He’s heard that the serving staff, being primarily female, get synced up. He would like to see a study on that. Major David has heard that they have periods for weeks now because of the new contraceptives. He’s convinced, convinced, that all the estrogen they piss out into the harbour is why there are more homosexuals. When he was a young man there was hardly a queer in Newfoundland, and now they’re everywhere. The fellow wiping the glassware for example. Gay. Those mannerisms. That haircut. Gay gay gay.

He don’t mind gay people now, he just wishes they didn’t all look so fit.

 

Interested in more? You can find the Shadow Giller reading schedule here.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Small Game Hunting At the Local Coward Gun Club… have you read it? Do you plan to? Do you like reading books that make you uncomfortable?… Or any other bookish thing you’d like to say!

 

Giller Shortlist: Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin

October 25, 2019 by

One of the things I enjoy about the process of sharing our Giller thoughts here on Kevin’s blog is noticing the similarities (and differences) in our reactions to the books. In The Innocents we both noticed the use of language. In Reproduction we talked about the stuff of ordinary lives.

 

In Dual Citizens we’ve both commented on the sense of distance…

 

Marcie: “But what’s remarkable about Dual Citizens is how simultaneously intimate and distanced the narrative is. Readers feel like they are privy to all of the facts, down to the details, what she does while she’s waiting for her sister to be finished with her piano lesson and the courses she takes at college, without knowing the truth of any of it. You’re super-close and at arm’s length: it’s a strange feeling.”

Naomi: “Both sisters go through life as outsiders. They create a distance from their mother, their place of birth, men, and at times, each other.”

The membrane I’d felt before in college, separating me from everyone else, still endured, but now I considered it protective, and I hummed with activity behind it, purposeful, unseen.

Most of the time I lay on my bed in the Tunnel, feeling the invisible membrane that had long separated me from other people enclose me, and now it was thick and suffocating, and yet I could do nothing to break through it.

 

We’ve both noted Lark’s tendency to “collect”…

 

Marcie: “The book is structured in four parts, of unequal length: Before, Childhood, Motherhood, and After. Even from a young age, she sees herself as a “collector of patterns, a magpie in search of scraps”. This narrative is filled with what she has collected.”

Naomi: “And both girls are collectors; Lark collecting facts that she stores in her brain, and Robin collecting abandoned pianos that she stores in her barn.”

 

And we’re both interested in the way in which Ohlin tells her story…

 

Marcie: “So Dual Citizens is about two sisters, but it’s also about how one might tell a tale of two sisters.

It’s about the way that one might frame the telling, the process by which readers can examine the shape of the frame for clues about the architect.”

Naomi: “It’s through Lark’s experiences and observations that we learn what happens to the sisters, and between the sisters, as their lives unfold independently, yet always with an eye toward the other.”

 

To read Marcie’s review in full, visit Buried in Print

To read Naomi’s review in full, visit Consumed by Ink.

 

You can find the reading schedule for the shortlist here.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Dual Citizens, Alix Ohlin, the Giller, or any other bookish thing you’d like to say!

 

 

Giller Shortlist: Reproduction by Ian Williams

October 19, 2019 by

Ian Williams landed in Marcie‘s stack with his longlisting for the ReLit Award in 2011…

This is why I read prizelists: they encourage me to read in different directions, when left to my own devices, I sometimes plod along, in familiar reading territory, simply out of habit.

The title of Williams’ debut poetry collection, You Know Who You Are reminded me of Alice Munro’s story collection, Who Do You Think You Are? And he does draw his epigraph for that collection from Munro. In confirming this, in the moment of flipping through his opening pages, some of my insecurity likely slipped away, for I’m not as comfortable reading verse as I am reading prose.

And Munro? She’s one of the first authors I read who made it seem possible that ordinary things that happen in very small towns in Ontario, even more specifically in the space between farm and town, could be the stuff of stories on printed pages. That little girls from ordinary places could dare to think they might write stories. About all that ordinary stuff. And here is this poet who maybe found that idea just as comforting as I did.

And what ordinary stuff? Who hurts us and who cares for us. Those we follow and those we flee. When the plot lives in whether you take a ride or stay home in the barn. And character resides in whether we ignore the noises behind the bathroom door or are thought uppity for taking a bus to see a play. And whether you eat half a grapefruit or a bowl of porridge for breakfast presents a glimpse of the future.

