Sunday, December 31, 2006

SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky (2006)

Published 54 years after the author was killed at Auschwitz, SUITE FRANCAISE offers an insider's perspective of German-occupied France in the early years of WWII. Nemirovsky writes beautifully and compassionately about the French and about the soldiers whose very presence made wartime life all the more complicated.

The story of this novel is as intriguing as the novel itself. For years Nemirovsky's daughters moved what they believed to be their mothers journals from place to place. Only after her younger sister Elizabeth died in 1996, did Denise Epstein read and transcribe this manuscript.

Friday, December 29, 2006

THE DISSIDENT by Nell Freudenberger (2006)

A performance artist and political activist from Beijing accepts a post as an art instructor at an all girls' boarding school in L.A. He is hosted by the Travers family: Cece, Gordon (her psychiatrist husband), Olivia (their anorexic dancing daughter) and Max (their son who has survived an attempted suicide--or so they think). Gordon's siblings breeze in and out as well--Joan, the novelist and Phil, the playwright who has optioned his play about a man who has an affair with his brother's wife to a Hollywood studio.

As the dissident becomes increasingly entangled in the family's life, Freudenberger reveals secret upon secret from his past.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

ME AND ORSON WELLES by Robert Kaplow (2003)

Set during one week in November 1937 when Welles mounted a production of JULIUS CAESAR at the Mercury Theatre on West 41st Street, this absolutely charming novel inhabits that time and place through the eyes of Richard Samuels, a seventeen-year-old beginning actor who happens to be in the right place at the right time. We meet John Houseman, Joseph Cotten and the tyrannical twenty-two year old Welles at the beginning of his meteoric rise. During one week, Samuels falls in love, sleeps in Orson Welles' pajamas at the encouragement of his winsome production assistant Sonja (herself making a bid for an introduction to David O. Selznick), acts beside the behemoth in JULIUS CAESAR and loses his job.


This is O'Neill's first novel and it will break your heart, phrase by phrase. Baby is a savvy twelve year old being raised by her father Jules, little more than a child himself when Baby was born. They shift from flop house to flop house in Montreal's red light district and Baby is temporarily housed in foster care with other castoffs while Jules is hospitalized.

And, although the circumstances of Baby's life are grim, her attitude towards it is refreshingly ebullient. In LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS, O'Neill has created memorable and sympathetic characters who will encourage you to look at life in an entirely appreciative way.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

HELPLESS by Barbara Gowdy (2007)

Celia Fox is a single parent holding down two jobs in order to provide for her and her beautiful young daughter Rachel. On the night of a blackout in Toronto, Rachel is abducted and her mother's life becomes a living hell. Much of the novel is told from the perspective of Ron, a troubled appliance repairman, with an inexplicably close attachment to Rachel.

In HELPLESS, Gowdy, forces you to face your own fears about loss and love. It is a profoundly upsetting and human story.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


This 6th collection of Dave and Morley stories from CBC Vinyl Cafe host Stuart McLean is as engaging and heartwarming as the previous ones; though this time, cartoons by Seth, reminiscent of naive designs for the Flintstones or the Jetsons, imply another layer of storying. So, on the cover you may see yourself in Eavesdropper, Home Haircutter, Nostalgist, Tight-Wad, Sympathy Faker or Fact Fudger to name a few.

The stories range from quietly sentimental as in "Opera" and "The Laundry Chute" to knee-slapping, bladder-bursting funny in "Teeth" or "Kenny Wong's Practical Jokes." In every instance, McLean follows the path of the heart and nudges you, oh gentle reader, to examine your own.


MacIntyre's memoir about growing up on Cape Breton in the years bracketed by the construction of the Canso causeway and his strained and complicated rapport with his largely absent father is compelling. He neatly adopts the convincing voice of his 10-12-14-year-old self and recreates the community of Port Hastings in the 1950s and 1960s. The wonder and mystery of the world and the people in it weave through MacIntyre's nostalgic lens.