Sep 12, 2010

Monkey droppings - Two for a Chilly September Morn

The shelf monkey has been very, very lax on blog updates and reviews of late.

The monkey apologizes.

The monkey has good reasons, however; some selfish, some not.

The monkey will remain mum on that for the time being.

But in the meantime, the monkey throws you a couple of quickies, to mask his abject shame.


Seven Good Reasons Not to be Good
John Gould (2010)
What if Zane isn't actually good at all? What if he's just clever - clever enough to give his compulsion a purpose? You got a big ugly sweater from your mother-in-law for Christmas. It's yellow, the yellow of a smoker's fingers, and festooned with quasi-floral patters in lime green and salmon. It's stippled like a plucked chicken. You wear the hideous thing to your mother-in-law's once and then you donate it to the Sally Ann. Sure, it'll keep some poor soul warm on a winter's night, but that isn't going to get you into heaven, is it? You're just ditching the damn thing.
In 2003, John Gould published kilter: 55 fictions, a lovely collection of micro-stories that went on to become a surprise nominee for the Giller Prize. It was a sterling set of tales, and I'm not saying that because I was the only reviewer in mainstream media to review it, for the Winnipeg Free Press. I liked the spasm of attention I garnered for such a selfless act (got my heartily sideburned mug on the teevee and everything), but the stories certainly stand up to closer scrutiny.

Now, seven years later, Gould finally resurfaces with his debut novel Seven Good Reasons Not to be Good. Does it fulfill the promise of kilter? Well, that depends. Anyone searching for a direct repeat of his incisively concise narratives will be sorely disappointed. Anyone who enjoys a good story well-told will be well-satisfied.

Seven Good Reasons concerns Matt, a film critic (or "kritik" - "way cooler, way kooler than your average hack") on the horns of several dilemmas. His wife is cuckolding him with a female barista. His father (the Dadinator) is on his merry way to dementia, obsessed with crop circles and alien visitations. And his best friend Zane, the one constant he could always depend on, has decided to stop fighting and let his AIDs-related death overtake him. Matt has decided, now that he's newly-fired (no spoilers here, but the reasons are delicious), to visit Zane and stop him from embracing death. So he hops a flight to Toronto, starts up a hotel affair with a comely elevator companion, and decidedly does his best not to confront his problems.

There is a lot going on in Seven Good Reasons; novels about the travails of the mid-life crisis often do. There is an abundance of the hopeful fool in Matt, a man not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, and a character firmly in the mold of the mid-life heroes of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. Such novels are about the search for self, and possibly of meaning in a meaningless world, and Gould manoeuvres the oft-traversed paths with wit and grace. The humour is at once broad yet subtle, combined with a gentle depth of character that recalls Miriam Toews at her best.

Seven Good Reasons Not to be Good is not a game-changer; there are no elaborate flourishes of poetic license, none of that standard 'CanLit that is good for you' falderal. Rather, it is an insightful and humourous examination of human foibles, placed within a plot that always entertains and oftentimes zigs where a zag was expected.


The World More Full of Weeping
Robert J. Wiersema (2009)
For breakfast on the morning of the day he disappeared, Brian Page ate most of two scrambled eggs, three pieces of bacon, and almost two slices of multigrain toast. After he was gone, his father, Jeff Page, kept remembering the remaining triangle of hardening bread on its plate on the kitchen counter, the outline of Brian's bite sharp, a bright curve against the right angle.
I am not previously acquainted with Robert Wiersema's novel Before I Wake, despite suffering many people's admonishment for this oversight. After reading his sterling novella The World More Full of Weeping, I plan to rectify this horrific mistake posthaste.

Weeping is a tiny, almost perfect pearl of a story - a story of family loss tinged with elements of magic realism Stephen King might have written in his prime.

Brian Page has gone missing. The locals are not concerned, not at first; boys do have a habit of disappearing, especially when there is an inviting forest just adjunct to the backyard. But his father Jeff is not so sure; there are hints that he once disappeared himself, memories that refuse to surface, something to do with the woods and its mysteries. And if Brian has fallen prey to the same lure, he may never return.

I don't want to give too much away; the story is short, precise, and nary a word wasted with an economy of prose that should be taught in schools (I should take the course, definitely, oh yes indeedy do). Wiersema crafts an evocative yarn of tragedy and magic, very similiar in tone to the recent Tim Lebbon piece The Thief of Broken Toys (also great, and also a ChiZine release, my new favourite publisher). Wiersema also proves himself an expert creator of place, erecting a whole town from very few pieces (the process chronicled in the companion piece Places & Names).

The World More Full of Weeping is a gem, a mood piece for a cold autumn's eve that will make you shiver even as you smile, and lament even as you wish it were true.



Wanda said...

I've had this one marked on my library list for awhile now. Glad to hear it's worthy of Monkey Love ... will request a hold soon, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Wow. I love your reviewing style and will be checking in regularly for your reviews! I just added Seven Good Reasons Not To Be Good and Kilter to my TBR list; they sound right up my alley.

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