The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

The Virgin Cure was Ami McKay’s second novel, after The Birth House.  I’m still looking forward to reading The Witches of New York.

I would include the book, The Virgin Cure, in a list of beach reads.  Let’s face it, Ami McKay is a fabulous writer and she certainly does a fantastic job of consistently representing female characters and their challenges in her writing.  So, why read this on the beach?  This book reads seamlessly, apart from the use of margins and abrupt breaks in pages, every now and again, to insert Dr. Sadie’s notations, quotes and memories.  This book didn’t challenge me and it did not cause me to connect so deeply with the protagonist, Moth, that I would cry at any point.  The Virgin Cure was a good book, but not a strong book, in my opinion.

I’m not giving anything away in regards to the story.  The inside book jacket did a disservice to Ami McKay when it says way too much!

So, what were the book’s endearing qualities?

There were certainly elements in the writing that kept me connected with the novel.  I loved the protagonist, Moth.  Her story is endearing, particularly in the opening chapters.  At some point it feels like the story abandons Moth/Ava and I felt a real disconnect between the events she was living and her emotional self.  The most tragic moment in the book happens with a lesser developed character, Alice, and for that moment, I took pause to feel revulsion.  Would the story have been better had these circumstances happened  to Moth?

The setting was certainly interesting…late 1800s in New York City.  Having read so many books recently, set during World War II, this book provided a different, rich and many-layered world, describing, in depth, the scenes and life on the streets of New York.  We are very familiar with the streets of east London from this same period, in many literary works, but to be transported to New York City was refreshing and well-done.

I love Ami McKay’s attention to objects and detail in her writing.  For example, I was really curious about the tear catcher.  Such a tiny element as this seemed to create an important thread through the handling of grief, power and relationship. McKay’s descriptions of period costumes and of the vaudevillian characters was superb.

So, what was not to like?

Doctor Sadie is telling this story and her relationships with the girls is handled, but not to the depth that I would like.  I wanted to dig deeper into her character.  Instead, I felt that her life was reported, not lived.

The narrative, while a very intriguing tale, does not go far enough.  I was appalled, but not emotional.  I didn’t feel the injustice in my bones and I think that is what is necessary for this to be a truly successful book.  It feels to be spreading out onto the surface of things.

This book can be read easily in three sittings.  It has very beautiful moments.  I love Ami McKay’s writing.  While this is a weaker novel, I am looking forward to working my way through her list.

 

 

 

 

Archive Your Work!

As I sort and toss, a practice that seems to be going on forever, I am getting to the end (I THINK) and I might have some valuable advice to give to young artists.  I may not have a hope in Hades of ever really getting my art on a roll, but for you young sprouts, now that you live in a digitized world, please try to keep a record of your progress.  Second to that, take quality photographs.

An artist who really inspires me with his practice is Mark Dicey, on Instagram. @paddlecoffin If you don’t follow his work, he is absolutely breathtakingly amazing.

Part of this revisit, just last week, included digitizing my grade nine-eleven sketchbook from 52 years ago!  Cough! Sputter! It’s never too late, right?

Today, I came upon a white envelope filled with some very poor quality glossy photos of some flower paintings I did for a Tribute Show for my parents.  The subjects were all based on their country gardens in Frankford, Ontario.  It was an exhibit dating back a lot of years, hosted by the West End Galleries in their Edmonton location. (I have that date in my art archives somewhere.)  I remember, at the time, hearing other artists poo poo painting flowers, as a subject.  One person gave me permission and that was Ed Bader.  Thank you, Ed.  At the time, I was painting my own series of poppies as a response to losing two former students to a tragic car accident.  Ed pulled together a series of books featuring a number of very significant paintings created by important historical artists, dealing with the subject of flowers.  He was covering for another teacher at ACAD back in 1997.

This morning, I took photographs with my phone of some of the these teeny photographs.  Now, I can toss them as I’ve got a bit of a record.  As more flower paintings/sketches surface, I will post them here.  If you paint flowers, I give you permission.  There are a myriad of subjects for art and through any subject, you can address the ideas that are floating around in your head.  It’s all valid, representational or not.  Make art…and keep a record of it.

These images are all fuzzy/unfocused, cropped badly to replace their original wonky formats…likely bad colour…but, they are illusions of the originals and they make me happy.  I learned a lot painting these…and they are a mere sampling of the many works present in that show.  I wonder where they are now.

Down the Rabbit Hole She Goes! This is How it Began

This morning, I sat with coffee.  Soon after, I told Max that I’d get dressed for a walk.  And, this is what happened.  (The LOOK ON HIS FACE!)

