Nomi Nickel is the 16-year-old narrator of Miriam Toews' third novel. She lives in East Village, a Mennonite community in Manitoba with her schoolteacher dad, a reserved, gentle man who is devastated after his wife, Trudie and his older daughter, Tash left separately for parts unknown. Nomi also pines for them. With half their quirky little family gone Ray and Nomi try to keep going but are seriously struggling with their loss. Trudie's brother Hans, aka "The Mouth", is a joyless religious leader who instills the fear of God into the community. We learn that he excommunicated Trudie and Tash and this is likely why they have left town. They did not want Ray to have to choose between his church and his love for them. Ray has been selling their furniture piece by piece and disappears at night to tidy the dump. Nomi stops going to school, rides around town with her boyfriend Travis, smokes a bit of weed, drinks a little booze and starts taking birth control pills. It seems inevitable that she will end up working at the only industry in this lifeless town, a chicken slaughterhouse. Understandably this probability depresses her.
I've made the book sound dark and bleak but it's not at all. Nomi has a wry way of looking at the world that made me laugh despite all the sadness. It took me a few years to get around to this book because a Mennonite coming of age story was the last thing I wanted to read. Then I heard Toews read from All My Puny Sorrows at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival, read it, loved it and moved on to this earlier novel and am so glad I did. The ending left me fretting about what would happen to Nomi and I would love to see a sequel.
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Girl in Dior by French cartoonist Annie Goetzinger is the biography of Christian Dior in graphic-novel form. The story opens in the famed palegrey drawing room at 30 avenue Montaigne, where a who’s who of stars and editors are in attendance.
The Globe and Mail
|Images: Dargaud (2013) and NMB (2015).|
The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
In its long history, the river Thames has frozen solid forty times. These are the stories of that frozen river.Helen Humphreys creates a brief vignette for each of these occurrences. The river is the central character woven into stories over a seven century timeline. The stories are based on actual events. In
The book itself is a charming little volume with lovely illustrations on glossy paper. I read it in the midst of the coldest Canadian winter I have experienced and the numbing cold Humphreys documents resonated with me. It is understated with not a wasted word and I found it to be a poignant and exquisite reading experience.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
A masterpiece from 1968 that could have been written today:
"Over and over, Joan Didion has emerged as an enchantress of nuance — a writer of deep and dimensional wisdom on such undying human issues as self-respect, grief, and the passage of time. Didion has a particular penchant for unraveling issues of social friction and discomfort to reveal that they are merely symptoms, rather than causes, of deeper societal pathologies.Read more: Brain Pickings
Take Hollywood’s diversity problem, of which the world becomes palpably aware every year as the Academy Awards roll around. (Awards are, after all, a vehicle for rewarding the echelons of a system’s values, and the paucity of people of color among nominees and winners speaks volumes about how much that system values diversity — something that renders hardly surprising a recent Los Angeles Times survey, which found that the Oscar-dispensing academy is primarily male and 94% white.) Nearly half a century before today’s crescendoing public outcries against Hollywood’s masculine whiteness, Didion addressed the issue with unparalleled intellectual elegance."
Monday, February 23, 2015
Sunday, February 22, 2015
I don’t remember the exact date when I went to live in Doris Lessing’s house in Charrington Street, north of King’s Cross. I think of it as being just a few weeks after Sylvia Plath killed herself in early February 1963. The suicide was still very raw and much discussed by Doris’s friends.More: LRB 8 January 2015
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Rose is the much younger wife of James. The fact that James was going off to war precipitated marriage before they'd had the chance to get to know one another. Once James is captured Rose writes infrequently, gets a dog and a lover.
Enid is the sister of James. When a bombing destroys her London flat and kills her married lover who is also her boss she loses not only her flat but her job and decides to stay with Rose until she can get back on her feet.
The story continues in 1950 with the characters in their new and very different lives. It is a calm and spare novel but each word is used to maximum effect with beautifully developed characters. Humphries nails love and loss and it seems effortless. I read her novel Wild Dogs and it touched me in a similar way. I am currently reading a piece of her nonfiction and plan to read everything she has written.
