Monday, June 16, 2008

Away...

On vacation.

With these fine folks:


Explanation and photos when we return!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Babies

Two teenage girls, perhaps 14 or 15 years old, sit together in the McDonalds in the local Wal-mart. One faces Peanut, and proceeds to coo and giggle over her. The other sits, silent.

Later, high school girl voices carry over the aisles in the baby department, "oh, you have to find out if it's a boy or a girl, cause I, like, wanna know. I just have to know. If it's, like, a girl it'll be sooo cute and, like, it'll be so fun to dress her up. Oh oh oh, and you'll have to buy that for her."

And on it goes.

I round the corner, and spot the girls from the McDonalds. The one with the eager voice, all heavy eyeliner and too-tight tank top, her whole being suffused with the excitement of being a part of this drama while simultaneously grateful that it isn't her, ohmygawd. The other, feet jammed in unlaced sneakers, ratty hoodie pushed back with hands stuff in the pockets, her lank hair hiding her face. Her stomach is still flat, her body childish. She responds, the cocky and careless answers she tosses off betrayed by her shuffle, the way she curls over into herself as she walks. 

The weight of the world on her shoulders.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Gripes

Two gripes, both from today (yes, it's been one of those Mondays). No, this is not the normal tone I take on this blog. Both will involve a substantial amount of cursing, for which I (sort of, kind of... ok, hardly at all) apologize. The bitch has come out to play today. Consider yourself warned.

Gripe the first.

To the asshole who has stolen and attempted to use my bank card number TWICE, would you mind just fucking off? Seriously, find yourself a really nice bathtub, fill it with some nice warm water, perhaps a touch of bubble bath for ambiance, and then grab the closest plugged in electric appliance and ride that lightening bolt right on out of my life. Once was annoying and a bit of a life lesson in changing my PIN number and using my bank card only at reputable stores. But twice though? Really? Really? Don't you have something better to do? Like hide in your parents' basement and thumb through some old dirty magazines, filthy sweatpants barely covering your paunch, grease-stained freebie D&D t-shirt sticking to your clammy underarms? Surely that is more gratifying.

I don't appreciate your attempt to steal several thousands of my hard earned dollars. Trust me, I can find lots of places to waste that money, and handing it over to you to buy the latest Playstation 3 game or stereo for your car or weed for you to smoke up is not really in the plans (although perhaps I'd consider parting with a bit of it, if you asked really nicely, for you to update your sweatpants and freebie t-shirt). Quite frankly, I'd rather use those $100 bills to wipe my daughter's ass. 

Also not appreciated? The looks I get when I'm in a store where I inevitably find out that my bank card is no longer working, the colour welling up in my cheeks as I stammer that yes, I do I have money in that account, really I'm not some useless deadbeat mother who has to use her credit card to buy her daughter some $3 wipes. Seeing the mixed look of pity and exasperation from the cashier, a story that I'm sure they've heard many times before. 

Perhaps I should see the silver lining in this dark cloud? Perhaps I should thank you for the bonding time I got to spend with my daughter as we made a massive detour to the bank to discover the problem and have my bank card replaced. We had a terrific time as she whined and screamed, trapped in her stroller, while the teller kept wandering off while supposedly dealing with my transaction. I'm sure Peanut appreciated those special moments together as much as I did. All it cost me was some of our precious time in day packed with errands, a portion of my sanity and the $10 for McDonalds that my daughter roundly deserved after being hauled all over town to sort out the problem you created. 

So yeah, thanks. By the way, if ever we should meet? I drive a black RAV-4. I'd advise you to run.


Gripe the second.

To the aggregate blog owner who just grabbed my latest post (a book review) and jammed it up on your website - the website on which you sell advertising - screw you. I know that you only got the first few lines, since I don't allow feeds to pick up my entire post. And yes, you both link back to me and reference who posted it, but bugger off. Stealing is still stealing. That part up above, that references the bank card thief and where I'd rather spend my hard earned dollars? That applies to you too, jerk. If my writing is going to earn money, I'd like to both earn and spend it myself. Now be a good little thief and go remove me from your RSS feed. 

(And no, I'm not going to link to it here. That only gives him or her - they don't even have the balls to identify themself - more page views.)


Anyone have gripes of their own they want to vent, anonymously or otherwise? 

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Book reviews: The End of East and The Outcast

(Not so) recently I had the opportunity to attend an author reception for Sadie Jones, a first time author, with a fellow blogger. While I was there, I mentioned to another attendee that I had planned on reviewing the guest of honour's book, The Outcast, together with the book The End of East, written by first-time novelist Jen Sookfong Lee, which I had also recently read. I commented that I found the two novels similar in many ways, apart from the fact that they were both first books from new female authors, but that I felt that The Outcast, to be the far superior first effort. She seemed surprised that I found them similar novels and commented that that they were quite different, but in typical fashion for me I immediately found myself flustered, lost my train of thought and floundered as I tried desperately to gather my thoughts and not sound like a complete idiot. Of course, mere minutes later I could coherently organize my arguments for my position, but the moment had passed, and I never did find the opportunity to defend my position.

Lee's novel is, loosely, the story of an Chinese immigrant family living in Vancouver's Chinatown. At a mere 243 pages, this is not a dense family epic, but rather several snapshots of the three generations of the Wong family as seen through the eyes of the not-so-dutiful daughter, Sammy Chan, who has returned home from her life in Montreal to take care of her aging mother. The story begins with the immigration of Sammy's grandfather, Seid Quan, to Vancouver's Chinatown, and his immense loneliness. It then follows the family as Seid Quan's son, Pon Man, eventually joins his father in Canada and marries, and the lives of his wife and children.

