Friday, January 26, 2007

THE GIRLS by Lori Lansens (2005)

During a particularly ferocious tornado in 1974 twins Ruby and Rose Darlen are born in a small town in southwestern Ontario. The girls are a fascination for both the town locals and travellers from abroad because they are not only identical, but also joined at the side of their heads by a patch the size of your palm.

As they approach their unexpected 30th birthday, Rose decides to write her autobiography. What emerges is a story of remarkable love and compassion; a story of true belonging.

Go out and get yourself a copy of this accomplished and human tale. It will make your heart swell.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

THE ROMANTIC by Barbara Gowdy (2003)

Louise Kirk is no stranger to love and loss. When she is nine years old, her mother disappears and leaves simply a note attached to the fridge for Louise and her father which reads only "Louise knows how to work the washing machine." Shortly thereafter the Richters move into the house across the street.

Louise has fantasies about being adopted by them as a daughter just as they have chosen their adoptive son Abel(ard), her new best friend. Though geography intervenes and necessarily defines their relationship for several years, Louise can never manage to move beyond her longstanding love for Abel.

THE ROMANTIC addresses the complicated multi-faceted forms of love in haunting ways.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

SUMMER CROSSING by Truman Capote (2004)

Published posthumously by the Capote Trust during the flurry of attention because of the two Hollywood films CAPOTE and INFAMOUS, SUMMER CROSSING is a frothy early manuscript that evokes privileged life in Manhattan in the 1940s.

Seventeen-year-old Grady begs off the summer crossing with her parents to their summer home in France and remains in their upper east side luxury apartment occasionally dining with her long-time friend Peter, but more frequently arranging assignations with her current unsuitable object of affection Clyde who manages a parking lot.

What begins as a light-hearted, whimsical tale of indulgence takes a sharp turn when Grady finds herself pregnant and she careens way off track.

Stylistic seeds are planted for Capote's much-loved BREAKFAST AT TIFFANIES and ground-breaking IN COLD BLOOD.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


In this creative non-fiction collection, the Griffin Poetry Prize winner (for THE STRANGE HOURS TRAVELERS KEEP) ruminates about the scope of his life: growing up in a New Jersey neighborhood where he was surrounded by gangsters and raised by his family dog; his love affair with public transit; his friendship with Beat-god Allan Ginsberg; his penchant for mid-afternoon boozing; his loathing of Garrison Keillor's homespun stories and penchant for reading bad poetry on air nationwide; and, his respect for his gay older brother who commits suicide--a complicated man whom he misses.

As one of the blurbs on the back of this memoir attests, "this is a beautiful book-- mournful, swaggering, bleak, hilarious-- full of piercing and often loving assessments of life and art." What moved me most was the title piece about Kleinzahler's doomed and big-hearted brother, which reminded me of my own brother who died young in 1994.

Eerily, I find myself in Kleinzahler's description of his own teenaged self and how he related to his only brother as I did mine: "I couldn't have made for very thrilling company. But he always acted glad to see me...'You'll be all right,' he'd say smiling. 'Let's go out and see if we can't find ourselves a drink.' I miss having someone like that in my life. I miss it like a limb."

Kleinzahler's prose is tough, unflinchingly honest and gut-wrenching.

A must read.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

CROSS BONES by Kathy Reichs (2005)

When a forensic pathologist becomes involved in the autopsy of an Orthodox Jew, her work life becomes unexpectedly thrilling. Someone thrusts a photo of a skeleton her way and cryptically claims it is the reason that the recently deceased has been murdered. Temperance follows the trail, with the help of Detective Andy Ryan, first to a monestary outside Montreal where she is given a bag of illustrious human remains and then across the ocean to Israel where a former colleague is excavating the site of what he believes to be the Jesus family tomb. There Temperance remarkably finds a shroud with bones and life becomes all the more adrenhaline-pumping exciting.

More of a page turner than THE DA VINCI code, and rife with historical conjecture and Biblical allusion, CROSS BONES will certainly have you questioning its plausibility. It's worth the ride, especially with the controversial evidence of the James (brother of Jesus) ossuary that even made a pit stop here in Toronto at the ROM a few years ago.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


In this YA novel set in rural Ontario, Clouds McFadden is the new kid in town who greets his fellow eighth graders with the atypical, "Good morning, proletarians." Clouds has great plans to reform what he regards as the tyrannical rule of the teachers in his school and their principal, "the Penguin."

Caught up in repeating history, Clouds's good intentions become warped and his friends have to figure out a way to save him from himself.

UNTOLD STORIES by Alan Bennett (2005)

The esteemed British playwright has published a collection of non-fiction which includes thoughts about art, architecture, life in the theatre and his personal diaries between 1996-2004. I was most interested in the section about THE HISTORY BOYS, his award-winning play that set a record for Tonys on Broadway this past season, and which is currently on the big screen in theatres across the country with the same compelling ensemble cast I saw at the Broadhurst Theatre in July.

I was surprised by Bennett's stoic approach to the news of colon cancer and his positive attitude that comes out of that recent experience where he is relieved that he can afford private health care and move to the front of the line but equally disappointed in himself that as a socialist he chose to leap the queue.

His refusal to accept both a CBE (under Thatcher) and later a knighthood (under Blair) is curiously Woolf-like in its resolution to refuse gifts from strangers. He claims he couldn't possibly accept either because he couldn't come up with a suitable joke.

DEAD SIMPLE by Peter James (2005)

If you are even mildly claustrophobic, don't read this thriller. As part laugh and part retributive justice for previous pranks pulled, groom-to-be Michael is taken to a series of pubs by his mates and then buried alive in a coffin. The prank unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse when those very mates are killed in a car crash and no surviving friend is able to help Detective Inspector Roy Grace find the missing Michael.

This is a creepy novel with many plot twists. It is certainly not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

TEACHER MAN by Frank McCourt (2005)

Chronicling his thirty years as a teacher in the NYC public high school system, McCourt unflinchingly portrays both the daily joy and frustration of being in the classroom on display and at the mercy of a roomful of adolescents who find teachers often boring and sometimes curious.

That we are all writers with stories to tell is what matters most. And the gift of trust which is occasionally exchanged in the classroom keeps us hooked on that learning curve.