Category Archives: Canadian

From Ink Lake: Canadian Stories edited by Michael Ondaatje

inklakeFrom Ink Lake: Canadian Stories

edited by Michael Ondaatji

Vintage Canada, Toronto, 1995

From my book shelves.  I suppose this is a bit of a cheat for the Canadian Book Challenge, as I haven’t read every story yet, but I keep this on my night stand and often pick it up between novels.  It is one I will keep forever.

This collection, which I have had for some time, is how I first became interested in reading Canadian authors.  I had read Ondaatji and Atwood, of course, but I don’t think I realized they came from the North.   This book introduced me to Alice Munro through Miles City, Montana, Alister Macleod through As Birds Bring Forth The Sun  and Carol Shields  through Scenes. There are so many other authors I can’t list them all.  As an introduction to Canadian literature it is worth searching for this one.

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High Chicago by Howard Schrier

High Chicago by Howard Shrier

Vintage Canada, Toronto, ON 2009

From my mystery book shelf.

Last year I read the first book in this series and enjoyed it, High Chicago is even better.

Investigator Jonah Gelle, along with his friend Jen Raudseppr, has opened an agency called World Repairs.  They are working hard to find cases and make ends meet, so when Jonah’s Mom asks him to help out a friend who has lost her daughter to suicide he accepts the case.  What at first seems like a sadly simple story soon draws them into the fast-paced and highly monied world of development and construction that eventually reaches across the border to the Windy City.

Shrier writes noir with several modern twists.  This series has great characters, odd friendships, humor and focuses on current issues.  Great fun.  I can’t wait for the next one, Boston Cream.  Don’t tell Mr G, but it will be in his pile of birthday gifts next week.

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The Calling and The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe

The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe

Harcourt, New York, 2008

Borrowed from my local library.

A well-written mystery/thriller whose main character is a sixty-one year old female Detective Inspector who suffers with a bad back, a dependence on pain-killers and a mother who keeps her on a strict diet.  Her small town office, threatened by budget cuts, is suddenly over-whelmed by the murder of a local elderly women, a murder that turns out to be connected to a string of murders that take place all across Canada.

D.I. Hazel Micallef is a winner.   Short-tempered, with a caustic tongue, she is smart as a whip and facing the same troubles at work as many woman run into, politics and an old boy network that won’t quit.

     Her head was swimming with details.  Everything they knew now had a relationship with everything they did not know.  What they’d learned stood like a range of trees on a lakeshore, reflected in reverse on the water below.  Hazel dreaded the journey it would take to get to those dark shapes.  A dead woman, a dead man.  A pact of some kind.  What was being kept? Were these deaths, at least, part of something longed for.  As she got older and acclimatized herself to her own failures, she had begun to understand death’s draw. From pages 100/101.

The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2010

Borrowed from my library.  This is the second Hazel Micallef mystery.

Following on the heels of her last case, D.I. Hazel Micallef has had back surgery and must recuperate in the home of her ex-husband and his second wife.  Detective Constable James Wingate , who is running things while Hazel is on leave, calls for her help after someone fishes a body from one of the local lakes.  Things start to get really strange when Hazel discovers a mystery story running in the local paper.  The story sounds surprising like their drowning case.

I think these are great mysteries, smart and beautifully written.  I love Hazel, and her colleagues.  This is a great series and I hope my library orders the newest book, A Door in the River, as soon as possible!

“I’m reading between your lines”

“Yes, yes, you are,” said the voice.  “I’ve been very pleased, I think we are doing very well together.  Maybe the story will have a different ending than the one I’ve been planning.”

Wingate spoke.  “What ending have you planned?”

“Now, now, Detective Constable.  Do you read the end of a book before its beginning?”  She began to write again.  “I knew someone who used to do that.  Couldn’t stand the suspense of not-knowing.  Let’s just say the trajectory of the story has a natural end-point.  We’re wired for it, did you know that?  The shape of our lives imposes itself on the way we tell stories: a welter of possibilities at the beginning narrows and narrows and instabilities appear that obligate us to take certain turns.  And then the end is a forgone conclusion.  However, twists are possible in such stories as the one we’re telling.  Unexpected outcomes.  In my experience, it happens only  rarely.  But we can see.”  from page 235.

Inger Ash Wolfe is a pseudonym.  People have been  wondering (and guessing at)  who the mysterious author is since The Calling was first published.  At the end of last month the mystery was solved when The Globe and Mail published this essay.  Turns out my library has several books by the culprit and I have added them to my TBR list.

