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.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Devil's Engine, No. 6

Some of you may have despaired that the Devil's Engine had gone the way of the spring. It's a new season, you might say. It's time for idling! (Or slacking, even? Josh? Mark? Anyone?)

Yet "the devil finds as much mischief for idle hands in Emeryville as anywhere else," as L.M. Montgomery said (or would have, if she'd ever been to Emeryville). And here we are--as mischievous as ever--where the discussion of fiction continues!

In "Punctuation as Score," John Metcalf remarks:
"Punctuation both for the fiction and non-fiction writer is primarily punctuation for the eye; the eye translates the symbols into stops and emphases. Yet at the same time, the fiction writer must also write for the ear; he must contend with the problem of dialogue. For many writers of fiction there is a conflict between ear and eye; the conventional symbols do not translate fully all the nuances of the voices that speak on the page."
What difficulties do you encounter when punctuating dialogue? Do you share Metcalf's sense of conflict, and if so, what measures do you take to resolve it?

Rebecca Rosenblum
I have a hard time punctuating the hiccups in dialogue--the points where the speaker restarts the sentence 4 words in, or trails off briefly because she's looking at something, or is waiting for a response but then gets nervous and keeps talking. Because those things don't happen anywhere except dialogue, and they are technically ungrammatical, there's no formal rules about how to indicate them. I am wildly over-reliant on the em-dash (—). I think it's more or less generally accepted that the em-dash makes a more abrupt stop, while the ellipses (...)--the dash implies that the sentence would've gone on had something not stopped it (that something could be internal), while the ellipses seems to indicate a running out of steam or words or will to continue. Sometimes it's hard to tell which is happening in the scene; you have to know the characters really well and hear it their words in your head, and still it can be unclear. I've also seen writers treat these punctuation marks in other ways in fractured dialogue, which bends my mind a little bit. Because these rules aren't really codified, you can kind of do what you want with them, always with the caveat that it has to work for the reader.

Cathy Stonehouse
I write mostly for the ear. It’s all about sound and rhythm. So I struggle with this a lot. I use italics to suggest an alternate voice, sometimes inside a character. Sometimes another voice is woven in, as in my story “Freak Waves,” which combines a third-person narrative with statements of scientific fact. I try to avoid speech tags (he said/ she said) to create rhythm but without pushing this so far the reader gets confused. Sometimes I do push this too far. But I love dialogue. I love dialogue that makes no sense. I love the weird collisions between different registers and voices that occur constantly in life, and which make up our consciousness. The simultaneous development of dual timelines or narratives, the mental interruptions of signage, overheard conversation and triggered memory: all of these are different voices, and thus, in a way, forms of dialogue. I prefer not to comment on any of it too directly. On the down side though I usually have to reformat my dialogue (and fiction) a lot so it’s at least somewhat navigable—and have

Blaise & Mukherjee in New York June 29th

A Georgia Straight Profile & Review of Clark Blaise's The Meagre Tarmac

Charles Demers gives us one of the best combined profiles/reviews yet:

In the ’70s and ’80s, when readers were first getting to know the essays, memoirs, and, perhaps most importantly, the short fiction of Clark Blaise, the author’s idiosyncratic biography dovetailed with many of the political preoccupations of the time. Half Québécois, half Anglo-Canadian, and raised mostly in the United States, Blaise wrote stories offering insights for a North America fixated on economic continentalization and the future of Quebec. But from almost the very beginning, along with the cultures of his birth and upbringing, there was also the vivid presence of the culture he married into: India and its diaspora. Since 1963, Blaise has been married to Indo-American author Bharati Mukherjee, with whom he has two grown children.

“India was, initially at least, the great ‘other’ in my life,” Blaise told theGeorgia Straight by telephone from New York. “India is decidedly not anything that was part of my upbringing, or part of my experience, or part of my preparation. I really fell into it the way one should fall into it, you know—through love.”

Over the years, in the course of visits to the country, time spent living there, and immersion in family life, the “other” became an integral part of Blaise’s already hybridized identity.

“Indian standards of artistry, and Indian standards of humanity, and Indian standards of love, and of family, devotion, commitment, stand for me as the standard for how one should behave,” he explained.

In his wonderful new collection of interconnected short stories, The Meagre Tarmac(Biblioasis), Blaise introduces a rich cast of characters divided spiritually, physically, and economically between India and North America.

“I really didn’t feel I had to mould them much at all. They seemed to be precast, as actors waiting for their cue. They were just sort of standing around the wings.…It was almost a matter of just naming them, and then seeing who came out,” Blaise said with a laugh.

For the rest, please go here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Wall Street Journal reviews Mihail Sebastian's The Accident

In what was quite a weekend for Biblioasis reviews -- see below for the Star and Globe reviews of Blaise's Meagre Tarmac -- the Wall Street Journal reviewed the latest title in the Biblioasis International Translation Series. In a review titled "Tender and Tense," Sam Sacks writes of Mihail Sebastian's The Accident (in a translation by Stephen Henighan):

The Romanian-Jewish writer Mihail Sebastian (1907-45) came to the attention of the English-speaking world in 2000 with the publication of his incandescently angry and exacting World War II diaries. Yet during the war—as he survived in Bucharest, shunned by his Nazi-supporting former friends—he wrote "The Accident" (Biblioasis, 257 pages, $17.95), a captivating novel about a love affair.

"The Accident," translated by Stephen Henighan, would be a marvel of beauty and control under any circumstance; that it was written by a Jew in Romania in 1940 seems miraculous. ...The mountains provide an escape for Paul from his paralyzing lovesickness—just as the writing of the novel, we suspect, transported Sebastian from what he called in his diaries the "anti-Semitic dementia" of his daily surroundings. As in Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain," the snowbound fastnesses seem to warp the standard measurements of time. When Paul takes to the slopes—the skiing scenes are the best I've read since Mann's—time's passage thrillingly compresses and expands in his consciousness ...