While I was downstairs, digging out the next pair of track pants, I tucked away a Christmas box in the closet and came upon my sketchbook…1968-1972.  Oh my goodness!  I propped myself up on my bed and took a look and all sorts of memories came up.  For one, at some point, my sister signed every one of my drawings.  She was just a wee little girl and she must have held me in some sort of esteem…or, the drawings.  As I think about my former Junior High art students, I think these sketches are very rudimentary.  There’s nothing at all impressive about them.  What’s with the solid contour lines?  They look like colouring book drawings.  Hmmm….f

I wrote little poems along the way…sentimental poems…what were they about?  I guess I’ve always been a dreamer.  Sketches and thoughts from 52 years ago…

So my trip down the rabbit hole began.  And Max, patiently waited.

 

Greenwood by Michael Christie

I met Micheal Christie at Wordfest, here in Calgary, this year.  Little did I know that a single reading and a very short little narrative shared about a coin of wood from a tree on his own lot, would lead me to my favourite book of 2019!

Greenwood is exceptional from beginning to end.  If there is any weakness at all, it is in the character Jake and the segments written in the context of 2038.  I wanted to get that out of the way, immediately.  But, as the depth of the other characters emerges, the reader feels as though they have come to know a family and its related friends and enemies deeply.  I was moved by this book so much.

There were some really personal reasons why I connected with this novel, but I highly recommend it because I believe that every reader is going to respond just as positively, and perhaps for other reasons.

First, I treasure the book, Greenwood, because it is well-written.  Michael Christie is a relatively young author, having previously been a skate boarder.  His other accomplishments include The Beggar’s Garden and If I Fall;If I Die.

His debut novel (and of course I will be finding it and reading it) was The Beggar’s Garden.  Apparently this is a book of nine linked stories and similar to Greenwood, it interests itself in characters that are easily ignored and who are experiencing authentic suffering, oft-times brought on by choices they have made.  In other words, his characterization is entirely honest and believable.

I am disappointed that Greenwood was merely longlisted for the Giller Prize.  Reviews on Goodreads are overwhelmingly positive.  I always go there after reading a book, not before.

Recently, I have read some disappointing books.  Picking up The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff, (The Orphan’s Tale) I was left questioning the flat characters, the undeveloped romances and the lack of attention to the actual code senders, highlighted even in the title. The Girls by Emma Cline and The Huntress by Kate Quinn left me equally disappointed, for similar reasons.  The characters had no guts and their narratives felt simplistic.  In The Huntress, I felt that the focus of the novel needed to remain with the female pilots, but taking World War II settings and trying to build romances is always a wee bit challenging.  While my own readers will find a number of positive reviews about each of these three novels, they did not appeal to me and my own sensibilities. I am using them as a contrast to Greenwood because everything that was lacking in them was delivered by Michael Christie.

In Quill and Quire, a review on his book, If I Fall, If I Die, published in 2015, holds true for Greenwood, as well.

…This atmospheric work of gritty realism explores themes of class mobility, self-determination, and the impact of mental illness…

The writing in Greenwood is descriptive, eloquent and the syntax, remarkable.  While the structure is complex, it flows and I found myself buried in what is commonly referred to as a page-turner.  Harris, Everett, Liam and Willow very-much entered into my life.  Their stories were fraught with struggle, lies, omissions and these vulnerabilities built the tension that captured my heart.

I am not going to summarize the book in this review…I don’t like to do that.  I will carry on sharing my personal reasons for treasuring this book.

Having once lost a treasured journal of my own,  and on another occasion, having had someone take my personal journal and read it, the story of Euphemia Baxter’s journal became a thread that was very important to me throughout the book.  The Secret and Private Thinkings and Doings of Euphemia Baxter  is an object of real importance to me in the reading.

The metaphorical/symbolic presence of trees is another element that won my heart.  Both poetic and inspiring this exploration is seldom accomplished by any other fiction writer.

My own interest in the genealogy of my family is also a passion and delight. Once finished this novel, I felt as though I’ve learned about the Greenwood family in its depths.  I celebrate the foibles and mistakes of the family members and found that part of the writing to be authentic and true.

And finally, my interest in trees, the lives of trees and the stewardship that they require is right up there in my concerns and my interests.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Michael Christie and highly recommend.  My new favourite!  Greenwood!

