Pynchon is surely the only heavyweight of modern literature who can count 4chan as an influence.
My review of Bleeding Edge appears in this week’s Georgia Straight. It kind of fried my brain.Oct 10, 2013
It might sound crazy to point out that a character born in a Siberian gulag in 1937 has it too easy in life, but that’s the unusual corner Perrine Leblanc’s debut novel paints itself into. Despite the fact that young Kolia begins his life surrounded by bodies either recently deceased or soon to be, the boy is handed one lucky break after another, eventually rising to the ranks of a nationally acclaimed circus clown in Moscow with an ease and fluidity that pushes past good luck and into the realm of disbelief.
In last weekend’s National Post, I reviewed Kolia, the debut novel from Quebec’s Perrine Leblanc.Oct 9, 2013
A particularly memorable sequence involves Brigs calling each of his siblings to let them know their own grandmother has died, in the process revealing each person’s unique mourning protocols. One tries to get out of having to drive to the funeral. One “responds to just about every kind of stress by getting mad.” And the third, Brigs’s youngest brother, starts bawling on the spot, even though he’s at work on a construction site.
So much humanity is revealed in these moments. Grief, after all, is a kind of pressure, and we all crack differently.
This week’s column is a review of a debut novel from Lacombe’s Jennifer Quist. I was pretty taken by this book, which surprised me time and again with its thoughtfulness and unapologetic take on love and mortality. You might want to check this one out for yourself.Sep 6, 2013
Nothing makes me swoon like a good title, so let it be said right off the top: Michael Winter’s fifth novel has a very, very good title. Recognizable but intriguing, it can rattle around the reader’s mind for a long time without giving away all of its secrets.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much more positive to say about Minister Without Portfolio, my review of which ran in this past weekend’s Globe and Mail. It sucks to have to write such a piece in a national newspaper, but sometimes that’s just how it shakes out. Winter has since contacted me to say he appreciated the candour and honesty, so I guess that’s something. (Plus, the other national gave him a rave anyway.)Sep 3, 2013
One of the great joys of fiction is watching a novel set up a problem that only it has the tools to solve. With long novels, that problem also tends to involve a balancing act of the reader’s time invested vs. the stimulation received. But a novel as long and cyclical as Norm Sibum’s The Traymore Rooms wears its problem on its sleeve even more pointedly: It asks, “How little territory can I possibly cover over 600 pages?” And that comes with a built-in dare to the reader: “How long can I trick you into sticking with me?”
Over at the National Post, I reviewed a 600-page debut novel (my copy is actually 730+, but who’s counting?) where almost nothing happens. It’s more complicated than that, of course—and not only because its author is a seasoned poet who knows exactly what he’s up to.Aug 23, 2013
Right at the end, he even sneaks in some plutonium-grade aggrandizing philosophy, and all I felt was moved at how fragile those French settlements were—not in the face of some cartoonishly bloodthirsty Aboriginals, but at the harshness of the terrain and the unrelenting weather and the hugeness of the unknown that those Europeans looked out into. Remind me again why we live here?
Six months into my Ballast column, and I finally found a good one! Three Came to Ville Marie isn’t a masterpiece, but I liked it a whole bunch. Plus, it’s got 500% less racism than that other book I had to read about New France in the 17th century, which is nice.Aug 6, 2013
But it’s the prose that really snuffs whatever flame Aw is able to spark from his setting. Life in 2013 is nothing if not fast, yet these are paragraphs designed to meander and even sedate. In a self-contained flashback, for instance, do we really need several sentences about the weather in Japan on a certain day—“the freezing air” that “raked the lining of [Justin’s] nostrils, burning its way down his throat and into his lungs … and his thin tropical blood [feeling] powerless against the cold”? Just tell us what we’re doing here, already.
Working your way through the Booker longlist? Maybe give Five Star Billionaire a miss.
I reviewed it for the Globe and Mail this past weekend, and most of it feels approximately three hundred years old—not a good look for a zeitgeist chaser.Jul 29, 2013
Hellgoing is a superb collection, end to end, and easily one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2013. But one of its standout stories, “Dogs in Clothes,” deserves extra credit for taking as its subject one of the unsung heroes of the publishing world: the publicist.
“The one thing I’ve always done as an author is talk to my publicists,” Coady says. “Because they have all the best stories—and they have all the dirt on other, more famous and important writers. They’re not supposed to talk about it, but sometimes you can get awesome little tidbits from them.”
Look: my feelings about Lynn Coady are well established. I think she’s one of Canada’s best writers working today, and her 2006 novel Mean Boy is my very favourite Canadian novel. (She also lives in Edmonton. Lucky us.)
Coady has a new story collection out this week, and it’s really, really good. I got to profile her for this week’s Journal column.Jul 26, 2013
Borges’s thought experiments with logic and technology, not to mention the way he eagerly mixed a high literary style with pulp cowboy and detective plots, prefigured entire genres of writing. For Borges, literature was a feedback loop, requiring nothing but itself for sustenance.
In this past Saturday’s Globe and Mail, I reviewed some newly translated lectures by the great Jorge Luis Borges. We call this a dream assignment.Jul 22, 2013
The title of Nancy Jo Cullen’s debut story collection refers not to diamonds or islands, but to the bird in the proverbial coal mine—the one whose sudden death is an omen of even worse things to come. This is a bit misleading. It’s certainly true that Cullen, a poet who lives in Toronto and Kingston, has no shortage of testy characters and awkward family conversations with which to fill her stories. But any larger catastrophes are left entirely off the page.
My review of Canary is in this week’s Georgia Straight. Read the whole thing here.Jul 18, 2013