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March Books

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February 20, 2006

March Books

CityofMan_web.jpgThe City Man
Howard Akler
Coach House Books, Toronto, 2005

Torontonians will love The City Man, a quick-paced first novel set in the early spring of 1934 Toronto. Anyone who knows Toronto will recognize Union Station, Kensington Market, and a whole list of street names and buildings. For everyone else, the novel has a love story and a happy ending. The book employs what seem like conventional depression-era film noir characters – the crack reporter working the police beat, the hard-done-by, but loveable pick-pocket – yet the end result is stunningly original and engaging. There are a few small falters – one unfortunate "RIIIII-iip" of paper; a predilection for unusual words that occasionally fights against the gritty, no-nonsense, almost telegrammatic style; and an overall sparseness of subplot and of secondary characters suggestive of a short story stretched too thin. The payoff comes in the tautness resonating throughout, and a playfulness with language which seldom fails to delight. Akler's prose is cinematic, tight-focused, and raw, capturing and presenting visual details in a visceral way that adds up to more than mere description. The City Man is an historically informative and entertaining read.
-- Matthew J. Trafford

Living-web_web.jpg Living Will: Shakespeare After Dark
Harold Rhenisch
Toronto: Wolsak and Wynn, 2005

Harold Rhenisch's latest project is one of self-proclaimed urgency. In this, his eleventh poetry collection, Rhenisch lays out Shakespeare's famed 154-strong sonnet sequence, and, on the opposite side of the page, translates them into a compelling and sexually explicit modern-day English. Where Shakespeare wrote, "But wherefore do not you a mightier way / Make war upon this bloody tyrant, Time?" Rhenisch translates, "Time is Stalin. There's only way to really / outlive the bastard: join the underground. So, / why don't you?" Rhenisch's 154 poems aren't composed in sonnet form, and a certain family of reader, appalled by Rhenisch's capable coarseness, may very well retreat to the safety afforded by the historical distance, archaic language, and metrical formality of the originals. The overwhelming Carpe Diem flavour of Rhenisch's work makes it better to flip through than to read in sequence, since consumed too consecutively its subtleties blur to repetition. Living Will, right from its punning title through its pop-culture references to Britney Spears, Wal-Mart, and the like, is a call to life set against the English literary tradition's habit of emphasizing death.
-- Jane Henderson

Anne Fleming
Raincoast Books, 2005.

This excellent first novel begins in typical Canadian fashion, with a scene set at a Brownie meeting in early 1970s Toronto. What sets the story apart however, is its pair of believable and intriguing young protagonists, sisters Carol and Glynnis. Carol is an albino, tormented by classmates for her physical differences. Fleming skillfully illustrates the cruelty that little girls inflict on each other; she's got the language of grade-school exclusion down pat. When Carol's rage finally spills over, the resulting accident has wide-reaching repercussions, and leaves younger, more popular Glynnis just as much an outsider as her sister. Anomaly's only slight detraction is the depiction of its protagonists' mother Rowena, who is alternately tough-as-nails and plagued with self-doubt, with little middle ground. This one false note aside, Fleming stays perfectly in step with her characters as they grow, and in the book's final third her language abandons the playground insults for a masterful evocation of awkward teenage rebellion. Anomaly resolves itself in a satisfying, not too-tidy manner, leaving the girls that much closer to adulthood, and the reader with a deft portrait of the ordeals of sisterhood.
-- Regan Taylor

Lisa Moore
Anansi: Toronto, 2005.

Moore's language is a kind of stained glass, illuminating her characters in the warping reds and blues of loneliness and lust. Alligator presents the nuanced interactions of, among others: a mother and daughter, a director and her film, and a teenage boy and Russian Mafioso, all of whom hurt and heal each other out of all proportion to what is deserved. Moore has an uncanny talent for the grotesque, and punctuates her narrative with observations like, "She rubbed one of her eyes hard with a knuckle and there was the wet sound of the knuckle and eyelid and eyeball, a watery, interior, extremely private noise." Moore never cheapens these private grotesqueries. In the hands of another novelist, the intensity of Frank's desire for his own hotdog stand might have been too tempting a target for caricature, but Moore never allows us to laugh at the clichés of Maritime poverty. Alligator builds agonizingly slowly, and the digressive style that Moore has chosen occasionally makes for frustration when the story doesn't circle back to elaborate on scenes in which the reader has already invested. This brinkmanship, however, makes revelation all the more shocking when it comes.
-- Linda Besner

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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