Archive for October, 2019

Giller Shortlist: Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin

October 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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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