SHORT STORIES x 3
AUTOBIOGRAPHY/BIOGRAPHY x 3
FICTION x 3
ANIMAL PERSON by Alexander MacLeod
8 shorts stories, each about 30 pages by Canadian writer. The overriding theme seems to how our past , for better or worse infiltrates our current and future lives. MacLeod has an extraordinary eye for detail and paints vivid pictures characters caught in fraught situations (a young boy being seduced, a murderer in a hotel, the dismantling of a chandelier, the unexpected arrival of a shark, a funeral where not everyone is welcome, and a rabbit who knows a divorced man oh so well. Compelling!
THE BEST OF ME by David Sedaris
I am a huge David Sedaris fan and would have read these great stories in previous anthologies or in the New Yorker Magazine. It’s terrific to have ‘the best of Sedaris’s writing from the past twenty-five years. Absurd! Moving! Funny! Funny! Funny! Readers will have to decide for themselves which stories they think are the best of the best from anthologies: Calypso, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked and Barrel Fever. I own all these books and of course can’t wait to reading new stories in his spring release Happy-Go-Lucky.
LIFE WITHOUT CHILDREN by Roddy Doyle
Irish author Roddy Doyle has written ten stories set in Dublin in the time of ‘the Corona’. These aren’t particularly stories of illnesses but the author unpacks the relationships and loneliness of husbands and wives and of lives with (and without) children. A man walks the streets of Dublin, in search of his son whom he hasn’t seen in 4 years, a son is barred from his mother’s funeral, a woman chooses to walk out on her husband the day before the lockdown, The characters are ordinary folk, mostly in their sixties who are forced, through the pandemic, to think about living and loving, regrets and interconnectedness.
I WAS BETTER LAST NIGHT: A Memoir by Harvey Fierstein
Tony Award-winning author, stage, television and movie actor, voice-over character, drag-artist, picture book author, gay activist, Harvey Fierstein (Fire-steen)has had a rich career in the arts starting with appearances avant-garde off-off-Broadways and winning awards for appearing in and writing great successes such as Torch Song Trilogy La Cage Aux Folles, Kinky Boots, Hairspray, Newsies. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen many of his performance including the original production of Torch Song Trilogy, Gently Down The Stream, Bella Bella. Fiddler on the Roof, Hairspray. And yes, I even own his CD recording, This is Not Going to Be Pretty. Mr. Fierstein is a force to be reckoned with, a huge talent who has experienced the range of hit and misses that show-biz offers and a loud – and important – voice for gay rights. He has had a life full of interesting stuff to write about including his school days at an Arts and Design High School, promiscuity, love affairs, weight control, trappings with drugs and alcohol, family, friendships. Mr Fierstein is famous for his raspy, scratchy, deep voice (due to damaged vocal cords) and I am a fan. As I read this book I was fascinated by his life and often found myself just wanting to give this guy a big hug. “An actor can’t know too many words. An actor can’t access too many emotions. And there’s no such thing as having lived too much.” (p. 363).
LEN & CUB: A Queer History by Meredith J. Batt and Dusty Green (biography)
Hats off to archivists Meredith, J. Batt and Dusty Green for a thoroughly researched document of life in rural New Brunswick in the early Century. When coming across a photographic album from the period, the two authors embarked on an investigation of Len and Cub, two queer citizens of Havelock, New Brunswick. It is the photographs that serve as evidence for their a homosexual relationship. The researchers were able to uncover as much information about the two men, their families, their work endeavours, their service in World War I and their estrangement (After being outed, Len moved to the United States, Cub got married). The book is abundant with photographs, mostly taken by Len and though the black and white images aren’t always crisp and clear they provide contemporary readers insights into lives of two Canadian gay men. Moreover, this book serves as an important piece of queer historiography that today’s youth – urban and rural – can wonder about.
