BOOK REVIEW | Live Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson

5/5 stars

“Name?” The desk clerk said to me politely… “Age?” She asked…”Occupation?”

“Writer,” I said.

“Housewife,” she said.

“Writer,” I said.

“I’ll just put down housewife, she said.

“Husband’s name?” She said…”Occupation?”

“Just put down housewife,” I said.

My first delve into Shirley Jackson’s non-fiction was beyond satisfying. I’ve read her horror, as well as Ruth Ware’s fantastic biography, and now, her humour. Life Among the Savages is a sort of memoir, Jackson reflecting on the mundanity of domestic life as well as raising her children – first two, then three, and by the end of the book, four.

It’s comforting to know that this book, first published in 1953, still rings true today. As a mom to two young boys, I often feel like I’m living among savages! Jackson’s characteristic dry wit turns moments of utter chaos into something many parents will relate to. Parenting is ruthless, absurd, challenging, rewarding, and the hardest work I’ve ever done – but I wouldn’t change anything about it. I only wish Jackson went a little deeper into the challenges of being a working mother, all while fulfilling the expected wifely duties; it’s bubbling there beneath the surface, but she never goes all the way in.

Those without kids can still enjoy this book – Jackson’s storytelling is as perfect here is it is in her fiction. These stories may be true or may be embellished, we’ll never know. Either way, this is a worthy read for any Jackson fan and I can’t wait to dig into Raising Demons, this book’s successor.

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BOOK REVIEW | Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

5/5 stars

Prentiss is ambitious with her first novel, crafting a complex, deeply interwoven narrative. The book spans countries and storylines, all the while offering a glimpse into the art scene in New York in 1980.

The story is built around a cast of fantastic supporting characters and 3 central characters: James, a synaesthetic and slightly eccentric art critic, Lucy, a small town girl who recently moved to New York, and Raul, a talented painter. These three characters will ultimately clash, a confluence of art and family. The story is so engaging that I never found myself seeking out the connections ahead of time, but rather enjoyed the progression of plot without expectation.

Prentiss’ prose is the sort that I soak up; witty, bold, and confident. Her characters are well drawn, each suffering a loss of great magnitude before ultimately finding new purpose. The character development is a driving force, moving the plot along effortlessly.

There’s a lot going on in this story, which is really its only downfall – I wasn’t ready to close the book on certain characters. I rarely say this, but this book could have been 100 pages longer and I’d be no less engrossed.

BOOK REVIEW | Brother by David Chariandy | 2018 Canada Reads Longlist

5/5 stars

There is so much packed into this slim book by David Chariandy. Brother explores topics that many would describe as timely, but that he describes as being felt by many for far too long. Chariandy dives into race, masculinity, police violence, community, the immigrant experience, and the power of music with striking precision and depth.

Michael and his older brother, Francis, live in a community called The Park in Scarborough, Ontario. Raised by their hard working Trinidadian mother, the boys are often left alone to take care of each other. Francis takes on the role of leader, guiding and teaching Michael along the way, often making mistakes of his own. With love and respect for their mother the boys stay on a clean path, but after witnessing an instance of violence, Francis is changed.

The story jumps back and forth in time from when the boys are kids to present day. As Michael and Francis struggle to find purpose and identity, the pair are subject to the prejudice that comes from having brown skin and living in an immigrant community; expectations are low. Through a love of hip hop, Francis begins to explore new opportunities, unknowingly sealing his fate. In the aftermath of tragedy, Michael discovers the healing power of his community.

Chariandy did a great job at representing for us children of Caribbean immigrants (my mother is Jamaican), layering in even more for me to love about this book. I don’t think I’ve ever seen “ackee” mentioned in a book, or that “pears” are “avocados”, at least to Caribbean folks. Knowing that so many Canadians will read this story through Canada Reads 2018 brings me so much happiness.

BOOK REVIEW | Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

5/5

There is no one else to tell, Oliver, so I’m afraid it’s going to have to be you . . .

This is the story of Elio, 17 years old, and Oliver, 24 years old, and a summer I won’t soon forget. Oliver is a graduate student who comes to work with Elio’s father and stay at their house in Italy for the summer; he’s intellectual and handsome – the sort of person that everyone is drawn to, including Elio. Elio quickly becomes enamoured with Oliver, and what develops between them is a once in a lifetime love.

I’ve read few books that capture so eloquently the yearning of unrequited love, but, until now, I’ve yet to read anything that so boldly illustrates the intensity that occurs when that love is finally reciprocated. Elio and Oliver couple utterly and completely; there are no secrets, no privacy, nothing too taboo – they become one unified soul. They are electric.

Aciman’s prose lingers before biting, is quiet and loud, soft and aggressive. Narrated from Elio’s perspective many years later, this is both a coming-of-age story and passionate, painful love story. Yes, this book is erotically charged, but with purpose. With Elio, Aciman taps into the ache and agony of desire that often accompanies the teen years. Elio is precocious, over-analyzing each encounter with Oliver, both curious and afraid. This book moved me in a genuinely profound way, more than any book has in a while.

