Wednesday, December 30, 2009
SHANE Neilson's Meniscus (Biblioasis, 93 pages, $18) is an example of that rare and defining moment in a poet's career when subject and language meld into authentic poetic voice.
Meniscus is the first full-length collection by Neilson, an Ontario physician, who takes on the confessional with precision and purpose.
Neilson doesn't hold anything back when he writes about what he knows best: the horrors of child abuse, the darkness of illness and the equally challenging states of love.
What is most compelling is Neilson's unsentimental range of emotion. An abusive father who taught his son "in the end there is fear" is also a farmer who, after losing $30,000 in one year, "lightly shovelled / shit onto sun-browned spots."
Every line is taut with pain and heart under Neilson's staunch eye. In For my father, he writes:
it is about being able to bear the load,
be it two cord of hardwood on a truck,
two cord in the ledger, the two cord of the heart,
two cord hauled out from backfields
and split with the hydraulic, carried in a child's arms
and piled head-high.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Partially because of reading The English Stories by Cynthia Flood. It's a fantastic collection of linked stories about an 11-year-old Canadian named Amanda who is uprooted and sent to a girls' school in 1950s England. Though the book is not set in Canada, Flood evokes Canada in a beautiful yet unsentimental way.Flood examines the devastation of colonialism in a complex manner, subtly and brilliantly creating links between England's subjugation of Canada, Ireland and Nigeria. Amanda's chosen connection with Canada's First Nations (despite her own parents' racism and indifference) adds another lush layer to this quiet yet persistent background music. Flood also avoids the potentially bad Canadian cliche of the coming-of-age story by switching the focus of several stories from the little girl to other characters in the narrative. This creates a depth and complexity that the story would otherwise lack. One of the most exquisite parts is when we switch to the point of view of an Irish man who sometimes teaches at the school; we see his struggle between English and Irish identity, and the racism he both experiences and inflicts. In places the book is heartbreaking; Flood creeps up on you in unexpected ways.
This was another title which could have quite easily made the Globe 100, or a range of other best -of lists -- and did, I believe, over at Kerry Clare's Pickle Me This. Word of mouth, that best of all possible reviews, however, seems to be helping The English Stories find its audience: if you've yet to do so, go and find a copy.
Friday, December 04, 2009
Over at The Complete Review there is another review of our Moya title. The reviewer gives it a B : rough and tumble -- but quite fun -- pulp thriller cum sociological-political allegory, arguing:
Dance with Snakes is obviously (but, vitally, not too obviously) also allegorical. The fear that grips the community, the confusion about identity and motives -- and those scary-ass snakes, potent symbols of overwhelming but unknowable violence -- and all the overkill (both on the side of Eduardo and the snakes, and then in reaction to them) all reflect the El Salvadoran situation and society of the time.
Dance with Snakes is a reasonably good (if very peculiar) thriller, and an interesting take on late-twentieth century Latin America; it's also unlike almost everything else out there (including Castellanos Moya's other fiction). In it's own way -- and that is a very bizarre way -- it is very effective... engaging and surprisingly entertaining.
For the complete review, go to The Compete Review
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Over at Sans Everything, Jeet Heer has some praise for CNQ 77. On newsstands now, why don't you go pick up a copy and help us raise our readership numbers and please the Ottawa bureaucrats. Or, better yet, subscribe.
I’m always afraid to tell people that my favourite literary magazine is Canadian Notes and Queries. The name is so off-putting. It sounds like a mimeographed sheet devoted to esoteric bibliographic information about Duncan Scott Campbell and Stephen Leacock. And in fact that’s what the magazine was for most of its history. But for the last decade or so, it’s been the home to the best essays on Canadian culture, and also some excellent short fiction. (John Metcalf was the editor who re-invented CNQ and he’s been helped by Daniel Wells, Alex Good and others). Perhaps wisely, the editors have tried to rebrand their journal as CNQ, to hide their embarrassing original name.
The new issue of CNQ, number 77, is chock full of the goodies including a new story by Clark Blaise. And some of these essays are already available online.
I should say though, that the real innovator behind Canadian Notes & Queries was Doug Fetherling. He's the first editor to transform it into a cultural journal, and much of what has happened since has been a basic fine tuning. Have to give credit where it is due. A lot of those early Fetherling -- and Metcalf -- back issues are fabulous. If you would like to try out some of those back issues, do let me know. They don't really date.