Saturday, May 23, 2009


This series of personal reflections about adolescence and early adulthood reveals an uber-senstive Franzen at his squirmy best, "a small and fundamentally ridiculous person."

You will find yourself identifying with his unflinching honesty about his awkward teenhood every page of the way.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

TRIGGER CITY by Sean Chercover (2008)

This thriller was recommended by a CBC book panel.

Sean Chercover is a former P.I. in Chicago and New Orleans and his insider's perspective of that milieu contributes an authenticity and frenetic pace to this novel.

As I approach my mid-forties I obviously agree with the opening gambit that "forty-four is too young for a woman to die." Joan Richmond is the corpse upon which the premise depends. Her father, Isaac, a retired Army Colonel approaches Det. Dudgeon to work exclusively on uncovering the "truth" about his daughter's murder.

What follows is Dudgeon revealing layer upon layer of corruption that implicates the US government and its acronym organizations including the FBI and the CIA at its core and threatening Dudgeon's own life because of his meddling.

SAIL by James Patterson

At breakneck speed, Patterson's thriller about the Family Dunne weaves through twists and turns and resolves in a completely satisfying way.

Dr. Katherine Dunne is trying to repair the strained rapport with her children, following their father's accidental death in a diving mishap and her subsequent marriage to the top criminal lawyer in New York, a man whom the children loathe at best.

What begins as a tension-filled family disaster waiting to happen, turns into a true horror when their luxury boat blows up and leaves them floating in its wake in the ocean near the Bahamas. They manage to survive the wreck, dodge a shark afraid of flares, kill a snake that is squeezing their injured mother to death and get rescued, but not before almost being offed by someone all too close to them.

None of the story is plausible, but that didn't stop me from flipping through the 3-4 page-long chapters in one sitting.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

RUNAWAY by Alice Munro (2004)

Some of the stories in this collection are linked by a character, others stand brilliantly on their own, revealing a storyteller at the peak of her powers.

The titular tale is being adapted for the screen by Australian filmmaker Jane Campion (The Piano).

Alice Munro is one of the essential authors not only for our time, but for all time. (Thank you Ben Jonson.)

THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE by David Wrobelewski (2008)

Based on the structure of Shakespeare's Hamlet, this first novel is a revelation.

Edgar is a mute whose family breeds a special kind of dog that has been refined over generations and bred for temperment and intelligence. Edgar's earliest memory, indeed, is meeting Almondine, his first canine companion, as she licks his hand and does a little dance of joy outside his crib.

When Edgar's father dies unexpectedly when Edgar is approaching adolescence, the appearance of Edgar's Uncle Claude (his father's long lost brother) complicates life on the farm. Edgar receives guidance from his father's ghostly presence in scenes that are both wonderous and terrifying.

David Wrobelewski is not only a storyteller for our time, but like the bard himself, for all time.

SOMEWHERE TOWARDS THE END (2008) by Diana Athill

Winner of the 2008 Costa Biography Award, this series of personal essays by UK literary giant Diana Athill is at once witty, contemplative and unflinchingly honest about love and aging.

Athill worked as an editor of high profile writers including Mordecai Richler, Margaret Atwood and V.S. Naipal until she retired at 75. Since then she has turned to her own writing and produced several memoirs including this most recent one and she's now 91! Her voice belies her age and you will feel yourself one of her intimates in reading this frank account.

In one of my favourite passages where Athill contemplates what her own death might look like, she recalls with envy the death of one of her cousins, who "flop! fell off his horse stone dead in the middle of a laugh" at the age of eighty-two.

I barreled through this book in sheer delight, but will be returning to it to read it slowly, savouring every well-placed word.