I had mixed feelings about this book. As I read the book I couldn't help but feel that Lee had taken a primer course on "powerful first novels" and "bright new voices" and had sought to put all of the elements of that type of novel into her book. Which is my verbose way of saying that the writing felt very forced at times, as though in Lee's attempt, perhaps, to write "beautiful and compelling descriptions" she loses sign of what she was describing in the first place. 
The way the drizzle stayed with her, soaked into her hair, her clothes, her sheets. It pushed itself onto her skin, huddled with her when she cried, remained cool even as she cooked at a blazing stove. Unshakeable. Like family.
 (The End of East, p. viii)

There were some parts of this book that were compelling, and the sense of loneliness and isolation shines through. I felt Lee really hit her stride when she describes Sammy's mother's (undiagnosed) postpartum depression. This passage was the portion of the book that struck me as the rawest, truest writing in the entire book:
It's like a splinter, this feeling that she hates the baby so much that she would rather reach into its face and pull out its brains than take care of it for one more day. This hatred started days ago, and she thought she could hide it, control it by ignoring it and letting it fade on its own. But then it grew, attracting all the other evil feelings she has ever had about this house, this family, this country, even her own husband.
(The End of East, p. 141)

That said, the tone of this novel is uneven at best, and the individual stories, snapshots if you will, are not connected well at all. Apart from some of the rather self-indulgent descriptions, I really felt that the single biggest failure of this novel though lies in the motivations (or lack thereof) of the daughter, Sammy. Her portions of the story are the weakest, with very little connection or explanation for her actions - actions I found inexplicable. As she is the primary narrator through which the story is told, this is a rather glaring weakness.

At first glance, Jones' novel could not appear to be more different. It is the story of Lewis Aldridge, a young boy living in post-World War II England, and the devastating consequences for his entire family after a summer accident. It is a story of secrets and cruelty and hypocrisy and, ultimately love. 

The story begins as a nineteen-year-old Lewis has just been released from jail, after spending a few years for an as-yet undisclosed crime. From there, the novel moves back in time to Lewis' childhood, his father's return from the war, and ultimately the accident that would take his mother's life. We see Lewis' life unravel as his father marries the young, flighty, and incredibly selfish Alicia.  and start the cascading chain of events that leads to the riveting climax. 

Entwined with Lewis' story is the story of the Aldridge's neighbours (and Lewis' father's boss), the Carmichaels. Both families have secrets, and emphasis is placed on image and appearances and social niceties at all costs. None of the characters are likable, with the possible exception of the Carmichael's daughter, Kit, on whom the novel ultimately hinges, but all are compulsively readable, as the novel rips through a cascading chain of events that leads to the riveting climax. (And that is not in any way reviewer-speak. It truly is a climax that lives up to the hype.)

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but the book truly moves at a breakneck pace. Prior to writing this novel, Jones was a screenwriter, and her background is evident as the novel reads very much like a movie. In fact, there was a video trailer that was made for this book (it can be viewed here: http://www.rhgdigital2.co.uk/minisites/bookvideoawards/outcast.asp). While I generally don't like trailers for books, I watched this trailer after reading the book and found it bang on to the descriptions in the novel. It was as though the novel was written at the outset with an eye to the possibility of a movie adaptation. 

While I loved the flow of this book, I also found the writing to be well-executed and far more evocative than that of Lee's novel. For example, this passage, following a Christmas time chat between Lewis' father Gilbert, and Dicky Carmichael, his boss and neighbour, is a perfect example of the depth of understanding that Jones shows for the discrepency between exterior appearances and actions and private thoughts of her characters.
He teased out the conversation some more and wouldn't go into detail about money, and Gilbert didn't like him or the way he spoke or the way he stood there, but he took it, and he told himself how pleased he was, and gradually became pleased as the meeting drew to a close. It was a good deal and he was happy about it. He didn't want to have to look at Dicky's face any more and he wanted to take Lizzie home where she belonged and love her there. She was too good for any of them. She had her own way of looking at things. She was his and she was clever and lovely and he didn't know what she saw in him, but he was grateful.
(The Outcast, p. 36)

As I said, I found that there were similarities between the two books. Both are first novels from younger female novelists. Both books are stories of lonely, damaged people trying to find their way in the world. Both feature characters that are not inherently likable, and their sometimes unexplicable actions. However, where Jones excels at moving the story along, in drawing together multiple characters' points-of-view and forming connections between jumps in time and narrator, Lee's novel is substantially weaker in this respect leading to a disconnected, vignette feel to the nvoel. Where you get to the end of Jones' novel and feel that you have read a story, Lee's novel just, well, ends. All told, Jones' novel is the better debut, and I have high hopes for her sophomore effort. Perhaps Lee will fare better in later novels, when her tone evens out, and there is less pressure to put forth a "daring and audacious first effort."

Final grade?
The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee - 3 out of 5 stars.
The Outcast by Sadie Jones - 4.5 out of 5 stars.

* * *

Sadly, (embarassingly) I started this review back in March. March. Where did the time go? Honestly, I was rather nervous putting this out there, as excited as I was to start reviewing books, and kept going back to perfect it. Yes, I'm a bit compulsive that way. Then moving and life intervened, and then the cat got my tongue, and then suddenly it was June. However, now the genie is out of the bottle, and I have another five books that I've completed and am ready to review. The question is, are you ready to read them? 
 

BLITHELY BABBLING © 2008. Chaotic Soul :: Converted by Randomness