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April Books

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Issue: 27 Section: Literature & Ideas Topics: poetry

April 12, 2005

April Books

westwind.jpg West Wind, North Chatter
by Deanna Kent-McDonald
NeWest Press, 2004

In Deanna Kent-McDonald's novel, West Wind, North Chatter, she takes on the bubble-gum pink ChickLit genre and rewrites it with all the bitter depth of her heroine's favourite coffee. Emily, a Vancouver transplant recovering from a recent miscarriage and the departure of her husband, opens Grande Prairie's first cybercafé, using this project's voyeuristic opportunities to start anew. A montage of emails, recollections, voicemails, and Emily's meditations, West Wind, North Chatter proves that the epistolary novel is alive and well in the electronic era. Kent-McDonald consistently complicates her characters' chatter with their reflections on landscape, acceptance, relationships, and mothering. As the prairie wind pushes Emily to a doubled-edged sense of confinement and liberation, she writes: "Sometimes the helplessness isn't a sense of subservience to a world unregulated, but rather a cloudy, comforting sense of knowing.... the mistake as may not be mine alone but a shared responsibility with something too evasive, too elusive for me to ever comprehend." Although Emily's contemplations can feel overwritten and her symbolism heavy-handed, her engagingly angsty personality draws us in. Ultimately West Wind, North Chatter offers both characters and readers not resolution but companionship.
--Jane Henderson

alienhouse.jpg The Alien House
by Élise Turcotte
Cormorant Books, 2004

Basically the story of one long, hard breakup, The Alien House pretends to be more with the inclusion of trendy yet consistently underdeveloped elements: a heroine who loves thirteenth century bestiaries and the lives of female saints, an elderly father leaving for Europe to rekindle an old love, a precocious and awkwardly attractive student. Sentence fragments and dream sequences abound, while the narration falls short of psychological verisimilitude or credibility. What's worse, the story seems to reconfirm literary stereotypes about women while vaguely insinuating that it is doing the opposite. Elisabeth can't be happy without a man and claims to be afraid of her body. Neither is she capable of being erotically engaged and intelligent at the same time (her preferred activity is to have her partner go down on her while she ignores him and reads medieval texts aloud in a dispassionate manner). The novel might have been passable if it had left Élisabeth and her co-characters in their dire and clichéd straights, but instead the book ends deus-ex-machina with every character suddenly achieving closure, wisdom, and an ill-chosen happy ending.
--Matthew J. Trafford

Somewhere, A Fire
by Donna Kane
Hagios Press, 2004

Donna Kane makes even the word "hubcap" delectable. Her tactile lines–"a marshmallow browned/ in the fire, its wrinkled shell slipped off like a seersucker cuff/ and toasted again"–unearth solid truths with the exactness bred of close familiarity. Kane writes with a sturdy endurance, an acceptance that the small wonders of nature are all we can reasonably expect. At the same time, she admits the inadequacy of this small-scale happiness, admonishing a squawking raven with the curt dismissal, "We're all half-starved for a miracle". Among the many memorable poems of this first collection is the matter-of-fact "For Good". The speaker accounts for a failed marriage saying, "If I go away for a week, so much seems different./ The grass needs mowing, the cat, having disappeared for days,/ returns hungry, grass stains on one paw". She continues, "If I go away for a year, nothing will feel like news./ In ten, there will be even less to say." Although the occasional descriptions of people or events are less expertly handled than her evocations of weather and landscape, all tingle with the transformative effect of being singled out for Kane's attention.
--Linda Besner

longslide.jpg The Long Slide
by James Grainger
ECW Press, 2004

Grainger's collection of short stories contains a few well- rendered sketches: at a hippie campfire, "in the firelight you could catch their former identities asserting themselves in ghost gestures: a sudden hand movement acquired in boardroom deal-making sessions, a batting of the eyes that was once a signal for flirtation–the fading accents of pioneers abandoning their mother tongue." However, Grainger never quite succeeds in endowing his characters (a disappointingly interchangeable set of men in their teens or early twenties) with the distinct personalities needed to carry the weight of these moments. The epiphanies arrived at–the vague rejection of youth culture, "Yeah, well, I'm getting sick of this"; or the stoned revelation, "No, I mean, okay, you're here, you're naked and you're dancing around a fire. I mean, where do you go from here?"–advance the characters only to the next mundane step. Sometimes, as the speaker in "A Confusion of Islands" does, they get as far as moving to Vancouver, sitting in cafes drinking coffee instead of beer, and learning to respect women. Grainger has missed the real seam of urgency that could have lent these portraits depth.
--Linda Besner

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