 

Like Marcie, I noted the ordinariness of the characters’ lives in Reproduction. And the brilliance of an author who can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary for the reader. 

 

Reproduction is character-driven, and the characters are distinct and strongly defined. Some are likeable, some are decidedly not – but they are all wonderfully imperfect and, well, … ordinary.

You might be able to argue that the odd character grows over the course of the book, but I’d argue that most of them do not. Most of them remain stubbornly the same – Edgar is just as maddening at the end as he is in the beginning; Oliver never stops whining about his ex-wife; Felicia’s determination never wavers; Army is still coming up with money-making schemes. You get the sense that they don’t care a fig that they’re in a book. They’re not thinking about redemption or forgiveness – they’re thinking about groceries and sex and paying the rent. The stuff of ordinary lives.

 

Marcie and I both found the second half of the book more challenging than the first. But Marcie makes the point that maybe it shouldn’t be easy to read.

 

… I suspect that most people found the second half of Ian Williams’ novel Reproduction a real challenge: I did. He doesn’t make it easy for his characters. He doesn’t make it easy for his readers.

But should it be easy? Is it easy for you to repeat the cyclical motion of your everyday life? Maybe reading about ordinary life should be harder? Maybe if we’ve got our noses pressed up against the ugly bits of the lives of characters like these, we might be more likely to spot a solution for them, tug at some thin thread of hope that we could put to use ourselves.

 

To read Marcie’s post in full, visit Buried in Print.

To read Marcie’s mind-blowing review of Reproduction, visit The Temz Review. (You don’t want to miss this!)

To read Naomi’s post in full, visit Consumed by Ink.

 

We would love to hear your thoughts on Reproduction. What do you think of the structure? What do you admire most about the book? Did you find it challenging to read? 

 

You can find the reading schedule for the shortlist here.

Giller Shortlist: The Innocents by Michael Crummey

October 11, 2019 by

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending an author reading with Michael Crummey at the Halifax Library. It was my first time hearing him speak in person, and I was surprised by how relaxed he seemed and how funny he was. (Not as surprised by how personable and articulate.)

Crummey spoke about how The Innocents came to be. Years ago, in the St. John’s archives, he came across a “reference to an 18th century clergyman who discovered two young siblings living on their own in an isolated cove. When the clergyman approached them to ask how they came to be there on their own, the boy chased him off at gunpoint.” (CBC) Crummey couldn’t get those youngsters out of his head. “… to be orphaned in a place without any outside influences at all, and then having to try and discover who they were and how the world worked.

Crummey also spoke of his use of a book called Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (Francis Grose, 1785), where he found some whopping insults that fit nicely into his book. The excerpt he read that night is a good example of some of the colourful language he uses in his book.

In this excerpt, Sarah Best is making jam and her husband Sennet is trying to swipe some of it before it’s done.

Their father stole the spoon away and their mother smacked him across the ear with the flat of her hand.

“You lousy hedge whore,” he shouted, grabbing at her shoulders.

“Muck-spout,” she said through her teeth. “Filthy beard splitter.”

They wrestled nearly to exhaustion before he managed to corral her arms, cuffing her wrists together in one hand to give himself unfettered access to the cooling jam. He scooped a ladleful in his bare fingers and held their mother still a long moment then, trying to catch his breath, watching her as the thickened juice dripped from his hand.

“Don’t you,” Sarah Best said, weak with laughter, almost too winded to speak.

“You dirty shag-bag,” she said, yanking with both arms, using the last of her strength to try to pull clear.

“My bob tail,” their father said, reefing her closer.

“Sennet Best,” she said, “you buck fitch.”

And he brought the dripping hand to her face then, smearing the jam across her cheeks and her mouth and her squinted eyes as she squirmed in his grip and laughed and cursed him all she was worth.

What is a muck-spout, anyway? According to Mental Floss, it’s “a dialect word for someone who not only talks a lot, but who seems to constantly swear.” And a beard splitter?… “a British slang used for ‘ a man much given to wenching.’’ (The Vintage News)

 

Marcie (Buried in Print) also notes the language Crummey uses in The Innocents; the way in which it can make us feel close or at a distance.

