Friday, March 30, 2012

Reading Journal: The Broom of the System, by David Foster Wallace (1987)

My first DFW, and what a ride. Wallace's prose is always launching forward, disorienting and racing, but also incredibly dense. It wasn't until the final hundred (of the 460+) pages that I started to tire of it, mainly because one central plot point began to look like it would never be resolved... and it never was. I won't reveal which one, though, because part of the joy of this book is that there are so many irons in the fire: Lenore Beadsman and her father's baby food company legacy; her almost-romance and ensuing therapy sessions with her boss, and publisher of the Frequent & Vigorous Review, Rick Vigorous; her missing grandmother; the construction of the Greater Ohio Desert; a parrot who quotes scripture and Auden and winds up with a televangelism gig; and a "where did all the time go?" storyline that draws college friends back into the plot. That any of this comes together in the end is kind of a miracle. Hard reading, but good reading. Sad to say I probably won't read it again, even though the book seems to demand it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reading Journal: The Reverse Cowgirl, by David Whitton (2011)

Another book by another Canadian writer who studied with Zsuzsi Gartner (see: Sarah Selecky, Matthew J. Trafford), David Whitton sets most of his stories in stomping grounds familiar to me: London, Ontario and Middlesex County. I'm sure it's not the first time Middlesex County has been named in Canadian Literature, but it was nice to see. Like Trafford, Whitton works often in the "grounded fantastic," wacky sci-fi-esque scenarios in which the story is less about the crazy stuff going on than about the characters' relationships. The opener, "Gargoyles," kicks off its action with a chunk of a cement gargoyle falling comically on the passing-by protagonist, knocking her down from local legend to local slut, though her beau, Richard, loves her regardless. I was less into the more imaginative "Twilight of the Gods" - set on a spaceship - and the title story, a Groundhog Day-esque journey through Paris that's also a love triangle, than I was the more realistic stories. "The Eclipse," about setting up one's derelict brother on a date, and "The Lee Marvins," about two rough-and-tumble tow truck drivers, were touching and funny and uninterruptible. Finally, "Raspberries," which can't be missed: an old widow keeps receiving a mysterious visitor, and against her better judgment, she begins indulging his attempts to make her suspect that her husband is in fact not dead. All in all, in The Reverse Cowgirl, you'll find some of the more original writing being done in Canada today, all of it matter-of-fact and witty in tone.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Reading Journal: CVC: Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Anthology Series, Book One, ed. Gloria Vanderbilt (2011)

Exile Editions' ten finalists in the first year of their $5,000 competition, and already, a strange precedent has been set: Ms. Vanderbilt couldn't decide between the top two in the $3,000 Emerging Writer category - Frank Westcott and Silvia Moreno-Garcia - so she called it a tie and gave them both top money, while still giving Ken Stange his $2,000 for best among writers at any stage of a career. Westcott's story, "The Poet," opens the collection, and it's a detailed account of a poet being interviewed while lusting after the interviewer; Moreno-Garcia's story, "Scales as Pale as Moonlight," takes a more mythical tack, intertwining a family story with a legend in a way reminiscent of Nino Ricci's Lives of the Saints. For his part, Stange's story, "The Heart of a Rat," is a creepy and exciting story about rival professors performing transplants and competing for a woman. To its great credit, the group is varied, and puts the more lyrical - Rishma Dunlop's "Paris" - alongside the more classically Canadian realist, from Leigh Nash's "The Field Trip" to frequent Canadian writing contest winner Zoe Stikeman's "Single-celled Amoeba." My favourite story may have been none of the above, though: Kristi-Ly Green's "The Patient" depicts doctors indifferent to their jobs, which makes for a story like none I've read before. And though I didn't love all 10, what makes this collection valuable is that the stories are truly diverse; everyone won't like everything, but there's definitely some talent here.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Reading Journal: A Week of This, by Nathan Whitlock (2008)

A catalogue of the depressing aspects of life a mere hour outside Toronto, where failing small businesses, long-term but never married couples, and broken families make up the cast of characters. Whitlock's over-arching choice to tell his story in seven parts, one day each, allows for a very nuanced chronicle, but the drawback of this approach - same problem I had with David Adams Richards' everything-happens-in-one-day novel, Hope in the Desperate Hour - is that you start to get the feeling that nothing's really happening, because every little detail is recorded, burying the important ones. Overall, though, Whitlock's style is eloquent, changing registers entirely - sometimes successfully, sometimes not - when he wants a character to make a particularly bracing point, and I didn't mind getting to the end. I was hoping for a more dramatic conclusion, given the character goals laid out at the beginning, but after the entirely undramatic first six chapters, I suppose the final fade-out is exactly the point. I'm interested to see what this author does next; I think he wrote a pretty good book, but to me it wasn't at all exciting... which, equally, was probably also the point...