Wednesday, February 28, 2007

FAMILY MAN by Calvin Trillin (1998)

I am on my Trillin tear trying to pick up copies of as many of his 20+ books as I can lay my hands on. FAMILY MAN is a series of vignettes ranging from pre-kid days with Alice and Calvin on their own to the early childhoods of daughters Abigail and Sarah to the post-graduate days of those same girls.

Trillin is equal parts honesty, charm and humour. Reading FAMILY MAN will make you long for such a reconstructed history even if it didn't happen to you in the first place.

THE GUN SELLER by Hugh Laurie (1996)

I'm a rabid fan of Hugh Laurie's acting...Jeeves and Wooster with fellow Cambridge-educated smartypants Stephen Fry...husband to Imelda Staunton in PETER'S FRIENDS, father to the mouse voiced by Michael J. Fox in STUART LITTLE and the curmudgeonly eponymous physician on HOUSE.

This murder mystery showcases Laurie's naughty wit, though the plot drags on and the witticisms are at times a little precious.

Stephen Fry is a better writer. Pick up one of his books instead. Maybe MAKING HISTORY or THE HIPPOPOTAMUS or THE STAR'S TENNIS BALLS--a contemporary re-telling of Webster's play THE DUCHESS OF MALFI.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

MORAL DISORDER by Margaret Atwood (2006)

I haven't read a new collection or novel by Atwood in a few years, and I was delighted by this most recent collection of linked short fiction. These stories chronicle a family's history, in a similar way to Alice Munro's fictionalized version of her own lore in THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK. But, there is something about Atwood's storytelling that enables me to identify myself and my own relatives in its midst.

Was Atwood never at the top of her game?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

CONSUMPTION by Kevin Patterson (2006)

I've been wanting to read this novel since I first saw the gorgeous cover photo of a woman model posing with the skull of a caribou where her own face ought to be.

This book, rooted in the far north, transports you along with the protagonist Victoria to the south where she is treated for TB and then back to her community where she continues to be a stranger, even to her family. Victoria marries as "kablunauk", a southerner named Robertson who does his best to accommodate the native ways.

Sorrow follows Victoria throughout her life with the loss of two children, the violent and unresolved murder of her husband and her increasing distance from the land on which she was raised with abiding love.

Consumed as he is with the rhythms of the north, Kevin Patterson manages to weave a compelling tale about family, love, loss and healing.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

FROM HARVEY RIVER by Lorna Goodison (2007)

Goodison's memoir of her mother and her mother's people is rooted in place in Jamaica. Doris Harvey is one of the illustrious Harvey girls raised by the river that sustained them and named after their immigrant forefathers. She is the shy daughter to Margaret and David Harvey who captures the attentions of Marcus Goodison, a handsome young man who makes a weeky pilgrimmage to get to know her and to ask for her hand in marriage.

Woven with Jamaican Creole aphorisms and song and the Irish temper and wisdom of Margaret's white father George O'Brian Wilson, FROM HARVEY RIVER is a rich cultural tapestry.

When fortunes change and Doris and Marcus must start a life over in Kingston, it is back to Harvey River that Doris's imagination wanders for solace and belonging as she raises her nine children in a new reality.

A SPOT OF BOTHER by Mark Haddon (2006)

The recently retired George is looking forward to building a little studio at the back of his garden where he plans to sketch and paint. His daughter Katie announces that she is going to marry Ray, a man that both George and her mother Jean think inappropiate. Katie's brother Jamie is also unsure of Ray's suitability but sees that he loves Katie and her son Jacob.

George discovers a lesion on his hip that sends him for a loop. Katie calls off her wedding and Jamie breaks up with his boyfriend Tony. The only member of the family even remotely happy is Jean who is blissfully and furtively carrying on an affair with David, a former colleague of her husband.

Their world falls apart and the centre does not hold as the Halls try to stumble their way to healing.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

ABOUT ALICE by Calvin Trillin (2006)

Calvin Trillin is a long-serving staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of 20+ books of fiction and non-fiction. ABOUT ALICE is a gem of a memoir where he reveals the true Alice, the woman he fell in love with and was lucky enough to be married to for almost forty years. Rife with Trillin's trademark witticisms and his keen observations about the dignity of human life, ABOUT ALICE will make you smile from cover to cover.

Monday, February 05, 2007

WOMEN WITH MEN by Richard Ford (1997)

There are three long stories--moreso novellas-- in this collection. Ford contemplates the complexities of passionate relationships and meditates on the affect of place in setting the tone. He writes convincingly from both male and female perspectives with uncanny sympathy.

LUCKY GIRLS by Nell Freudenberger (2003)

I picked this collection of stories up from a remainder table while waiting for a film to start. It's Freudenberger's first book and reflects personal experiences she had living as a white woman in India and south-east Asia. Each story finds an outsider protagonist more at home away from home. Her style reminds me of Richard Ford's writing: spare, muscular prose. Both writers explore the contemporary human condition and are especially atuned to the nuances in intimate relationships between men and women.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Didion's national book award-winning memoir is as arresting on its third reading as it was during its first. It will become one of the books that I re-read annually to try to absorb her masterful and direct style. Grief makes all of us both less and more than we were before.

THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK by Alice Munro (2006)

I've been a fan of Munro's style since I first read LIVES OF GIRLS AND WOMEN twenty years ago. Her latest, and she claims her last, collection is her most personal. Blending memoir and fiction in these intergenerational stories. Regretably, I found the first section rather dull, but the remaining stories are independently luminous gems. I refuse to believe that this is Munro's last book.