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.
Ali Smith writes very, very good novels, and very good ones and then this one. Autumn is, in my fanciful hierarchy of good, very, very, very good. Mark that as three ‘very’s’. It has gorgeous writing and a lyrical tone and pacing that wraps you up and whisks you away without you realizing it. Eventually you look up and realize you’ve been reading for an hour and it’s time to X whatever chore your life demands you do instead of reading. Continue reading
I’m comfortable with the ‘compulsively readable’ label oft attached to Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project. Originally envisioned as a screenplay, the novel has cinematic pacing and a powerful sense of scene (including here both a sense of the setting and a well-defined plot focus for a particular chapter). Taken together with the warm and lighthearted romance plot and you have yourself a perfect stay-up-late, read-on-the-beach, pass-the-time-while-waiting-for____ kind of novel. There is much to enjoy in the characterization of Rosie and Don, the certainty of the romance genre’s happily ever after and the unapologetically optimistic take on the world and the ability for individuals to do right. Continue reading
I can see why some people read only mystery and suspense novels. They are so. fun. Or at least, Tana French’s The Secret Place was so. fun. I mean, if you look past the murder of a teenage boy and the fraught and disturbing presentation of adolescent femininity and friendship. Yep. If you can focus just on the investigation, the unravelling of who did what and when, the certainty that everyone is lying all the time (but why? to whom?) then it’s a lot of fun. Continue reading