BOOK REVIEW | A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison


5/5 stars

It has always amazed me how far broken glass can fly – and how often you find a sliver after you’ve swept the mess away.

My thoughts are a little scattered after finishing A Small Indiscretion; there’s so much more to this book than I was expecting. There is an element of mystery that initially drew me in, but I wasn’t expecting such a rich, complex story.

We follow the life of Annie Black through an explanatory letter she is writing to her son, Robbie. We know that Robbie has been in an accident, and that a mistake Annie made around 20 years ago was a contributing factor. What we don’t know is how the pieces will connect – through alternating timelines, Annie recounts the year that she spent in London and reveals how a past obsession has caught up with her in an unimaginable way.

At age 19, Annie flees an unsatisfactory life in California for adventure in London where she will work in an office by day, and drink too much at night. She quickly becomes entwined in her boss Malcolm’s life, and discovers facets of his marriage that shock and intrigue her. By way of Malcolm, she meets a young photographer named Patrick, and an obsession begins.

Ellison’s writing is quiet and poetic, and at times staggeringly beautiful. I found myself so caught up in Annie’s life that I wasn’t trying uncover the mystery surrounding Robbie, I was truly along for the journey. This is a family drama, certainly, but it’s also so much more. This is a book about the implacability of the past, the complexities of marriage, and the damage that secrets can create. This is not a perfect book and Annie fell a little flat for me at times, but when a final sentence brings tears to my eyes I know I can’t give a book less than 5 stars.

BOOK REVIEW | Blood Wedding by Pierre Lemaitre

4/5 stars

As far as psychological thrillers go, this one takes the cake. The plot is so twisted that’s it’s hard to say anything without giving too much away. This book gripped me from the first page and kept up the pace right until the end. Pierre Lemaitre, I’m not done with you.

Sophie Duget is starting to forget things. She has been misplacing items, forgetting where she parked her car, and experiencing strange lapses in memory. Her husband, Vincent, is patient, though growing more frustrated as she further unravels. After Vincent’s sudden death (not a spoiler!) and an embarrassing work event, Sophie starts anew as a nanny to a young boy, Leo.

One day, after staying late to care for Leo, Sophie wakes up to find that he has been killed. With no memory of the incident and all signs pointing to her, she flees the scene and goes on the run. After some time, Sophie realizes she must assume a new identity to continue hiding in plain sight. She obtains a new ID and papers, but wants to get married to start her new chapter. She finally meets someone – a little dim but very excited that the beautiful Sophie is interested in him. Let’s just say things get really bizarre from this point on.

All of this cumulates in an over the top, dramatic spectacle, which is too good for words. All in all, this was a fun, suspenseful thriller. It kept me guessing – not because of the “how” but because of the “why”…why are all of these terrible things happening to Sophie? If you enjoy thrillers and are looking for one where you can’t predict the twist, definitely check this out.

The Best Books I Read In 2017

The best books I read in 2017 (in no particular order):

1: Hunger by Roxane Gay for being brutally honest.

2: Ill Will by Dan Chaon for its perfect atmosphere, utter creepiness, and for digging into the Satanic Panic of the 80’s.

3: The Nix by Nathan Hill for its exploration of mother / son relationships and for being hilarious in a way that emulates the great John Irving.

4: Colorless Tskuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami for speaking candidly about depression.

5: Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis for utilizing dogs to explore the best and worst of humanity.

6: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich for its quiet beauty, poetic prose, and utter heartbreak.

7: White Noise by Don Delillo for taking the words right out of my mouth, more than once. A satire that centers around an obsession with death.

8: Stoner by John Williams – easily the most beautiful book I read last year. The simple story of one man’s life as he leaves his family farm to start life as an academic.
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9: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood for ripping me out of my comfort zone.

10: The Break by Katherena Vermette for talking about some of the ugly parts of Canada. And the beautiful parts too.

11: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin for making me love SJ even more. THE ultimate biography of her life.

12: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – the most unique book I read this year. Abraham Lincoln mourns for his dead son, and the ghosts in the graveyard narrate what they witness. Haunting and sad, but so so beautiful.

I’m not sure how I missed this book in my best of 2017 collage , but Christodora by Tim Murphy is the best book I read this year. It deserves it’s own spot on the page.

From my review: Christodora is a bold story centered around AIDS activism and gentrification in New York in the 80’s and 90’s. There’s so much more to it than that, though. There is love, death, and heartbreak. There is loneliness, addiction, and depression. There is beauty, art, and hope.

I still think about this book nearly one year later. If you haven’t read this, and if you loved A Little Life, be sure to check Christodora out.

Here’s to 2018!