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Filed under Canadian, Fiction, Mystery, Thoughts, Thriller

The Meagre Tarmac by Clark Blaise

The Meagre Tarmac by Clark Blaise

Biblioasis, Emeryville, Ontario, 2011

From my TBR pile.

I had never heard of Clark Blaise before seeing this book nominated for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller prize.  It turns out Blaise founded the postgraduate Creative Writing Program at Concordia University, served as the Director of the International Writing Program at Iowa from 1990 to 1998, and is the President of the Society for the Study of the Short Story.  He is married to author Bharati Mukherjee and has spent time traveling in India.

The Meagre Tarmac is a novel made of linked stories strung together like an assortment of beads, exploring the places where tradition, culture and change meet.  First and second generation Indo-Americans face intimate struggles of immigration and identity, trying to find home.  What do they cling to and what do they leave behind?

Initially it was difficult for me to accept stories of East Indians written by a white North American, but I believe Blaise’s connections through family and travel bring truth and compassion to his writing.  He is a master story-teller, this is a beautiful collection and I will search out more of his work.

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Canadian Book Challenge 6!

Canadian Book Challenge 6 – July 1st, 2012 to June 30, 2013

One of my favorite reading challenges has come around again.  This one keeps me in touch with our neighbors to the north and gives me a great excuse to visit one of my favorite cities, Vancouver, B.C.  Thanks to John Mutford at The Book Mine Set for organizing another great challenge.  You can find out all you need to know right here.  And thanks to Sarah at pussreboots for the beautiful button!

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Player One: What Is To Become Of Us, A Novel In Five Parts by Douglas Coupland

Player One: What Is to Become of Us: A Novel…Player One: What Is To Become Of Us by Douglas Coupland

House of Anansi Press, Totonto, 2012

From my library.  My final book for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

This book had an interesting beginning.  A novel written for the  CBC 2010 Massey Lecture Series, each chapter was presented in a different Canadian city.  I have read and enjoyed printed versions of these lectures before, including works by Margaret Atwood and Wade Davis.

I’ve never read Douglas Coupland and maybe this was not the book to start with, or maybe I’m over the “coolness factor” displayed by some authors.  The story starts and ends in a typical airport lounge where we meet five characters, one disembodied, all from different backgrounds, all going through some kind of life change.   Enter the apocalypse, in the form of drastically rising oil prices.  There is a self-help guru and a sniper involved, some people get shot, and at the end there is an interest glossary.

I get this.  How our reliance of a way of life could be disastrous in the face of sudden change.  How people lead driven and empty lives, and that we really ought to stop and think about this and make different choices.  I guess that’s Coupland’s point, but for someone who enjoys apocalyptic and dystopian fiction,  I found this brief novel too cold and empty.  I could not connect with the story or the characters.

If anyone has read Coupland can you suggest another novel that I might enjoy?

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The Free World by David Bezmozgis

The Free World by David Bezmozgis

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2011

From my library hold list.

A debut novel that takes place in Rome in 1978, a time when families of Russian Jews were passing through a gap in the Iron Curtain.  The city was  filled with immigrants waiting for visas to their chosen destination.  For three generations of the Kranansky family what begins as a journey to America ends up, after six months of waiting,  as a journey to Canada.

There is Alex and his brother Karl, Alex’s new wife Polina and Karl’s wife Rosa and their two sons who, along with grandparents Emma and Samuil, have traveled from Latvia to Ukraine, Czechoslovakia and Vienna finally arriving in Rome.  Samuil is the one causing the delay.  A former Red Guard, he suffers from many ailments, and Canada is not taking any invalids.  Israel might, but that is not an option for Samuil, or for Karl and Alex.    As the novel unfolds we learn some of the back story for all of these characters but the most enjoyable parts for me was the experiences within and around the migrant community in Rome.

Praised by the New Yorker as one of the best “20 under 40”, Bezmozgis is expert at the portrayal of loss while maintaining a balanced sense of humor.  And we see the hopes and dreams these people carry with them into their new lives.  Somewhat autobiographical, this author truely loves his characters.  Parts of the novel drifted out of focus for me but on the whole I enjoyed it.  I plan on reading the author’s collection, Natasha and Other Stories, sometime in the near future.

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Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

Viking, New York, 2009

From my library hold list.  Winner of the 2008 ScotiaBank Giller Prize.

