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.





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.

About a Rumble

A quick post before Max and I head out.  The light fades so quickly these days.  Last night I attended my first rumble at the Rumble House.  Some of you remember when I announced on my blog, the closure of Gorilla House and my last live art battle.  Well, the next project to bust wide open after much love and effort on the part of a lot of people, is the Rumble House.  Located at 1136 8th Ave, SW, the soft opening (whatever that is) occurred last week, Wednesday, to be followed, I guess, by the ‘hard opening’ last night.

This photo…taken by someone else.

Rumble House 2I decided to GOOGLE the word Rumble and paint whatever came up. Rumble, League of Legend’s mechanical menace came slightly ahead of WWE’s Royal Rumble .  It’s as simple as that.  I do not develop caricatures or work in any form of animation.  The only two times I have ever tackled such subjects have been at the Gorilla House and now, the Rumble House.  These have been places of exploration, so why not?  Master Chief was the last subject I took on of this nature.

Master ChiefThe TRUE excitement of the evening was re-connecting with friends who paint.  The hugs were contagious.  I treasure the connection, the stories and the creative energy that abounds during these experiences.  Nice to connect again with painting buddies, Belinda Fireman and Jennifer Stinson!

Last night’s painting, Rumble, was picked up at auction by a fan’s father.  Wisdom, thanks for visiting me throughout the evening and giving me the encouragement to keep going.  You don’t know how wonderful it is to receive the insights of our guests throughout the two hour painting frenzy.  Thanks, Aaron! (and forward me a fantastic photo of your son that I can include here, please)

Of Rumble’s Lore, I learned…

“Even amongst yordles, Rumble was always the runt of the litter. As such, he was used to being bullied. In order to survive, he had to be scrappier and more resourceful than his peers. He developed a quick temper and a reputation for getting even, no matter who crossed him. This made him something of a loner, but he didn’t mind. He liked to tinker, preferring the company of gadgets, and he could usually be found rummaging through the junkyard. He showed great potential as a mechanic. His teachers recommended him for enrollment at the Yordle Academy of Science and Progress in Piltover, where he may very well have become one of Heimerdinger’s esteemed proteges, but Rumble refused to go. He believed that Heimerdinger and his associates were ”sellouts,” trading superior yordle technology to humans for nothing more than a pat on the head while yordles remained the butt of their jokes. When a group of human graduates from the Yordle Academy sailed to Bandle City to visit the place where their mentor was born and raised, Rumble couldn’t resist the temptation to see them face-to-face (so to speak). He only intended to get a good look at the humans, but four hours and several choice words later, he returned home bruised and bloodied with an earful about how he was an embarrassment to ”enlightened” yordles like Heimerdinger. The next morning he left Bandle City without a word, and wasn’t seen again for months. When he returned, he was at the helm of a clanking, mechanized monstrosity. He marched it to the center of town amidst dumbfounded onlookers and there announced that he would join the League of Legends to show the world what yordle-tech was really capable of, without hiding behind a foreign banner.”

Here is the painting…

?????????? DSC_1774Here are the people…

?????????? ?????????? ???????????????????? DSC_1753 It was good to be back.


The Symposium: Swann

Alright…so, I have been introduced to and entered into the lives of the Nadeau librarian, Rose ; Sarah, the feminist writer; Morton, Mary Swann’s biographer; and Frederic, the retired journalist and publisher who publishes Swann’s only book.  I related with Sarah’s meticulous and thoughtful writing of letters.  I suffered for Rose whose dedication goes unnoticed and suffers so quietly on her own.  I admired Frederic’s love for his wife, Hilde, and fell in love with Hilde’s independence within the relationship.  I hurt for Morton who falls in love with illusions. I have spent so much time with these characters that they are real to me.  And now…I find myself at the symposium where all four lives will collide.  The final chapter is written in the format of a movie script.  Just last night, I was given the setting and today I’m on to the script.  Intrigued…

From what I’ve read of others, this is Carol Shield’s weak point with this novel.   I am just happy that Mary Swann’s life will be honoured to some extent because, although completely absent from this book, her poetry has created a consistent link with the four characters’ motivations.

Blood pronounces my name
Blisters the day with shame
Spends what little I own,
Robbing the hour, rubbing the bone. 

I am delighting in this book and feel consistently impressed by Carol Shields, her writing and her way of living life.  She contributed so much to our world by celebrating the common person, particularly shedding light on the every day thoughts and efforts of ordinary women.

Go for long walks,
indulge in hot baths,
question your assumptions,
be kind to yourself,
live for the moment,
loosen up,
curse the world,
count your blessings,
just let go,
just be.
Carol Shields

Recent Reads

Are my readers thinking that I’ve only been picking up litter the last while?  Might it be the quality and content of my posts that are giving them this impression? Suffice it to say that many other things have been keeping me busy as well.  It has been a varied, and in many ways challenging, Lenten journey, thus far.  But, in so many ways, I’ve grown in understanding, interests and spirituality. 

Given my typical ‘heady’ choice of reading, I have spent the past few weeks reading novels that move rather quickly.  I even took up my friend’s challenge to read a mystery book, a genre that I avoid for some reason.  At her prompting, I picked up The Lighthouse by P.D. James.  While I can’t say that I would read another James mystery,  it served its purpose by taking me to another place and causing me to escape for a while.  I liked the Combe island setting very much and found myself, at times, wishing to visit such a dramatic and inspiring coastline.  I remember that while spending a week in North Rustico on Prince Edward Island this past summer, I sometimes experienced a sense of mystery because of the sound of raindrops on the roof of the cottage at night…the isolation from other properties.  When I looked out into the dark of night, it was a complete darkness…such a huge contrast to living in the city.  Staying on an island, surrounded by the power of the Atlantic Ocean, gave a sense of vulnerability.  The book, The Lighthouse stirred up that remembrance.

The next book I read was The Divide by Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer.  From the outset, the book was captivating, given the discovery of the body curled up in ice.  For me, the novel didn’t sustain itself, although I did take an interest in the different expressions of activism, portrayed.  Again, I responded to the rich description of the landscape and what the divide had come to mean to the various characters in the narrative.  This, again, was a setting that I would love to experience for myself, in fact, I feel as though I HAVE been in such places.  The relational content, the broken marriage, was not as interesting for me.

And finally, in the past three weeks, I’ve read The Birth House by Ami McKay.  Dora Rare is a beautifully written character.  I was once again, taken by the setting, Nova Scotia during wartime.  I enjoy the type of novel that shows us strength and resilience in characters.  Ami McKay achieved that very well.  Dora is resourceful and strong and works against the attitudes of her wee village.  Throughout the novel, she is in search of a particular sense of freedom and needs to challenge the ideas of her family and the culture of her community.

I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter. Blaise Pascal