Tag Archives: Giller prize

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

Fifteen Dogs: Insufficiently Human

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It was tempting to cheat on this one and wait until after bookclub tonight to post my reaction to André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs, with the thought that my ideas would be much more refined after discussion with my smart and insightful bookclub friends. But you only have me, and so you’ll have to make do with my pre-discussion, pre-wine interpretation. Continue reading

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Clara Callan: In which I start writing the review ambivalent, and end up not liking the book; or, the merit of writing reviews

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Oh I don’t know. It’s hard sometimes to summon a review. Sometimes you read something and think ‘yes. that was just fine.’ And in the case of Richard Wright’s (why does he insist on the middle initial?) Clara Callan, I have no solid argument against reading it, but I also can’t muster a persuasive case for picking it up. So sure, if you find yourself in a hostel with a free copy (or in my case, a used bookstore with a copy in the $1 bin and your only other reading material is the very boring A Brief History of Seven Killings) then by all means: go in. Continue reading

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Filed under Book I'll Forget I Read, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Governor Generals

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night: Metaphorical Cats

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Some people really like Heather O’Neill (e.g. apparently all of Canadian media and award committees). I am not one of those readers. Lullabies for Little Criminals predates the blog, but I remember thinking it was a bit overwrought. Enter The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, O’Neill’s second novel and a repeat effort to make me feel something profound by way of Serious last sentences for every chapter. These sentences have a kind of formula: Feeling/Abstract Noun + unusual metaphor + adjective + reference to a cat. I think these sentences feel pretty good about themselves. Continue reading

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