Thursday, May 31, 2012

After Congress: One Complete Voyage.

What's better than coming home after Congress and discovering a pile of happy reviews? The fact that my plants aren't dead is pretty good but this may be even better. First and foremost, we have Douglas Glover's Attack of the Copula Spiders, which after just shy of three chapters won the heart of Charles Wilkins at The Globe and Mail. Still a skeptic re: Spiders? Wilkins was too, & confessed to cracking it with a How to write a novel, yes yes, well well, grumble snuffle snort. But (& quoth my gran), there's no greater zealot than a convert: 
As I absorbed the book’s title piece, "Attack of the Copula Spiders," an eloquent little commentary on writing well in the age of Facebook, I felt a first pang of regret over my churlish resistance to a book that would ultimately reward me with its erudition and democratic spirit. Such was the pace of my conversion, that by the time I reached the penultimate chapter ... I had decided that every literate person in the country should be reading Glover’s essays and was fixing to present them to my eldest daughter.

It's possible that coming home to Copula Spiders is even better than coming home to that review. We'll have to ask the eldest Ms. Wilkins how she liked it. 

Next up we have a run on Alice Petersen, whose All the Voices Cry is splashed on blogs across the country this week. Yesterday Steven Beattie featured Alice's "Neptune's Necklace" as Day 30 of his 31 days of short stories, commenting on mood, place, and the subtle power of setting to shape subtext. (Sssssuper stuff.) For those of you who are curious. here's the section from Alice's interview to which he's referring:

2. “Neptune’s Necklace” is set by Aramoana Beach, Otago, where in 1990 thirteen people were shot dead by a lone gunman. The Aramoana massacre is now famous as New Zealand’s worst modern act of gun violence. Was the choice of this setting deliberate? What does it contribute to your story?
Aramoana Beach, Otago, NZ
Yes, this was a deliberate choice. I was twenty when that tragedy occurred and it really shook us all up. Before that, Aramoana had been known for its triumphant rejection of plans to build a smelter down there on the salt flats at the entrance to the Otago harbour. It’s a small settlement, but a strong one. It’s a place that makes you think. You are beside the sea and it’s all brisk and fresh and there are plenty of shells to pick up, but there’s this sadness in the air. I did not want to write about the massacre itself, so I made a parallel narrative, as my own act of memorial.
 "Neptune's Necklace" is a lovely story and well worth further attention. As Steven Beattie puts it:
It is coincidental that I read the interview with Petersen prior to reading her story. But how does a knowledge of Aramoana Beach’s history change the effect of the story, if at all? How would one react to the melancholy aspect of the tale if one thought it had no real world resonance? Does the knowledge of the 1990 massacre lend Hattie’s story additional gravitas? Does it tug at a reader differently? ... Petersen describes the setting of the massacre without ever mentioning the massacre. The story stands on its own. Armed with the background knowledge of what the story’s setting implies, how does that change a reader’s experience of it? Since it is impossible to erase the knowledge of what the setting implies, it is impossible for me to answer these questions. I would be interested to find out, however.
So would I. 

(As an aside, the first time I spoke with Alice on the phone about this book I swore she was saying, not "Neptune's Necklace," but "Nixon's Necklace," which I think would make a great followup piece. Alice? You game? Something at the Watergate hotel?)

Next we have The Winnipeg Review, who's to be commended for selecting a marvellous passage that really does showcase Alice's imagistic flare. Poor froggy! Here's their conclusion:
Petersen’s almost strange observations create a collection of realistic stories about loss, love, restlessness, and freedom— above all, it is a collection of decisions. Written in easily-managed chunks, All the Voices Cry could be read in spare moments, or, as the easy prose tempts you, all at once. The decision is up to you.
Last but not least we have the indefatigable Kerry Clare, who's given us a strong two cents on Alice at Pickle Me This. "The book is slim," she observes, "the stories are subtle and quiet, and their impact is not always immediate" - but "All the Voices Cry is a collection you might want to meditate on, its pages getting dog-earned and stained with coffee rings as the summer wears on."

It's worth noting that a few reviewers, including Kerry and Kirsty Hourd over in Winnipeg, have commented on how pleasant it is to read a series of what can only be called short short stories. 5 pages, 7 pages, and so forth. Therefore to conclude I thought I'd leave you with some of Alice's own words on the subject:
My ideal reader is sitting in the car waiting to pick up the kids. He has a small coffee at hand and ten minutes to spare and he’s already read his favourite page of the car manual. There’s nothing else in the glove compartment except All the Voices Cry and some gum. Or maybe she has ten minutes tucked up in bed before she knows she is going to zonk out, so she looks in my book to find a story that will take ten minutes to read. These are the folks who value the compact quality of the short story. Just ten minutes, time for one story, one brief excursion to somewhere else. One complete voyage. 
We hope you've enjoyed your trip.

Oh yes. In case you're one of the 2 people who haven't seen me splashing it all over facebook, Anakana Schofield is this month's cover girl at Quill and Quire. Take a look. Picture's there at the bottom left. You know, where you see that sultry stare.

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