David Chariandry’s Brother follows two brothers – Michael and Francis – and their experiences growing up in Toronto as young, black men. The story weaves two time lines: the present in which Michael and his mother grieve the death of Francis, and the years and then weeks leading up to his death. The effect of the woven time is to have the reader at once certain of the outcome and effect, and unsure about the cause. That’s not true. The cause of Francis’s death is as much about context and systematic racism (through education, housing, transit and policing) as it is about the single act that kills him. The reader feels certain – well before knowing what exactly killed him – that if Francis was born white he wouldn’t have died.
It’s an exquisitely written novel. Quotidian scenes speak for whole years; individual examples gesture to shared experiences. With precise language and sharp detail, the writing evokes setting and atmosphere without straying into distracting description or belabored scene-setting.
While it is a novel principally interested in masculinity, in its characterization of their mother the story proves capacious in its exploration of the intersection of gender and class and race.
I’ve made it sound like a bleak read. And in some ways it is, and that’s a good reason to read it, too. But through the distress and grief and anger there are also scenes and moments of connection, community and great care. And other alliterative ‘c’ words. Not that a story needs to balance sadness with hope. Just that this novel does. And I hope you read it.
I recently had a middle of the night worry that an author of a book I didn’t like might stumble across one of my I-didn’t-like-it reviews. Don’t worry. I fell quickly back to sleep. But the thought lingered. I like writing a good scathing review as much as the next blogger, but was I being fair to the novelist? Was I just having fun being a little too mean? Continue reading
I continued my summer of reading literary thrillers with Will Fergusen’s 419. I was late to the party on this one, with folks suggesting I read it for years. Something about it made me resistant to reading, and it wasn’t until it was the *only* book to have come in to the library from my list of requests that I gave in and picked it up. That 419 is terrific only (once again) proves that I am ridiculous for following my arbitrary whims when it comes to book covers and gut feelings. Continue reading
The 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.