Tag Archives: post-apocolypse

The Marrow Thieves: How Should I End Blog Posts?

Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves is a YA (maybe?), dystopic, post-climate-apocalyptic, fantasy novel that follows an Indigenous family as they establish familial and romantic ties while also trying to escape the clutches of predatory, murderous, white ‘Recruiters’ bent on capturing them and taking them off to ‘Schools’ to drain them of their literal marrow (and kill them) because their marrow combats the dreamlessness that has turned all white people into dream-zombies. *Breath* That is to say… it is a lot.

It makes its thematic concerns abundantly clear and accessible (presumably this is why it is understood as young adult fiction?): colonialism, settler-indigenous relations (past, present and possible-future), ecocriticism and trauma. There’s scope to discuss how/when children become adults, the intersection of history and story and the purpose of spiritual life and dreams. It feels like if you were teaching a literature/politics course you could not have ordered up a better novel to open conversations (or I guess if you’re a producer of the 2018 Canada Reads competition…). It is also bursting with similies. Like a water barrell overflowing in a rainstorm with similies.

As a story I didn’t love it. It was a quest narrative that didn’t articulate it’s quest until reaching the climax, as a consequence the reader is left adrift wondering if there might be a point to all the wandering (though I suppose there’s an argument to be made that the reader’s feeling of waywardness is intentionally mirroring that of the characters, but I don’t buy it). The characters themselves read a bit jumbled: there are a lot of them in the family and not enough attention is paid to individualizing each, so there is little emotional investment for the reader on what happens to any one of them. That said, the few characters that do receive a backstory are compelling, if not entirely complicated. There’s also a question of setting. They are forever walking north (like months and months) but never seem to get anywhere (again with the wayward wandering). And I did find the writing strayed into the cliche and the Literary Devices.

As a novel to spurr conversation I think it has merit. There’s ample opportunity to talk about the legacy and continued experience of colonialism, the continued profit off Indigenous bodies, the history of residential schools and the present of incarceration and child welfare agencie, the experience of Metis people within and against the state, and the representation of indigenous people as eco-warriors.

I never know how to end these posts. I feel like I’m always tempted to be like “read it” or “don’t read it,” and in this case I don’t know what to tell you, and maybe you don’t want me to tell you anyway, and so… END.

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Filed under Bestseller, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

The Heart Goes Last: Your Contract to Read All Atwood Has Been Voided. Thank God.

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As a student of Can Lit I am always going to get the new Margaret Atwood novel. It was in the contract I signed when I chose my field. Or did I not read the fine print? Or bother to inquire? If I had I might not have so readily signed on because at a certain point (as in The Heart Goes Last) reading the new Atwood is an obligation and chore, rather than pleasure and delight.

I jest about contract signing because this novel-that-ought-to-have-been-a-short-story-but-who-is-going-to-tell-that-to-Atwood focuses on the ways people ‘freely’ choose their subjugation and constraint. Yawn hegemony. Made more complex, perhaps, by the setting of a post-depression era North America where 50% unemployment means the collapse of society as we know it. You could read other reviews that will praise the way this question of choice is taken up in relation to technology. You won’t read that here because I read this as – at best – an obvious consideration of the reach of technology in regulating individual life and desire. You don’t have to look far – *cough* The Circle – for similar, if far better executed, allegories and literary prophesies.

*spoiler alert* Though it’s not much of a spoiler as so much of this plot is either predictable or uninspired: Stan and Charmaine, out of work, sign on to live in Consilience, a town that provides employment and safety. The trade off is the town is selling body parts and making people into sex slaves. The bit about working for a month in a prison and a month in the town is neither necessary to know nor interesting in the plot, it seems to be there just for shock value.

