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FABULOUS FALL FICTION.

AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE TAYARI JONES Algonquin Books

REVIEW BY IRENE D'SOUZA

James Baldwin once observed that "To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time."

An evocative, thought-provoking, lyrical book, Tayari Jones's An American Marriage examines the long-term, historical social injustices that continue to affect Black lives today.

Roy, a corporate executive, and Celestial, an artist, have been married for 18 months when they travel from Atlanta to visit Roy's parents in the fictional town of Eloe, Louisiana. Celestial has lived a middle-class life, while Roy's folks are from the other side of the tracks Roy's mother, Olive, resents the artistic interloper Celestial, whose life-like poupee dolls can garner $10,000 apiece. Roy books a hotel room because of rising tensions between the two women and discloses a family secret to Celestial, triggering a series of fateful decisions and shattering their lives.

During the night, police batter down the door, drag the couple to the parking lot and accuse Roy of raping a white hotel guest. The visceral brutality of this scene foreshadows the inevitable trauma the couple will endure. Roy is given a 12-year sentence to be served in a Louisiana prison and Celestial returns to Atlanta.

Jones skillfully transitions her story from a first-person narrative to an epistolary series while Roy is imprisoned.

An American Marriage touches on many themes: the precarious bond between parents and children, the fragile love connections between couples and the incisions that cause relationships to spiral into an abyss of resentment, jealousy, tempered cruelty and despair.

Winner of the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction, Jones's bracing and absorbing book provides a rare glimpse into the intricate emotional intimacy of a couple whose love is challenged by outside forces. A dazzling, elegant novel.

PAPERGIRL

MELINDA MCCRACKEN WITH PENELOPE JACKSON Roseway Publishing

REVIEW BY JESSICA ROSE

In Papergirl, the posthumously published novel by Melinda McCracken, the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike is about to begin, and 10-year-old Cassie Hopkins is determined to be part of the excitement. An exuberant and curious protagonist, she is enthusiastic about learning as much as she can about the economic conditions that led to this historic moment. In this fast-paced novel, young (and older) readers learn right alongside Cassie.

Released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike, Papergirl was written nearly 40 years ago by McCracken, who died in 2002. The manuscript was updated by Penelope Jackson.

Papergirl is a fictionalized version of one of the most important events in labour history Offering multiple perspectives, Papergirl examines the strike through the experiences of women, including Cassie's mother, who is apprehensive about the growing unrest, and Mrs. Smith, a factory worker who works long hours for a low wage. It also highlights real-life women, including Helen Armstrong, who headed the Women's Labour League, and the Labour Cafe volunteers who fed striking women from department stores, factories, laundries and hotels.

Young readers will empathize with Cassie's initial frustration that, because of her age, she's unable to participate in the growing movement This changes when she begins volunteering as a papergirl, a role generally occupied by boys. By selling the strike bulletin at the famous corner of Portage and Main, Cassie helps to offer an alternative to the misinformation distributed by the daily press. She's able to talk to others and form her own educated opinions.

McCracken's ability to write about complex topics with tenderness and through engaging dialogue makes Papergirl an excellent introduction to privilege and income disparity for young readers Topics such as unionization, collective bargaining and living wages are presented intelligently and in an accessible way Most importantly, Papergirl triumphantly shows how one young girl's determination and opinions can have an impact on the precarious world unfolding around her.

MILKMAN ANNA BURNS Graywolf

REVIEW BY DANIELLE PRICE

The cover of Anna Burns' Milkman--a peaceful-looking, pinkish-orange sunset--belies the story, set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles and following middle sister's struggles to find her way in a relentless, sectarian world. The novel illustrates these difficulties by naming characters only by their roles ("wee sisters," "teacher," "maybe-boyfriend"), suggesting that allegiances to community and family stifle everything else.

Middle sister quixotically attempts to transcend the realities of 1970s Belfast. She reads classic novels as she walks home from work, but this escapism marks her as alien To her mother's chagrin, she is not married. Her relationship with "maybe-boyfriend" has become routine Now, a "renouncer of the state" (an IRA member) stalks her to her night class, the park, stores and the library Since only physical violence is deemed threatening, middle sister has no one to turn to for help.

In twisting sentences, Burns lays out the thought control imposed from within and without Every choice demonstrates loyalty--religion, schools and newspapers, but also teas and movie stars--and must be adhered to regardless of preference or facts The characters, as a result, forgo relationships with those they love the most for fear of their own emotions or of losing a spouse to violence.