PERMANENT ASTONISHMENT by Tomson Highway
Cree Playwright, author, musician Tomson Highway has written a beautiful memoir, recounting the first 15 years of his life in the subarctic, land of ten thousand lake and islands. The 11th of 12 children, Highway was loved my mother and father and so loving of his younger brother Rene. Much of the book is centred on the atuhor’s experiences in Guy Hill Indian Residential School, a place that gave the author a place of learning, a place to which he writes “I give thanks from the bottom of my heart for all they have given me all these years – companionship, laughter and yes, love in all its richness.” (p. 279). Each chapter in this book reads like a short story, particularly the remarkable scenes with far-north nature and animals: loons, arctic terns, garter snakes, sled dogs and trout and uplifting school scenes: learning English, practicing the piano, Christmas concerts, playing hockey, a plague, and escapes to the washroom to read, read, read. What a remarkable life. What stunning portraits of Indigenous culture and family. This title, winner of the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction is the the first of several titles of Tomson’s life as an artist, a life of permanent astonishments.
THE BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC by Julie Otsuka
What a beautiful book, original in style and poignantly presented in clear narrative vignettes. The book is arranged in eight sections, tracing the lives of young women brought to San Francisco from Japan at the turn of the 20th century. The stories of are told in the collective first person plural voice ‘we’ to convey a rich tapestry of countless narratives that includes a tough boat journey, arrival in the new land, their first nights as new wives, aduous labour, the experience of raising children, to the arrival of war. A sto. ry of fate, survival and hope. Otsuka’s research is astounding weaving a chorus of stories, illuminated in sharp, rather short sentences often using a repetitious pattern that creates a continuous list poem of sorts. Thanks to my friend Debbie for highly recommending this short book (129 pages) with countless narratives of Japanese immigrants:
“One of us collapsed before before she had even finished weeding her first row. Some of us wept while we worked. Some of us cursed while we worked. All of us ached while we worked – our hands blistered and bld, our knees burned, our backs would never recover. One of us us was distracted by the handsome Hindu man cutting asparagus in the next furrow.” (p. 28)
THE MAGICIAN by Colm Toibin
Toibin has written a fictionalized biography of Thomas Mann, German author, philosopher Thomas Mann. The first World War has broken out and Mann is charged with Patriotism and a world of literature and music. He is a man filled with contradictions, a loyalty to his country as Hitler comes to power, a devotion to his wife and six children and his secret homosexual desires. The author has undoubtedly done extensive research in fictionalizing the life of this Nobel Prize winner. I admired the first 1/3 of the novel describing Mann’s growing up and marriage, but alas got less interested when it came to political arguments. Disclaimer: I didn’t finish the reading the bo0k. Recent iwinner of the recent British Rathbones Folio Prize which recognizes the best English-language literary work of the year.
YOUNG MUNGO by Douglas Stuart
Douglas Stuart won the 2020 Booker Prize for his novel Shuggie Bain which was at the top of the list of Larry’s reading favourites last year. Young Mungo, his sophomore title will for sure be at the top of the list of 2022 favourites. What a writer, Mr. Stuart. is! What a great book Young Mungo is, raw, gutsy, heart-wrenching book. Once again, Stuart sets his book in the world of Glasgow housing estates. It is the 1990’s and Young (16 year-old Mungo) is trapped in a life of poverty, smothered by an alcoholic mother, Mo-Maw who has taken a leave from her family. Mungo’s wise sister, Jodie, is determined to get a better life for herself, and an Mungo’s older brother, Hamish/ Ha-ha, dangerous gang leader determined to make a man of his brother. The narrative is interwoven with episodes set in a loch in western Scotland where two of Mo-Maw’ss drunken acquaintances take Mungo on a fishing trip and teach Mungo more than fishing and camping where, reader beware, violence and danger unfolds. At the heart of the novel, Protestant Mungo meets Catholic James who finds sanctuary in a place where built for his prize racing pigeons. The two boys fall in love and dream of escaping the darkness of the city. On nearly each page of the book, I encountered words and dialect that were unfamiliar to me (e.g., lollop, smirr, gansey, doocot, stovies). On each page I found myself re-reading at least one sentence for its vivid images of character or setting. (“Mrs Campbell sucked thoughtfully at her dentures. She took her cracked hands and put them on his narrow ribs.” “They had wandered from timid tenderness to affection wrapped in insults. It was a lovely place for two boys to be: honest, exciting, immature.” “There had been a late frost and now the ploughed rows looked like stitched panels on a quilt each channel picked out by snow-white thread.” I can’t wait for another Douglas Stuart novel. In the meanwhile, I have Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo to re-read and fill my reading soul with intense emotion.