One of the gifts I have received from readers is their comments and their reviews on Amazon, Indigo and Goodreads. Hence, I hereby apologize to all the authors I have read over the past four years; I have failed to review your books. During that period, two concussions interfered with both reading and writing. And when I had stretches where I could do both, I chose to work on my manuscript and comment on theatre. Today I will make up, in part, for lost time.
For those of you who read my blog, A Theatre Buff Reviews, you will know that I comment rather than formally review (and that makes me think I should call the blog A Theatre Buff Comments!). I do that for a few reasons:
- I only comment on theatre I have enjoyed and would urge others to see;
- My comments are a thank you to the playwrights, actors and producers whose work has given me pleasure.
- If I were to monetize my site, which I will not do, I would be obliged to write a formal review. A comment is my way of recognising the excellence I have encountered.
I propose in this inaugural piece to comment on books in a similar vein. Many of these comments will be brief because there have been several months between the reading and the writing.
While each of the books I comment on is different one from the other, they are similar in that the author writes from a perspective of passionate engagement with an issue that exists in the world. And I like that. If your reading preferences lean toward brain candy, there will be none here. Even though the books are fiction, I came away from each of them with a deep awareness and understanding of the issue that compelled the author to put fingers to keyboard.
Over the past few months, there were books that stood out:
The Left Handed Dinner Party by Myrl Coulter is a compilation of linked short stories. Each is crisply written and emotionally evocative. The characters feel familiar, like the family we have known forever or the friendships we have maintained for decades. There are the stories we hide and the stories we share. Coulter has revealed all.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews is an imagined two-day conversation amongst a group of Mennonite women who have been the victims of the Bolivian “ghost” rapes. The women must decide one of three options: do nothing; stay and fight; leave. Their courage in the face of their constraints is formidable.
Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement explores drug culture in Mexico. Through the eyes of a young country girl, Ladydi, Clement exposes the underbelly of violence, prostitution, and gun traffic. Clements draws her characters and her settings with exquisite care.
Gun Love by Jennifer Clement explores the traffic in guns from the USA to Mexico. Clement has chosen to tell her story through Pearl, a young girl who lives with her mother in a car on the edge of a trailer park. Pearl is too young to be judgemental and still young enough to be curious about everything. Her resilience is her salvation.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyen is an epic tale of a young slave who was born with a “ring of luck around [his] neck.” It’s a story about adventure, risk, love, survival, and betrayal told as historical fiction. If it were not such a doorstopper of a novel, I would reread it in a heartbeat.
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyen follows a quartet of black jazz musicians during the early period of the Second World War, in Germany, when it was not safe to play jazz or to be black. The story is a recounting of that period, decades later, by one of the musicians. It’s a tale of artistry, craft, desperation, hope, and reconciliation. I have returned to this book to re-read sections, and may re-read the entire book.
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden is told through two primary characters: a middle-aged man who has been left in a coma and his twenty-something niece who comes to visit him in hospital. Boyden takes us through terrain that most of us will not encounter—the northern woods that are only accessible by bush plane or canoe, life on a reservation, photo shoots in Montreal and celebrity life in New York City. It’s a story that explores the glamour and the grief associated with the cross border traffic in drugs. If you have read Orenda, Through Black Spruce is a very different, but equally compelling book.
Nuala by Kimmy Beach is a fable. Beach has created a society where giant wooden puppets that come to awareness and are capable of “think-talk” are revered. Flesh and blood people are their servants who create the movement and who teach the puppet. The fable is thought provoking to say the least; its messages are not explicit. My take-away is that Nuala is an exploration of all consuming love and adoration, caregiver exhaustion, class tension (people who think vs. people who do), and master-student rivalry. Nuala is beautifully crafted.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood is unbridled, irreverent, and entertaining. It is set in a dystopian near-future with economic conditions not too different from our current times. The principal characters, a husband and wife, trade their dispirited existence of living in their car for a lifelong commitment to a designed community. It’s the assurance of shelter, food and clothing that seals the deal. However, to quote W.D. Gilbert “Things are seldom what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream.” Atwood’s has created an alternate universe that her characters willingly enter, and then with considerable creativity, attempt to leave. Enjoy!
Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, a story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humour despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend.