Category Archives: Canadian Literature

The Best Kind of People: Great premise + adequate execution = Beach read

9781770899421The Best Kind of People is the sort of book you take on holiday and read quickly and find yourself enjoying (despite of or because of) its content and then you finish it and move on to playing volleyball and eating BBQ and you forget about it. Even though the subject matter is such that it should probably linger: rich, white man is a high-school teacher and community leader; he is accused of several counts of sexual assault; the reader follows the impact of the legal proceedings on his family: his teenage daughter who goes to the same school where he taught and where the young women who were assaulted attend, his wife – a nurse and community leader, his grown son – now living in New York who came into his gay identity in the same homophobic small town.

One of the things to admire about the novel is that it tells this story without narrating the perspective of George Woodbury – the father and abuser. Nor does it narrate the abuse itself. Focusing instead on the ripples of the crime on the family of the criminal, the novel offers a vision of guilty by association, or monster by proxy. It considers the way individuals are framed in relation to crime and the criminal: what should have been known, who should have known it and when. It raises all sorts of interesting questions about trust and belief and forgiveness. And in its shifting narrative point of view, asks the reader to take on different perspectives of those around George in order to imagine a sort of empathy for those in the orbit of crime who are neither victims nor perpetrators.

I’m not sure then why I find it forgettable. I enjoyed reading it (as much as you can enjoy being asked to enter a world of emotional distress and disruption and empathize and discover): the pacing was neat (with a structure of examining the week after in detail, and then the week before the trial – giving a sort of telescoping of time while still allowing for character development and change) and the moral questions and actions for the characters complex. I suppose I didn’t find any of the three key characters: daughter, son and wife, all that compelling. Their reactions made logical sense, their decisions and their choices in the aftermath were scripted such that they felt like the ‘right’ set of responses one might be expected to experience. Yet they lacked a certain something that made me want to really feel alongside them and so was left in a sort of observational capacity when the book was clearly calling me to empathy.

All that said I do think it would make for a compelling summer read or a great book club discussion. Again – not for anything stylistic so much as the questions it raises and then fully explores.

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Filed under Bestseller, Book Club, Book I'll Forget I Read, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Giller prize, Prize Winner

The Last Neanderthal: In which I display disproportionate outrage

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This book is getting a lot of play. Well done to Claire Cameron for having a hard working marketing team (it helps that Cameron’s first novel, Bear, was widely praised and sold a bunch of copies). I’ve seen ads for the book in all sorts of places, write-ups in Chatelaine, I got a free copy from Random House to review.  Continue reading

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The Parcel: When a novel might be journalism

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Anosh Irani’s The Parcel follows Madhu, a transgender prostitute in Bombay’s red-light district, as she delivers on an assigned responsibility to prepare a captured girl, Kinjal, for induction into the sex trade. Woven onto this plot line is a thread documenting the history and culture of the hijra – those of the third sex – in Bombay, including the complex system of governance and authority in this community including what kinds of work are permitted, what kinds of allegiances are owed and how members of this community joined or are exiled. Layered, too, is an exploration of gentrification of this particular city (but cities more broadly) and the economic and social consequences for those displaced by this gentrification (a particularly compelling thread for me as I’m writing from a city that is currently grappling with how these displaced populations are represented both figuratively and literally in the sense of their political representation). Continue reading

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Cataract City: On liking gratuitous violence

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I can’t decide whether I liked Cataract City. I admire it. I think it’s well written, with particular skill and grace in high-action descriptions. I enjoyed reading parts of it because I cared about the characters (enough) and wondered about their well being. But I don’t think I liked it. Continue reading

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Filed under Book Club, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Giller prize, Prize Winner