The language makes it seem farther away, like another nation. Take, for instance, a passage like this, sprinkled with dialect which reminds readers of the Irish/Scottish/English settlements which took root. “In August Ada swept the beach clean, scraping mollyfodge from the rocks on the bawn to make an untainted platform for laying out the cod that had been sitting weeks in salt bulk.”

But the story, in particular the relationship between Ada and her brother, Evered, the universal struggles they face (survival – how much more basic does it get – and a desire to connect), makes it seem closer. As does the occasional glimpse of humour in what is a chronicle of an often-difficult and occasionally tragic life.

“You was lost in the dawnies again,” she said. “What was it you was dreaming about?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Some old foolishness.”

“You’re an awful liar, Brother.”

He shrugged. “It idn’t for lack of practice,” he said.

‘Mollyfodge’, ‘bawn’, and ‘dawnies’: that might put you back on your heels. But Evered’s quiet joke, and the talk of dreams, the everyday work (be it sweeping or fishing): in essence, it’s everyday life.

And the way in which it reminds us of poetry.

The language is beautiful. One also cannot forget that Crummey is a poet, so we have snippets like this to enjoy: a man who reads “periodically from the black book in his hands, his voice like a spadeful of gravel against wood”.

Marcie calls his writing “accomplished and resonant”, but notes that he especially wins her “reader’s heart” when he talks about storytelling.

To find out which of Crummey’s books is Marcie’s favourite, and to read her full review of The Innocents, pop over to Buried in Print.

 

We would love to hear your thoughts on The Innocents, Michael Crummey, the Giller, or any other bookish thing you would like to say! 

You can find the reading schedule for the shortlist here.

2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist and Shadow Jury Reading Schedule

October 8, 2019 by

The 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist:

Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

The Innocents by Michael Crummey

Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin

Lampedusa by Steven Price

Reproduction by Ian Williams

 

The Shadow Jury Reading Schedule:

We, the shadow jury, are hoping that by creating a schedule (and attempting to keep to it) you, our followers, will be tempted to read along and to share your thoughts with us in the comments. We’re looking forward to some good discussions!

Friday, October 11 – The Innocents

Friday, October 18 – Reproduction

Friday, October 25 – Dual Citizens

Friday, November 1 – Small Game Hunting at the local Coward Gun Club

Friday, November 8 – Immigrant City

Friday, November 15 – Lampedusa

 

See you soon for a discussion of The Innocents!

Happy Reading! 

Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist 2019

October 3, 2019 by

Originally posted on Consumed by Ink…

Consumed by Ink

The Giller Prize shortlist is out! The Shadow Jury will be reading and reviewing these books over the next 6 weeks, and will be choosing a shadow winner a few days before the official Giller Prize announcement on November 18th.

Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis, published by HarperCollins

Jury’s Thoughts:Bezmozgis has reimagined immigrant lives not simply as marked by displacement and discontinuity, but of immigration as a shared and binding experience...”

My Thoughts: I hope these stories are good enough to ease my disappointment that Late Breaking is not on this list.

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles, published by House of Anansi Press

Jury’s Thoughts: “...this is not your traditional Newfoundland novel of social isolation.”

My Thoughts: I loved Coles’ short story collection Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome, so I have high hopes…

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Scotiabank Giller Prize 2019: Longlist

September 11, 2019 by

Originally posted on Consumed by Ink…

Consumed by Ink

The Scotiabank Giller Prize was founded in 1994 by the late Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his wife, the late literary journalist Doris Giller. The prize awards $100,000 annually to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English, and $10,000 to each of the finalists.

The 2019 Giller Prize jury members are: Randy Boyagoda (Jury Chair), Aminatta Forna, Aleksandar (Sasha) Hemon, Donna Bailey Nurse, and José Teodoro.

“The 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist reveals and affirms a welcome and timely truth: Canadian fiction in 2019 is as confident in its exploration and interrogation of the local as it is curious and voracious in its engagement with the world beyond our borders, with time and place being understood in ways that are expansive, warping, and unexpectedly intimate.”

This year I will be joining Alison from The Globe and Mail and Marcie from Buried in Print on…

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The 2018 Giller Prize Winner

November 21, 2018 by

Congratulations to Esi Edugyan whose novel Washington Black was named the 2018 Giller Prize winner!