To read the entire review, please go here.

Goran Simic at the SPoT Literary Reading Series

Here's what everyone was talking about at this year's SPoT bookfair, which was held yesterday at Hart House (a beautiful venue). Thanks to co-organizers Sang Kim and Julian Zacharoff for doing such a fantastic job.

Toronto Star shines on The Meagre Tarmac

Here's an excerpt from Nathan Whitlock's review of The Meagre Tarmac, from yesterday's Sunday Star:

"The book's overarching theme is that of the ambiguous successes of immigrant Indians in America, a horse you'd have thought would be almost unrecognizable by now for all its postmortem literary beatings. (The collection's most overtly satiric story, “A Connie da Cunha” book, even acknowledges the trendiness of immigrant stories.)

Yet Blaise makes something surprisingly fresh out of this material, helped in no small part by his dense and dryly funny prose. The first time through, it is the cultural, geographical, and historical scope of the stories that most impresses. On subsequent readings, the precise observations and wickedly subtle jokes come to the fore.

Many authors, believing that people-sized stories are no longer adequate, struggle to cram the Modern World into their fictions. Blaise does so here with enviable skill, without ever letting us forget that these characters are just as human as they are cultural archetype. Though it does not even reach 200 pages in length, this book is anything but meagre."

Full-text available here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

"Blaise burns brightly"--& the Globe caught the spark

Today Steven Hayward published a review of The Meagre Tarmac in the Globe & Mail. Here's how it begins:

"'E.M. Forster, you ruined everything,' laments the narrator of a story from Clark Blaise's first collection of short fiction, published almost 40 years ago. 'Why must every visitor to India, every well-read tourist, expect a sudden transformation?'

It was that book, A North American Education
, that launched Blaise’s remarkable literary career. It was also where he began to sketch the unique constellation of obsessions that would occupy him for the
next few decades: the liquidity of personal and cultural identity, the vicissitudes of desire, and, at least somewhat as a result of his marriage to novelist Bharati Mukherjee, his knowledge of India and perspective on the Indian immigrant experience."

And the rest just gets better. Read the full article here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Clark Blaise and Bharati Mukherjee: a shared literary journey"

Hot off the presses, from John Barber of the Globe:

"Closely chaperoned Bharati Mukherjee, 23, had never been alone in the same room with a man when she met Clark Blaise at the University of Iowa near the unanticipated end of the Kennedy presidency. Two weeks later, the two young writers were married.

Almost 48 years after that, following dual careers in which the couple have published almost 30 books between them, two of them co-written and the latest two so intertwined they actually share some characters, the authors sit together in Toronto for their first-ever joint interview."

To read the rest of this (rather wonderful) feature, click here.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Richard Outram: Essays on His Works

A new collection of essays on Richard Outram was just released from Guernica. Featuring Eric Ormsby, Amanda Jernigan, and Zach Wells--and more besides.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Rosenblum's on Fire

For a preview story from Rebecca Rosenblum's The Big Dream, due out in September of this year, be sure to check out the Spring 2011 issue of Prairie Fire. Available in stores now!

Cathy Stonehouse on What Pink Sounds Like, CiTR

Cathy Stonehouse talks about the joys of short fiction on UBC feminist radio program "What Pink Sounds Like." Check out host Ashly Kissman's blog post here; for the podcast itself, click here (interview begins about 12 minutes in).

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Clark Blaise & Bharati Mukherjee Launch in Toronto on Monday, June 6th

I'll be taking the Porter into Toronto tomorrow for one of the key Biblioasis launches of the year: Clark Blaise's launch of The Meagre Tarmac at the Dora Keogh at 141 Danforth Ave in Toronto at 7 pm. So any Toronto-area Biblioasis-o-philes: please, please, please come. You won't be disappointed.

The event will also serve as the launch for Bharati Mukherjee's latest novel Miss New India.

Books will be sold by Ben McNally.

See you there!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Funny Ha-Ha

Cathy Stonehouse in the Post:

It’s hard to be funny about death. It’s even harder to be funny about child rape, especially when it has happened to yourself. But Edward St. Aubyn does it, in Never Mind, the first volume of his fictional trilogy about his alter ego, Patrick Melrose. Well, the rape scene isn’t exactly funny, but the context surrounding it is. Patrick is raped almost off-handedly by his aristocrat father who clearly does not anticipate any consequences. In St. Aubyn’s crisp prose, the horror of the situation morphs into a terrifying absurdity. And unlike one might expect, the effect is uplifting, enraging yet liberating, not least because it allows for the fact that Melrose, aka St. Aubyn, survived.

Recently I took a clowning course here in Vancouver with the extremely talented David McMurray Smith. One of the exercises we had to do involved lying on our backs and engaging in short sharp exhalations. What was the point of that? I wondered as all of a sudden my diaphragm broke out into spasms. Suddenly I was giggling. Pretty soon I was downright hysterical. And after a week or two of this the laughter opened up its opposite: tears. These were harder to allow, but the swing, as David called it, was starting to happen. For the first time in my life I truly understood how inseparable sadness and joy are, humour and horror. The body movements (knees coming up to chest, head thrown back) are almost identical. And the end result—that pleasant chemical “brain wash”—is also the same.

Writing about Terrible Things is a bit of a downer, and difficult to market unless you play up the voyeurism factor, the lurid realism that somehow numbs as it entertains. Yet “light” fiction can be depressing too, like a bad summer movie.

Read the rest here.