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December Books

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November 20, 2006

December Books

doubtingyourself_web.jpgDoubting Yourself to the Bone
Thomas Trofimuk
Cormorant: Toronto, 2006.

"Some things can't be taught; they have to be learned," Trofimuk writes. When Ronin's estranged wife, Moira, kills herself by driving her car off a road, Ronin must learn to reshape his family and redefine what it means to be a father. The novel becomes a record of Ronin's grief, his anger, and the slow development of hope. This learning process puts Ronin in contact with a cast of remarkably giving characters, both real and imagined (Katya, one of the book's wisest, is an apparition, a figure from a myth that Moira used to tell). Trofimuk is not afraid to give his characters strong statements on love, on grief, and on truth. Georgia—Moira's lesbian lover and, later, a good friend to Ronin—observes, "I used to think a lie could become the truth simply because we wished it to be true, but that's bullshit." Trofimuk's novel is full of lessons told like this—deftly, and with an undeniable earnestness. The strength of Doubting Yourself to the Bone is Trofimuk's ability to make the reader learn through the characters, and take the lessons to heart when they come.
--Ben Hart

encounters_web.jpgEncounters
Michael Trussler
NeWest: Edmonton, 2006.

"Can stories go on forever or do they have to end?" A voice steps out and asks us in the title story, invading the reader's space in that distinctly (damn the word) postmodern way. Encounters is a provocative collection of stories that toss us far from where we expected to land, in which Trussler presents an eclectic array of characters that consistently rip the rug from under your feet. In confident prose, Trussler leapfrogs from statements to questions we weren't expecting. In the space of a single story, he deftly jumps some fifty years in time from a Guatemalan orphanage to a snowy road north of Winnipeg. In My Husband Once, the first person narrator remembers how her husband walked her blindfolded into a parked car one Halloween night. She says, "… I realized even then that he was trying to tell me that I wasn't supposed to put my faith in him," a statement that weighs in to the story's cumulative feeling of loneliness. Only because Trussler has crammed so much of the modern world into these pages is it sometimes overwhelming. In fact, these stories don't end; they stick with you.
--Emily Southwood

diamondgrill2_web.jpgDiamond Grill
Fred Wah
NeWest: Edmonton, 2006.

West Coast poet Fred Wah's impossible-to-categorize and much lauded book, originally published in 1996, gets special treatment with this anniversary edition. The book is certainly worthy of the honour; it's a wise and charming family portrait. But Diamond Grill is also sometimes maddeningly—and intentionally—difficult to pin down. It's neither short fiction, nor prose poetry, nor straight-up autobiography, and Wah calls it a "bio-text" while denying that his account of his mixed-race Chinese-Swedish-Canadian family is necessarily "true." Wah's poetic verve is evident, but he never quite allows it to take the wheel here, favouring straightforward prose anecdote and memories of the titular diner, co-owned in the 1950s by Wah's father. Diamond Grill is not pure nostalgia; it tackles tacit racism and sticky family politics in a personal, soft-spoken, and occasionally moving way. Chinese-run, but featuring a Western menu, the diner stands as an unlikely but comfortable hybrid, like the author himself. A scholarly afterword by Wah elaborates this notion, perhaps unnecessarily for the casual reader; the book does a fine job of exploring that idea on its own.
--Regan Taylor

WhenEarth_web.jpgWhen Earth Leaps Up
Anne Szumigalski
Brick Books: Toronto, 2006.

Fans and newcomers alike will appreciate Anne Szumigalski's (1922-1999) posthumous collection and 15th book of poetry. Its mix of published and unpublished works continues her exploration of creation, death, and the unexpected. Szumigalski's measured phrases are gentle but never timid. The voice here comes to us in contemplation, but bears the memory of fervour. The collection's fourth section reveals Szumigalski's potent humour. In "Fear of Knives" the speaker explains, "If light should fall on this thing… it will either melt into itself or into the idea of itself." Szumigalski casts her attention onto many things-- rooftiles, a woman and cat, dust-- and asks if they are themselves or the ideas of themselves. Just beyond the tactile thing-ness of any object are its elusive, metaphysical properties which are Szumigalski's preoccuption, and from these come her dream-like images and metaphysical riddles, seeds of thought both delicious and challenging. Will we bite into something sweet, or bitter? More likely both, Szumigalski insists, as in "the crack of seedpods / that feeds the idea of life / abiding in a tiny mouthful / of sharp teeth," or the "sky which threatens, or perhaps promises, rain."
--Jane Henderson

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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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