As many of you may already know, the Shadow Giller jury chose Songs for the Cold of Heart by Eric DuPont as our winner. However, Washington Black was our second choice, so it’s lovely to see such a wonderful book take the prize. If you’re interested in finding out how we arrived at our decision, you can read about it here.

For more information and photos of the event, you can visit the Scotiabank Giller Prize website or the CBC news. You can hear an interview with Esi Edugyan after her win on CBC’s “q” here.

What the jurors had to say about Washington Black:How often history asks us to underestimate those trapped there. This remarkable novel imagines what happens when a black man escapes history’s inevitable clasp – in his case, in a hot air balloon no less. Washington Black, the hero of Esi Edugyan’s novel is born in the 1800s in Barbados with a quick mind, a curious eye, and a yearning for adventure. In conjuring Black’s vivid and complex world – as cruel empires begin to crumble and the frontiers of science open like astounding vistas – Edugyan has written a supremely engrossing novel about friendship and love and the way identity is sometimes a far more vital act of imagination than the age in which one lives.”

 

That’s the end of the Giller Prize season for another year. We hope you’ve enjoyed following our Shadow Giller proceedings, reviews and tweets over the past two months. We’ve had a brilliant time doing it and read some wonderful books in the process. 

Thanks so much for your support, and we’ll see you again next year!

 

The 2018 Shadow Giller Winner

November 18, 2018 by

We are thrilled to reveal that the Shadow Giller winner for 2018 is:

Songs for the Cold of Heart by Eric DuPont

Congratulations to author Eric DuPont, translator Peter McCambridge and Publisher QC Fiction!

I think we were all won over by this amazing book with all its stories within stories and echos of itself. It’s a big book, but every sentence and every word entertains. The official Giller jury citation is as follows: “Once upon a time in Quebec there was a girl named Madeleine. A tiny red headed waif with only a suitcase in her possession steps off a train in a frozen village, and a strapping Quebec man falls head over heels in love with her strangeness. A baby is born from this union that is so big, it manages to kill both its parents in childbirth. As magnificent a work of irony and magic as the boldest works of Gabriel Garcí¬a Márquez, but with a wholly original sensibility that captures the marvellous obsessions of the Quebecois zeitgeist of the twentieth century. It is without any doubt, a tour de force. And the translation is as exquisite as a snowflake.

An excerpt from Marcie’s review: “Lost earrings and lost arrows. Trick knives and silver spoons. Snowstorms and air raids. Flapjacks and upside-down pineapple cake. Gold crosses and amber barrettes. Fireworks and torpedoes, gunshots and fisticuffs. Sugars and fevers. Eggs on roses and roses behind ears. Tenors and letters. Mary Tyler Moore and Leonard Cohen. The Thorn Birds and The Origins of Totalitarianism. Outdoor operas and bottled schnapps. Chihuahuas and zebras. Skyscrapers and caskets. Stuffed animals and smuggled paintings. Nativity scenes and restaurant chains. Emissaries and mirrors.

It’s not just a complete meal, it’s an entire menu.

An excerpt from Naomi’s review: “Songs for the Cold of Heart is made up of stories within stories. Stories that go back to the turn of the 20th century, stories that take place all over the world, stories that dazzle and shock – love, ambition, adventure, betrayal, tragedy, family, home – stories with echos and parallels running through them – teal coloured eyes, bass clef birthmarks, recurring names, paintings of the Virgin’s death, mustachioed Popes – and stories that entertain, each one the antidote to the last.

 

How did we choose our winner?

As per usual, each juror was given 100 points to disperse and these were sent to Mrs KfC, who acted as our independent adjudicator. The results were as follows:

Kim: Dupont-30, Edugyan-17, deWitt-18, Lim-25, Heti-10

Marcie: DuPont-25, Edugyan-22, deWitt-19, Lim-17, Heti-17

Naomi: DuPont-35, Edugyan-19, deWitt-18, Lim-14, Heti-14

Alison: DuPont-24, Edugyan-21, deWitt-21, Lim-17, Heti-17

 

A unanimous vote for Songs for the Cold of Heart – and it wasn’t even close. This is the first time since I have joined the jury that the results have been so clear-cut, with no need to discuss or negotiate.

Now we wait to see whether the real Giller Prize jury agree with us. They will name their official winner on Monday, 19 November. For specific timings, please visit the official website.

What do you think of our choice? Have you read Songs for the Cold of Heart, or do you plan to?


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