A follow-up to Boyden’s first novel, Three Day Road, this book tells the story of a Frist Nations family through the voices of two members.

Will Bird, a bush pilot with a wild past, lies in a coma in the hospital in his home town, Moose Factory, Ontario.  His niece Annie, after returning home from a journey she took to Montreal and New York in search of her sister Suzanne, sits by his bedside.

In his dreams Will revisits his life and tells Annie of the distant and recent past.  Having been told that talking to her uncle may help him recover, Annie tells him stories.  She tells of her memories growing up, of her journey in search of herself and her connections to her family.  As each of these wounded souls reveals their past a story grows, of history, of betrayal and of resilience.

Boyden writes with humor and with a deep  understanding of the hidden nature of places and of people.  In the end this is a story of forgiveness, of family and of self.

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Fauna by Alissa York

Fauna by Alissa York

Vintage Canada, Toronto, 2011

From my TBR pile.

I’m not sure what drew me to this one, maybe it was the title.

Edal Jones, a Federal Wildlife officer, is falling apart.  One too many baby tortoises, packed in egg cartons and crushed in a suitcase.  She is home, on leave, exhausted, emotionally spent.

One morning, on a bike ride, she sees a young woman picking up stunned birds from around the glass towers of downtown Toronto.  She follows this woman into the Don Valley and discovers a small group of people and animals living in ways very different from those around her.

Fauna is mainly Edal’s story.  Named after one of the otters from Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water, she had joined the Federal agency to help wildlife, and finds herself devastated by loss.

     Having entered that room full of oddities, her thoughts are inclined to remain there.  As Baloo and Bagheera chase through the jungle after their beloved man-cub, her mind’s eye moves over confiscated grizzly rugs and black bear galls, a dried tiger penis, a leopard skin coat.   When they make a friend of Kaa, the massive rock python, she can only see wallets and handbags, hideous pointy-toed boots.  She manages to focus again during the great battle at the ruined city know as the Cold Lairs, but only until Mowgli tumbles down into the abandoned summer house and lands among the hissing hoods of the Poison-People.  Why would someone shove a cobra inside a bottle and pickle it?  More to the point, why would anyone spot such an atrocity in a marketplace and long to possess it, let alone attempt to smuggle it home?  From page 88.

This novel is also an interesting mix of characters, both human and animal, that live in this city and of the fragile connections between them.  It reminds me of how, even in a place of glass and concrete, life can flourish.  Something I find I need to remember.

And mixed in with all this is a love of books.  Each of the main characters has an important book in their past.  There is also the thread of The Jungle Book, read aloud following group dinners, and the effect it has on all who read and hear it.  York’s writing is rich in detail, precise, and hard-edged.  I found Fauna an interesting, enjoyable book.

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Play The Monster Blind by Lynn Coady

Play The Monster Blind by Lynn Coady

Vintage Canada, Toronto, 2001

From my TBR pile.

This is a collection of short stories, linked by characters, family histories and location.  It is the first time I have read Lynn Coady, an author and playwright from Nova Scotia who now lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

Reading these stories felt like walking barefoot over gravel, sharp and painful, wanting to hurry and get into cool grass.  Coady is an insightful writer, exploring the dynamics of family and community in a small town.

Anyone who has lived in a small town, particularly as an adolescent, knows the feeling Coady expresses in her stories.  Gossip, back-biting, bullying, the need to fit in and the need to escape.

…When you think about people gossiping, you think about everyone sitting around and talking and talking until it makes everyone sick, but that’s not really how it works at all.  All it takes is one sentence every couple of days, a passing remark or a joke.  And then that person and all that is wrong with them is riveted inside your skull and if  anyone ever says their name around you it triggers all the remarks and jokes in a flood – that’s what you think of when you think of them.  That’s how it works.  From The Ice-Cream Man, page 36.

And there’s that closed in feeling of not getting anywhere as an adult, of giving in, and giving up.   There are also those people who escape small towns and then find themselves drawn back, for a funeral or a wedding or because life is just too difficult “out there”.

I know, this sound depressing, but Lynn Coady’s abilities bring a sharp humor to these stories and make even the most unlikable character understandable.  Some of the stories focus on girls growing up and women who blame themselves for the state of their families and the state of the world.  This made me angry but I found that while Coady shines a light into some dark corners, she does so with compassion.

Other reviews:

Buried in Print

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