//www.cbc.ca/i/caffeine/syndicate/?mediaId=2688097067

Imaginairium: Wordfest 2019

The days are getting crisp…things are going to sleep for the winter.  I’m not writing as much, but I AM reading.  When this weather arrives, it’s wonderful to curl up and read.  In preparation for Wordfest, I read Birth House for the second time and loved it just a much or more than the first.

Birth House by Ami McKay is right up there among my favourite books.  I’ve read a lot of books by this time and so, there can never be a favourite, but there are heaps of favourites.  I couldn’t afford the time or the money for a lot of sessions at Wordfest’s annual event, however, I made certain to register for two of the sessions where Ami would be speaking and I purchased her most recent book, a memoir, Daughter of Family G.

The first session was delightful, a Cabinet of Curiosities, and featured a number of writers including Ami.  These authors each brought a single object to share, an item that connected with their books, process or lives.  It was an intriguing grouping, covering a big array of topics and styles of writing.  I picked up a few books that night.

Anthony De Sa shared a GI Joe camo jacket.  He shared a heartfelt story that I will not soon forget about Christmas at home and a loving gesture from his mother.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place.  Anthony is writer of Children of the Moon.  This is now in my collection and I am looking forward to reading it.  Eloquent!

Marina Endicott shared her first Greek book.  It was a book that her Greek Teacher gave to her.  “Wherever you go, there you find your teacher’.  Her teacher, she shared, was her first home.

Cecil Foster writes for his grandmother.  His talismans are ideas.  As he writes, he takes pause and contemplates what might make his grandmother laugh or what might make her cry.  The material, he described, doesn’t really matter.  The idea matters.  He lifted a glass at the conclusion of his presentation and made a toast to his grandmother.  His most recent book is on my ‘to read’ list, They Call Me George.

Michael Christie’s new book, Greenwood, is also in my collection.  He shared with us the story of building his new home on Galiano Island and about how, during a huge storm on the family’s first days in the house, blew over a tree that crashed into the family Subaru.  He shared a slice/coin of the big branch that caused the destruction.  His reading caused me to weep.

A magnificent novel of inheritance, sacrifice, nature and love that takes its structure from the nested growth rings of a tree, Greenwood spans generations to tell the story of a family living and dying in the shadows cast by its own secrets. With this breathtaking feat of storytelling, Michael Christie masterfully reveals the tangled knot of lies, omissions and half-truths that exists at the root of every family’s origin story. (From McClelland ​​​​​​& Stewart)

Ami McKay shared something her mother/grandmother said, “All of the flowers that our blooming in our todays are to be enjoyed because of the seeds that were planted in our yesterdays.”

Terry Fallis was very animated and shared several items via Powerpoint imagery; his fountain pen collection, a framed image of Robertson Davies and an old typewriter that he keeps close by.

And finally, Anosh Irani shared a map of one district in Bombay.  His story and the poetic gifts that he shared that evening, were beautiful.  I purchased his book, The Parcel.

What a tremendous evening.  Thank you, Wordfest.

The next day, I had the opportunity to hear Ami McKay talk about her family, in detail, and her struggles and strength as both connect with her life.  The initial disease suffered by my brother was Colorectal Cancer and so I was very interested in what Ami shared about her family’s journey with Lynch Syndrome.  I really appreciated the time that Ami took with me personally as I found myself first in line to have my books signed by her.  This was an inspiring book talk and I am presently 100 pages in to the book, Daughter of Family G: A Memoir of Cancer Genes, Love and Fate

I met Aracely outside of the Memorial Branch library.  Aracely is the moderator for the book discussions that I enjoy at the Fish Creek Library once a month.  She is smart, fun and very generous.  She is also in love with reading!  I was swooped up by her enthusiasm and headed over to the Central Branch for the Humble the Poet presentation.  Am I ever glad I went!  Such a timely and inspiring talk!  While I didn’t purchase it that evening, I’ve added Things No One Else Can Teach Us, to my list.

Good to meet dear friends, Diane, Bill, Catherine and Bob, sitting directly behind me.

Wordfest never disappoints.  I hope that next year I have it in my schedule to take in even more of the book talks.  They open up the mind, the heart and put you in touch with other big time readers!  Thank you, Wordfest!

A Book of Good Stories 1946

I purchased A Book of Good Stories at the Women In Need shop in Forest Lawn for one dollar, a few weeks back.  In the front, an inscription was written in that absolutely beautiful script taught between the 1930s and the 1960s.  The name that appears inside the front cover is that of Hillaria Paul.