Had this been an interesting novel (or a compressed and worthy short story) I might have been taken with the ideas explored around individual choice. The tone of the novel blames Stan and Charmaine for their choice to sign on to Consilience, as if they ought to have read the fine print or been brave enough to choose ‘freedom over security’ (that familiar binary). One of the unitarian principles I appreciate is the idea that individuals have choice, but choice within constraints. That what we can do for a more just society is to create conditions under which individuals have the maximum range of choice and are equipped and supported in choosing. (This push to create ‘choice conditions’ is part of the reason the church has such an aggressive (if you can call unitarians aggressive about anything) social justice mandate as part of their non-doctrine-doctrine.) So sure, you can make an argument that the two ought to have chosen violence over the promises of the town, they ought to have known such a thing was (in every way the adage) too good to be true. But you could also make an argument they – like we – made a choice inasmuch as they could choose anything within their constraints. It bears repeating, however, that the novel doesn’t do much – at all – to further this line of questioning or explore this nuance. It simply blames them – and us – for being dupes and moves on.

So don’t be a dupe. Give this one a pass. You can choose how to spend your reading time, even if I can’t.

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Filed under Bestseller, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Worst Books

Station Eleven: Why are you having a baby when the world is ending?

I’ve wanted a baby since my lady bits started twitching in my late twenties. I’ve been asked – and had trouble replying – why I want a baby. It’s a good question, and one we (collective humanity we and my partner-and-me-we) should probably be able to answer before we go ahead and have one. Enter me reading Emily St John Mandel’s (excellent) Station Eleven and feeling ever more sure that the world as we know it is ending, and that having a baby is… [enter your adjective]: risky, selfish, hopeful, terrifying, absurd, brave. Sure, when I was born in the 80s my parents must have felt a similar sense of foreboding: the Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation probably made it feel pretty scary to have a kid. And without the same frame of reference, I can’t be sure, except the arrival of disasters brought on by global warming makes the ‘threat’ not a possibility, but a reality.

So what does my baby-end-of-the-world-angst have to do with Station Eleven? The book narrates the post-apocolyptic world of a mix-matched cast of characters for whom the mantra “Survival is Insufficient” prompts them to not just survive, but to make and appreciate art, to maintain friendships and romances, and to form complicated relationships with ideas of past and future. It also gave this reader the scope and space to consider the [enter your adjective] of being a parent in any world, the massive responsibility and the abnegation of self called for by culture and circumstance (am I more or less likely to have a baby now? Time will tell).

With characters scattered in time and geography, the novel moves back and forward as readers are invited to piece together the events surrounding the collapse and the journies and connections of different characters (much, I might add, as one of these characters might be positioned to try to make sense of their world). We witness a magnificiently drawn setting of winter Toronto (really, not since the mostly wretched The Night Circus have I enjoyed a setting quite so much) and scenes along the north-east seaboard of North America (less brilliant than that of Toronto). Our characters are a little uneven in how successfully they’re drawn, but for the most part their motivations are well grounded in past events and rich personalities. (I would add that the narration of the lives of these characters ‘before’ the collapse is excellent – our knowledge of the imminanent end to their existence through the juxtaposition of their present adds urgency and poignancy to already great narration).

The past is captured in the creation and curation of the “Museum of Civilization” – an effort on the part of a few characters to preserve the history of the world that was lost, and to teach future generations about the cultures destroyed through their objects. The Museum is contrasted with characters who have ‘lost’ memories of the first years after the collapse. A sense that while remembering and presevation is a critical part of rebuilding culture, so too, an active forgetting (of the violence and isolation, we presume) is required for the same.

The future gestured to at the end of the novel is one of an expansion of connectivity (the lights go on again), the spread of ideas (the creation of a newspaper) and expanded travel (the networks of roads grow). It is a future, though, predicated on the tenacity and hope of its populace. The willingness of each character individually, and the groups collectively, to learn from one another and to trust one another (as in newspaper interviews and expansions of communities).

More than the (truly excellent) video game The Last of Us, the TV series The Walking Dead and the host of other post-apocolyptic futures we’ve encountered in recent years, Station Eleven calls on us to consider not only the everyday marvels and luxuries that surround our priviledged lives, but the threads of civilization that make a human life worth living: art, community, a connection to the past, a sense of hope for the future.

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Filed under Bestseller, Book Club, Fiction, Mystery, Prize Winner, Reader Request