Tuesday, March 08, 2011

HOLDING STILL FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE by Zoe Whittall (2009) House of Anansi Press, 296 pages

Don't you just love it when you find a new-to-you writer whose first book is such a treat that you can't wait to get your paws on the next? Even though HOLDING STILL FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE is not Zoe Whittall's first novel (BOTTLE ROCKET HEARTS is), it is the first one of hers that I've read.

An unconventional love triangle between a paramedic (Josh), a former teen-sensation (Billy) and an emerging filmmaker (Amy) is at the heart of this gritty, urban narrative that roams streets familiar to me from the different lives it feels I've led here in Toronto. Though it is decades since I enjoyed my twenties like these three, Whittall triggered memories of what it was like to feel on the cusp of something good and new and true. When every moment felt like a possibility.

In addition to the palpable tension between the main players, I enjoyed the behind the scenes peek at a working life for Emergency Services--the adrenaline rush and necessary emotional distance required of medics and police and firefighters on the front lines of trying to keep us safe from ourselves and each other. It's not only the story Whittall tells that had me hooked, but also the way she tells it. Sentences thrum with the rhythm of life and there are many that reveal her poetic heart. Consider "Canadian art movies" that "exist as though poured from the rusty taps of the local indie rock bar," or "Memories run through her brain like the soft strokes of a watercolour brush." Fantastic, right?

Like Russell Smith, Zoe Whittall slices the piece of the Toronto pie that she knows and loves so well and serves it up in style.

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