I am looking to return this book to the family.  It was used as a text book in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  I know that the ‘stuff’ of our lives sort of accumulates and then we spend what seems a life time, getting rid of it.  I know that I’d give anything to own an old book that, once, one of my grandparents held and read.  Perhaps some one in Hilaria’s family will want this.

Esker Foundation is a Power House!

Some weekends, in Alberta, there is NO LIMIT to the number of events available to me, given that I’m interested in live music, books, art, theater and dance.  This past weekend was one of those for me.  I really wanted to see Billy MacCarroll’s Aftermath opening at Jarvis Hall, but will have to attend on my own.  The Glenbow opened its Sybil Adrews: Art and Life and ExtraOrdinary Objects exhibits.  The Bee Kingdom were hosting an open house…didn’t make that despite all of my good intentions.  A big one, Dave More: A Painter’s Gift, guest-curated by Mary-Beth Laviolette, happened in Red Deer on Sunday.  I’m happy to know that The Edge Gallery Calgary location is hosting an exhibit of David’s works, Hidden Within, opening on October 26 1-4.  And as I write this, I am reminded that I would love to see the recent works by Michael Corner that are on exhibit at The Edge Gallery in Canmore.  So…that list should demonstrate the dilemma.  And I know that it is only a beginning…we are so blessed in this province.

Did I mention that at the same time Wordfest was happening?  More on that later.

If you haven’t, try to make space to visit the Esker Foundation’s current exhibits and if possible, attend some of the engaging and inspiring programs.  Presently, Jeffrey Gibson: Time Carriers and Nep Sidhu: Divine of Form, Formed in the Divine (Medicine for a Nightmare) creates a rich dreamscape of texture and voice for the viewer. The work feels like a bridge between space and time, contributing to a bigger knowledge/experience of culture and collaboration. I find these exhibits intoxicating.

Almost soothing, the piece, Kablusiak: Qiniqtuaq located in the project space is best-seen in the night time as it becomes animated by the warm light of the projection and its complexities are more successfully captured.

On Friday evening, Jeffrey Gibson generously moved through a brief history of major bodies of work, beginning with the Punching Bag series and continuing to talk about abstraction, collaboration and garments.  It was very kind of Jeffrey to take the time to chat with us beyond question period, given that the garments and drums were being de-installed for the next day’s performance.  From Esker, Karen and I drove to cSPACE via a random path selected by Google Maps. (another story)  We were able to enjoy the work of artist and friend, Louise Lacey-Rokosh.  I met Louise some years ago at Gorilla House and I have enjoyed following her work.

I was blessed to have the opportunity to also enjoy Jeffrey Gibson’s performance piece, To Name Another, a piece that left me in tears three different times.  Did I take note of the words that most moved me?  No…  I think that the complete engagement in the sound/movement experience took all of us to a deeper place.  And while this might sound a little strange, that’s okay.

I continue to have a sense of wonder about the work that is on display and am looking forward to learning more about Nep Sidhu’s work and process.

Thanks to my sister-friends, Karen and Linda, for sharing in parts of this immersive journey with me this past weekend.   I enjoyed the yummy Ruben sandwich on the Spolumbos patio with you, Karen, on a perfect autumn day.  And Linda, I’m so happy that we had a chance to share deep fried dill pickles and a terrific Blues Jam and the Can.

A few images follow…I regret that I am missing the titles of the works below.  I will backtrack and complete the information as I collect it.  Initially, I have posted photos of some of the titles available that are linked to the subjects or interests of the artists presently on exhibit.  I really appreciate how the Esker always provides a reading list.

 

Outline by Rachel Cusk

Recently, I’ve found myself in the enviable position of reading during the day, instead of just before bed.  Reading nicely places another narrative in my head and I no longer ruminate about absolutely everything that’s happening in my own life, right before bed.  Naturally a worrier, my own life used to keep me up at night.

One of the books I read last month was one of a trilogy by Rachel Cusk, Outline.  I’m presently reading the second, Transit.

The structure and approach to Cusk’s writing in Outline is fascinating.  I hesitate to recommend this book, however, given that it is such an interesting read.  My friends don’t necessarily like my take on ‘interesting’ reads.  I missed the book discussion on this one.  It was held at the Fish Creek Library.  I did, however, drop my notes off to the desk one day, hoping that my group would get my take on the read.  In the end, I learned that the notes didn’t get passed on to them.  But, I wasn’t surprised to learn that no one in my circle enjoyed the book.  I wasn’t surprised with that news.