Milkman is far from bleak, however. Its stream-of-consciousness style produces humour and revelations, especially when a branch of an international feminist movement comes to the neighbourhood These "issue women" are categorically unacceptable As the narrator notes, "The word 'feminist' was beyond-the-pale. The word 'woman' barely escaped beyond-the-pale " Yet, the "traditional women" ensure that no harm comes to this new group: "'You can't kill them. They're simpletons."' Displaying the reach of patriarchal power, Milkman reminds us of the gains that feminists have made, and of our increased ability to name what we observe.

Middle sister learns to see that the sky at sunset has "new colours arriving" and instead of blue, it is "pink and lemon with a glow of mauve behind it. "

TILLY AND THE CRAZY EIGHTS

MONIQUE GRAY SMITH Second Story Press

REVIEW BY BONNIE KLEIN

Tilly is a fictionalized persona of the versatile writer Monique Gray Smith, who first tells her story in 77//y (Sono Nis Press, 2014).

An exuberant road trip story, Tilly and the Crazy Eights begins innocently enough at the weekly stitch 'n bitch meeting of a group of B.C. elders. Sarah has recently recovered from what she calls her "tummy scare" and suspects a re-growth. Having just seen the movie The Bucket List with her granddaughter--"You know, the one about the two old geezers who make a list of all the things they want to do before they die"--Sarah dares to share her own ultimate bucket wish: to dance at the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mabel, who has recently lost her sister to cancer, determines to make her friend's dream a reality. By the bottom of page three, all members are on board.

Mabel invites her younger friend and spiritual mentee, Tilly, to share the driving and help care for the elders Tilly is increasingly unhappy in her marriage and her mothering, and this is the right moment for her to have an independent adventure. Together, Mabel and Tilly hatch plans to take one of the band's busses, fundraise, invite some of the menfolk to share the driving and paperwork, chart a route that hits everyone's bucket wish and hit the road.

The trip proves to be the journey each woman needs, of course, with raucous laughter, hearts broken, hearts mended and surprises along the way Their friendship is not without problems, but mutual respect and love are rampant. The trip is powerful medicine, as is the book. Though this book, like most of Smith's work, celebrates Indigenous lives and resilience, non-Indigenous folks will learn from the sharing of these stories. I am grateful for the rollicking journey and encourage everyone to board this bus.

THE SHOWRUNNER

KIM MORITSUGU

Dundurn

REVIEW BY MEGAN BUTCHER

The Showrunner takes readers through 15 months in the lives of Stacey McCreedy and Ann Dalloni, co-runners of a hit primetime TV show Stacey, Ann's protege-turned-partner, is now on an upward career trajectory as Ann's is sliding down The action starts when Ann hires a new assistant: Jenna, a driven young actress with a stalled career Jenna's presence dramatically changes Ann and Stacey's dynamic, and the shifting allegiances that follow are relayed through the perspectives of all three characters.

While I had some sympathy for all the characters, each is so generally unlikeable that it's hard to invest emotionally in them. This isn't a criticism! If the aim of the book is to skewer a toxic Hollywood culture, likeable characters are not going to quite fit the bill.

Moritsugu says a lot about her characters through their varied relationships to food Ann often sloppily eats greasy food, while Stacey is all salads and napkins. I found this to be a bit on the nose. The novel portrays Ann, who is fat, as sloppy, unfit and past her prime Stacey, thin, is driven to success Stereotypes aside, there are many other ways to parody a superficial culture than to play exactly by its rules. Ann, in particular, veers towards caricature with her relentless overabundance in everything she does.

But Moritsugu pulls the novel back by investing in the action. The plot moves quickly and turns just as fast. The cover blurb's comparison of The Showrunner to All About Eve is accurate, but the comparison doesn't quite capture the novel's quick turn to violence. Moritsugu deftly handles the novel's climax and its fallout. As a dive into L. A. TV culture, The Showrunner is a fun book with a satisfying, dark thread running through it.

THE MUSEUM OF MODERN LOVE HEATHER ROSE

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

REVIEW BY LIN GIBSON

On the cover of Australian author Heather Rose's exquisitely written book, The Museum of Modern Love, these words appear in the upper right-hand corner: A novel inspired by Marina Abramovic For those not familiar with the work of the Serbian performance artist, it's important to know that while Rose's portrayal of Abramovic's inner life is entirely fictional, the descriptions of her performances are not.

The year is 2010 and Abramovic is enacting The Artist is Present at New York's Museum of Modern Art. For 75 days, seven excruciating hours a day, Abramovic sits on a hard, wooden chair, silent and immobile, testing the limits of both physical and mental pain and endurance One by one, gallery visitors, maintaining eye contact at all times, sit in a chair across from her while others--more than 850,000 in total--gather round to watch. Some sit silently for hours; others last no more than a few minutes.

