Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Miscellaneous News/Reviews Edition:

It's hard to update the blog regularly when it is so beautiful out, so we've been a bit lax in that department around here. So here's at least a partial list of the new and noteworthy around these parts over the last week:

1) Over at Vesitge.org, August reviews two Biblioasis short fiction collections. Of Amy Jones's What Boys Like he writes:

Can I tell you what surprised me most about this book? Because months and months after I read it (I know, I'm sorry, I'm late with everything these days) the shock is still with me. What Boys Like isn't funny. Well, okay, it isn't primarily funny. There are bits in these stories that are meant to be funny, especially little bits of dialogue, which Jones has a wicked gift for, and those bits are funny, but these stories show a considerable range in terms of tone and emotional direction, just as you'd expect from a Metcalf-Rooke award winning collection. The reason this surprised me is because my primary experience of Amy's writing is her blog, which is basically the funniest thing ever. I—honest to God—got the sense that she was first and foremost a humourist (and the one reading I went to, where I totally chickened out and went slack-jawed when it came time to meet her, she was clever and charismatic in a way that was mostly humourous), rather than a writer in the Munrovian tradition, and so that was what I was expecting.

Which is not to say that I was disappointed by What Boys Like, because I was not at all. In point of fact, "A Good Girl," the story that opens the collection, hit home for me in quite a serious way. Leah, the titular "good girl," is exactly the sort of woman I tend to fall in love with, and seeing how horrible she was to Alex, and how Alex, who didn't really deserve to be treated so badly, also didn't really deserve to be treated a whole hell of a lot better, sent me into a fair bit of personal turmoil. (read the rest here.)

Of MacLeod's Light Lifting August writes:

The initial reviews of Light Lifting were excellent, but largely lacked the critical language that entices me to pick up a book. I don't know if it's a shortcoming on my part, or the way the literary conversation goes here in Canada, but I got the distinct impression that MacLeod's stories were just very well executed variations of standard Munrovian realism. Because the book is published by Biblioasis I felt sure I'd agree that it was an excellent book (I have yet to be disappointed by anything of theirs), so I dutifully bought it, thinking I'd get around to it in the fall when that sort of thing seems to appeal to me a little more than usual. When Bronwyn and others started raving about it on Twitter in way that felt different, exciting, I knew it couldn't wait and I wanted to be involved in the conversation, so I moved it to the top of the stack. That was months ago, but I've been a little blocked this year, so my review is coming very late.

Light Lifting is an astonishing achievement. I almost don't even know where to begin. There's certainly an element of Munrovian realism, but it's foundational, built so deep into the structure of the book that at first you're lulled into thinking that's all that's there; you get inside these stories and walk around in them for a while, and no matter what strange and wonderful things you see, there's no danger of them collapsing on you, and you know that there's no danger—of that kind, anyway—because that realism is there with you too. Most of these stories have a darker element to them, though. An edge that you don't always see coming, and conclusions that could have gone shaggy dog in lesser hands. (Read the full review here.)

Speaking of MacLeod, his story The Number Three is being published today on Storville's iPad App. Alex writes, by way of introduction:

“The Number Three” is my last story. It’s not the last one I’ll ever write, I hope, but it is the story I most recently completed and it functions as the concluding piece for the collection. As a finished work, it’s long and kind of contemplative - like its protagonist. The story has to cover a lot of territory between its beginning and its end - but whenever I think about it, I only remember the sprinting and scrambling we had to do to get it done on time for publication, and the way we wrapped up the final edits on the very last day, just hours before we sent the book to the printers.

“The Number Three” is about an everyday, mass-produced consumer item: the Dodge Caravan, a minivan that Chrysler Canada assembles in Windsor, Ontario. I was interested in the way even inanimate objects must run their cycle - they are born, they live and they die - and I wanted to think about how our existence is often intimately interwoven with the existence of such objects. My main character gives his life to work on these vans, but they also work on him, and I tried to imagine how this one object - a vehicle specifically constructed to move families and hold all their junk - could actually become a part of a family and actively participate in both the arrogant victories and the grinding defeats we share only with those we care for most.

Don't know much about Storyville? Check it out here. I subscribe, and it is a wonderful way to keep up up on the latest short fiction.

Another review of Clark Blaise's Meagre Tarmac appeared in the Waterloo Record on the weekend. Alex Good writes, in part:

Readers familiar with Blaise’s work will find much of this introspective accounting to be familiar ground. But the handling is as sure as ever, the mark of a master craftsman, and the detail is contemporary and well observed throughout. Nobody dramatizes life as a continual process of stock-taking as Blaise does. Nobody has imagined that process in so many different contexts. His stories are inward journeys, endless and unticketed.

See his whole review here.

And for those of you in NY, Clark will be reading with Bharati Mukherjee tomorrow evening at McNally-Jackson at 7 pm.

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