A female writer boards a plane headed for Greece.  She will be conducting writing workshops shortly upon her arrival and also taking in a bit of sun.  What happens on the flight is that she meets that person sitting next to her…he’s like every other person you stand next to in line or the one who sits across from you in class.  He is the person who sits alone at a table in the restaurant where you are reading your book and eating a salad at the same time.  These people in our lives are like ‘outlines’…we have no context with them…but, what Rachel Cusk does is she creates their stories, generously building their motivations, passions and needs…their vulnerabilities and strengths.  The reader is witness to the building of each character.  It’s remarkable.

I am fascinated with the exercises that the protagonist creates for her classes and with the participants’ reactions/responses.  I suggest, strongly, that you give this book a chance.

A couple of moments particularly delighted me.  I am captivated when one of the writer’s students walks under an open window and hears a familiar piece of music…oh my…so wonderfully- described and so rich in meaning! (page 138).  In truth, from beginning to end the syntax and the description is refreshing and new.

Cusk’s writing is thought-provoking.

On page 245…

“She had sat there, she said, and thought about her own lifelong habit of explaining herself, and she thought about this power of silence, which put people out of one another’s reach.  Lately, since the incident – now that things had got harder to explain, and the explanations were harsher and bleaker – even her closest friends had started to tell her to stop talking about it, as though by talking about it she made it continue to exist.  Yet if people were silent about the things that had happened to them, was something not being betrayed, even if only the version of themselves that had experienced them?  It was never said of history, for instance, that it shouldn’t be talked about; on the contrary, in terms of history silence was forgetting, and it was the thing people feared most of all, when it was their own history that was at risk of being forgotten.  And history, really, was invisible, though its monuments still stood.  The making of the monuments was half of it, but the rest was interpretation.”

In Rachel’s writing, her characters speak…they talk about themselves and we know them like we can not know other characters in other writers’ books.

I see parallels between Outline and my repetitive painting of a single bush at the edge of a pond.  It is the atmosphere, surroundings, weather/season, even the time of day that fleshes out what the bush is.  In part, this is why I responded to this book as I did.  The character (writer) surfaces out of the development of everything around her.

By Chance Alone by Max Eisen

Last week, I read Canada Reads 2019 winner, By Chance Alone by Max Eisen.

While books about this time of our history are very sad and very dark, it is so important, as a part of our education, that we continue to share these narratives.  This book is particularly well-written, so steeped in an authentic voice, that it is rich and heart-breaking.

Given that I believe that the human spirit is rooted in love and compassion, I am reminded when I read such historical memoirs as this one, just how horrible and brutal human beings can be. There is an innate spirit of hatred that has surfaced throughout our human story.  If a person focuses too much upon this, it can be very traumatizing.  So many atrocities in the name of power, greed and difference.

I strongly recommend this book.  It has been Max Eisen’s life work to bring his family’s story to light.  It is historical and contributes to the documentation of the experience of this time.

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”

This was a truly remarkable book.

The Girls by Emma Cline

Straight from the inside cover, “Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction – and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.”

I disagree. I love reading because it gives me the opportunity to make my own judgments on writing and what I personally value and see as good writing. Throughout The Girls, there are moments of poetic writing (Page 137. I lay there, staring at the framed photo that hung over the bureau: a sand dune, rippling with mint grass. The ghoulish whorls of cobwebs in the corners.) lively description or a flash of insight about what makes girls ‘tick’. But as a story line, this novel feels very contrived, and obviously based on the Charles Manson narrative. Sometimes, frankly, that just gets old.

In a more original way, the recent movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood invites the viewer to look at the cult story differently. But, the book, The Girls, just doesn’t do that. Contrary to the book jacket, I find the writing predictable and dull, anything but spellbinding. Hmmm…I’m negative about this one, aren’t I?

The great thing about book discussions is that when a group of ten readers convenes to analyse a book, I can find endearing and positive elements to every book and I can look at different parts or even sometimes, the entire book, with new eyes. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a reader who reads to its conclusion, every book I start. The book discussion on this one, was excellent. Thank you to the book discussion group at Fish Creek Library.

Being a part of the library book discussions gives opportunity to read books that I might not select. I like the huge variety that comes up. Sometimes I’ve got two or even three books going at a time and this can lead me into distraction. This one was an easy read…readers, you could do it in a few evenings.

I suppose the big ‘idea’ in this book is an old question, in my mind, “What is it that causes young women to latch on to ‘bad’ people? What is the allure? The obsession? How do young women allow others to have such control or power over them?”

While I see moments in Cline’s writing that are generous and beautiful, this particular story feels empty and familiar. So, on this one, I disagree with the New Yorker. Laughing to myself, at writing that.