Arky Levin, a successful middle-aged composer, is suffering the absence of his gravely ill wife, Lydia, and deeply wounded by the strict conditions Lydia has decreed for contact. Like hundreds of others, Arky, a lost and lonely soul, returns to The Artist is Present day after day to observe the phenomenon being played out in the MoMA atrium Cold hard fear keeps him from taking a turn in the chair, but what is Arky afraid of? He doesn't know. All he knows is that he is deeply moved by this strange, riveting performance and that something deep within him will be unleashed should he find the courage to sit across from Abramovic and enter the world behind her penetrating gaze. While Arky faces his demons, Lydia, in perhaps the most sublimely rendered chapter of the book, is on a solitary journey of another sort, floating between the sea and the stars, between sunlight and shadow, between being and not being.

The Museum of Modern Love may challenge much of what you thought you knew about art, pain, love and life. All the more reason to read this beautiful and brilliant debut novel.

SLINKY NAIVE

CAROLINE SZPAK Anvil Press

REVIEW BY KIM FAHNER

In her first collection, Slinky Naive, Caroline Szpak unseats the reader She wants us to be blown backwards onto the ground as she pushes forward with poems that feel like fast-flowing rivers. One must not go around seeking an anchor point of meaning to decipher, because there is none to be found Instead, expect to be surprised by these poems. Expect to not know where your centre is anymore, for just a little while. Be prepared to not know the answers to questions that your mind poses as you read.

Uncommon in poetic circles these days, Szpak doesn't centre the work around a single theme or theory Rather, she is reminiscent of an explorer, striding out into the world and jotting down images that nestle next to one another in one moment, and then jar and upset in the next. This juxtaposition of imagery, of disjointed meaning, is quite fascinating.

In "The Origin of Practicality," the poet writes: "It isn't meant to carry any more sound. The landfill goes, only later, dreaming,/ piled the way we came, saying Virginia/Woolf was brave, she saved her pockets. "In "Do You Want My Postal Code?" Szpak writes: "I'll wear socks until it's impossible/to be fluent," and "The Emperor" reads: "Throughout the day/heart notes oversleep/on wrists stiff with hawks,/ each dream of takeoff."

At times, reading through Slinky Naive feels a bit like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube as your mind searches out links in meaning and metaphor Szpak, though, keeps one step ahead, leaping from poetic outcrop to another, only looking back occasionally to see if you are still following. This book isn't the type of poetry book to read if you're not able to devote yourself to it for a solid period of time. It requires close attention. It demands that you sink into the chain link fence of imagery, that you try to follow the threads of meaning. But there is also a sense that the poet doesn't really care if you follow or not. Szpak is a spitfire sort of poet and this collection establishes her as a unique voice in Canadian poetry.

SMALL PREDATORS JENNIFER ILSE BLACK ARP Books

REVIEW BY KERRY RYAN

Jennifer Ilse Black's debut novel, Small Predators, is as fierce, wild and diminutive as its name The book is small--both in dimension and page count--and difficult to tame into a literary category. While much of it is structured as a novella that follows a group of student activists in the aftermath of a violent demonstration, Black also uses poetry, lists and text messages.

The story is narrated by Fox, who is concerned about her friend Mink's mental and physical health after a public self-harm incident lands her in hospital. Like their friends, Badger, Heron, Raven and Lynx, Fox and Mink are members of a student collective at the University of Manitoba struggling to care for one another while they face climate anxiety, resist colonialism and navigate a damaged, unjust world. As the police investigate the collective, the group gradually comes to terms with Mink's actions and uncovers the university politics that triggered her drastic protest.

The book deals frankly with self-harm and depression; there is a lot of blood in these pages (The opening trigger warning includes "skin-picking, graphic self-violence, suicidal ideation" but also "social media, millennial ennui" and "student despair, general despair ") Like animals caught in leg-hold traps, the students are so desperate, they begin to chew away at their own limbs--literally. It's a difficult read, but Black's style is poetic and powerful, her writing economical and raw.

The challenging subject matter, combined with Black's sparse storytelling, make deeply felt connections to the characters difficult. We know Fox and Mink are angry, sad and troubled, but glimpses into their relationships and past are few. This book has big teeth, at times making the reader back away.
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Title Annotation:arts & culture
Author:D'Souza, Irene; Rose, Jessica; Price, Danielle; Klein, Bonnie; Butcher, Megan; Gibson, Lin; Fahner,
Publication:Herizons
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2019
Words:2613
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