Carson liked sherry with her tea, brandy with her coffee, and her purse with a large flask of whiskey. Between books, when she was neither famous nor monied, she claimed she existed almost exclusively on gin, cigarettes, and desperation for weeks at a time...
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Dr. Seuss whose real name was Theodor Geisel died in 1991. Random House Children's Books has announced that it will publish a recently discovered manuscript with illustrations called "What Pet Should I Get" on July 28. The publisher plans at least two more books, based on materials found in 2013 in the author's home in La Jolla, California, by his widow and secretary.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Where the Nights Are Twice as Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets, edited by David Eso and Jeanette Lynes.
The first is an exchange between B.C. poet and writer Susan Musgrave and her husband, Stephen Reid, author of Jackrabbit Parole and a convicted bank robber, when he was serving time in prison.
More letters: Toronto Star
Dear Stephen: I’m feeling vulnerable, too. I wonder where vulnerable comes from, what’s the original meaning of the word. I should have studied linguistics. The art of tonguing things? Once, in France, I was in a post office and I was licking stamps and the postmaster told my friend, who lived in the village, he’d like to hire me because I had such a beautiful tongue. When you get out I will only lick stamps in the privacy of our own bedroom.
I walked out of the prison last night, it was snowing, getting dark. One of the guards, walking behind me, said, “I’ll trade you coats.” I had on my raccoon coat, I said, “Even this one isn’t warm enough for me.” He put his arm around me, hugged me tight. He was older, looked Irish. He said, “Maybe you need a drink.”
I said, “You are Irish.” He said, “My parents were.” He suddenly looking ashamed for letting a little of himself be known. Another man, walking slightly behind him, was shackled, in leg irons and a chain around his waist. He carried his belongings in a cardboard box.
The guard said, “I’m looking after him.” I nodded. He became distant and we passed through the gates that lock us out, lock us in, lock us everywhere away. I got in my car and thought of you doing three years chained in the hole having bean cake slapped on your face three times a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I thought that’s the saddest thing I know. . . .
There is nothing one man will not do to another.
Slipping into your cell, I wander around lost. I love listening to your breathing. Each night I lie awake imagining it to be my own.
My heart’s a rag. It’s a rag in the wind. It’s a soggy bean cake, a man carrying his only belongings in a box, it’s leg irons for one and Danny being poisoned by cyanide.
There is nothing one person will not do to another.
And out of these nothings, all beginnings come.
Dear Susan: I love you. All things begin there. Last night on T.V. a woman said she wanted two men. One to be her friend — tolerant, giving, someone to share her life with — then she wanted a more dangerous one, unpredictable, moody, a male animal. She said more. She was articulate and very intelligent — the only thing that bothered me was the impression I got that she wanted the two men in one — and to choose when he would be what.
Dear Stephen: I’m exhausted. My brother and I went shopping with Charlotte. We bought an axe. I spent the rest of the day in the computer room at the University working on The Joy of Sexual Failure, the chapter called “Total Failure,” where sex leads to death. It’s distasteful, after awhile, to be writing about men who only get off when they eat the toenail clippings of cadavers. Put me off my lunch, rather. One man, who used to close his penis in the toilet until it turned black and dropped off, believed that erections were caused by poor muscle control. I would think it was the contrary, but then I’m not a man. I just went into the kitchen and Bill Deverell was there playing Mr. Potato Head with Charlotte and Matt Cohen.
Dear Susan: My cell was ransacked this morning. I took my writing with me. We’re still locked down. They’re still searching. Why is it that every time someone gets killed they take all my extra underwear? They came up here looking for murder weapons and left with all the shelves and hangers and seven television sets. Maybe the guy was killed by multiple television reruns. Poor Eddy. Heard he was coming in off the rink. He’s a goalie — it’s like a fish out of water, a goalie off the ice. Too cold. Why did I let you leave?
Dear Stephen: I left, but I didn’t leave you. How can I leave you, even for sleep? A minute is too long. For the rest of my life I want to write to you. I want to sit like this and write. Nothing more but letters to you. And nothing less.