The Two Of Us – Kathy Page

The Two Of Us - Kathy Page

Last month I raved about Ms. Page’s novel Dear Evelyn. In contrast, this book is composed of very fine short stories. Many of you will know that I typically do not like short stories but Page’s writing makes each story a joy to read.  There is impeccable detail when describing gardens, for example. But the best stories are about relationships. The tension in a meeting with a genetic counsellor is palpable and heart-breaking. Page is a literary treasure.

In A House Of Lies – Ian Rankin

In A House Of Lies - Ian RankinAfter more than 20 Inspector Rebus books, the stories are as good as ever. This most recent book has a Rankin characteristic, a complex plot with two cold cases. A dazzling feature of the Rebus stories is that lies, deceit and corruption are pretty evenly divided between the police and the criminals. These Rebus stories are also becoming more philosophical as he ages and deals with the medical and moral consequences of a mis-spent life. Very entertaining.

Priestdaddy – Patricia Lockwood

Priestdaddy - Patricia LockwoodThe author leaves her Mid-Western home at age 19 to be married but after 12 years, financial constraints forces her and her husband to return to the parental home. This gives her the opportunity to remember an unconventional upbringing: a flamboyant and charismatic guitar-playing father usually (un)dressed in only his underwear, who, by the way, is a Catholic Priest with a wife and 5 children (how can that be, you may ask?); and a long-suffering over-protective mother. There are some eye-popping childhood experiences like attending an anti-abortion rally at a very young age. Ms. Lockwood also takes this opportunity for reflection, producing a memoir that is often comic but also poignant. And for a published poet, her writing is wonderful such as this description of a church space: “The ceiling is low and the lights flicker fluorescently and emit an insect whine. The whole place smells like where coffee goes to die”. Highly recommended; thanks to Sarah’s friend Elizabeth for this recommendation.

The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld

The Enchanted - Rene DenfeldThis short book give a powerful and disturbing view of a prison in contemporary times. The two key external characters are unnamed: The Lady, a death penalty investigator hired by lawyers to evaluate evidence regarding death row prisoners; and the Fallen Priest.  There is also a death row inmate, also unnamed until the final pages of the book, who watches and listens. And a prison society that is revealed as corrupt and deadly. So be warned, this is a tough read but memorable for good and bad reasons.

Homes – Abu Bakr Al Rabeeah, with Winnie Yeung

Homes - Abu Baker Al RabeeahCanada Reads runner-up. Abu Bakr was born in Iraq. At the age of 9, his family relocates to Syria because of sectarian Sunni-Shia conflict, only to be swept into the Syrian civil war. The chapter headings are deceptively simple, unassuming and low-key: “May 2012: My First Massacre”. Finally, Abu Bakr’s family are accepted as refugees to Canada and so arrive in Edmonton in December 2014. Abu Baker speaks no English so his first school requirement to write a short story about his background is created by Google Translate. He then works with his ESL teacher Ms. Yeung to create this book. Thus, the literary style is basic but the simple stark prose lends itself to the telling of a profound story of survival and courage. The CR panel was influenced by the strong parental love element and the good news and hopeful ending.

Suzanne – Anais Barbeau-Lavalette (translated by Rhonda Mullins)

Suzanne - Anais Barbeau-LavaletteCanada Reads contender.This is a beautifully written book, a fictionalized biography of the author’s grandmother who abandoned her young children to live a separate life. So the book is an attempt by the author to discover the story of her grandmother and in the process, the author achieves some understanding and respect for this mysterious part of her family history, the missing grandmother.  It was a mistake, in my opinion, for some of the CR panel to dwell obsessively on why a young mother would abandon her children in 1952. Rather, the reader should accept that this was her choice for complicated and yes, inexplicable reasons; Suzanne never requested forgiveness yet the author (her granddaughter) does achieve some reconciliation from the reconstruction of Suzanne’s missing history. The writing is poetic, beautifully written in the second person. The story unfolds in non-linear tantalizing episodes, some detailed, some mysterious with gaps. This is a truly evocative read and highly recommended.

Brother – David Chariandy

Brother - David ChariandyCanada Reads contender – previously described in January 2018. This wonderful book should have been the winner but once again, listeners to CR discussions must be mindful that winners are not due to literary merit because of the limitations inherent in the choice of the proponents. Canada Reads is interesting but still a reality TV show. Everyone should read Chariandy’s book.