Of Song and Water by Joseph Coulson

I picked the book, Of Song and Water off a shelf at a second hand shop.  I loved the title.  That was my sole reason for choosing it.  Quickly running my fingers through the pages, I decided it would be placed in what my father used to call ‘the throne room’.  You got it?  Something about the size of the font.  And…it seemed like it wouldn’t be a need-to-think-deeply sort of book.

In the end, this turned out to be a remarkable story, a book where music could be experienced through the written word and where colour could be heard.

Hearing Colour

As happens with similar narratives, I was seduced by the intimate disclosures revealed on this family line.  Coleman’s life, love of music and connection with water were woven through memory and the life of his father, Dorian. Given my years living on the edge of Georgian Bay, I also found the setting of the Great Lakes to be nostalgic in its description.  I’ve not spent time in Chicago or Detroit, but I can imagine these places, based on movies, media and books.

This review is my favourite and expresses my sense of the book.

“Joseph Coulson’s second novel, Of Song and Water, concerns a jazz musician coming to endings: a career on the skids because of hands that can no longer make the chords he needs; a boat, falling apart and weighted with memories of his father, and of his father’s father before him (both men casting long shadows); a divorce; a former love he walked away from for his music; and a daughter preparing to leave for school.”

Throughout the writing, there is evidence of an intimate understanding of Jazz…and sections that describe Otis and others in performance, are rich with the detail and process of the genre.

I am very happy that I came upon this book, quite by accident.  It was a rich and generous piece of writing.  There were many surprising moments for me.  Again, I like the intimacy of language and I am a kook about description.  This wouldn’t be a book for everyone, but really appealed to my taste.

“Coulson moves fluidly between the past and the present, and the novel is ultimately quiet, affecting and redemptive.”

Of Song and Water

 

 

 

 

Rumble House: August 19, 2015

CalamityRumble House has managed through a summer of floods, four of them…hail and hassle of every sort.  Rich and Jess have managed to negotiate their way through the number of revisions that had to be made to the space, based on damage of infrastructure.  They have done a great job and the space is beautifully changed, more spacious and organized.  It’s been a strange summer for me as well, having to react to a number of events, beginning with my Max’s injury and then my own broken foot on July 2nd.  Rich and I were talking a little about calamity last night and we agreed that sometimes calamity causes our greatest creativity and active engagement.  We go places.

Some years ago, my son and I traveled a journey that I loosely named our ‘Manifest Destiny’ journey.  I finished watching four seasons of Hell on Wheels recently and the trip that James and I took wove through several of the locations featured in this series.

The trek began when we dipped south to visit Sainte-Marie among the Hurons where eight Jesuit missionaries lived, worked and were eventually martyred.  To stand in this place is to recognize, with complete clarity, the collision of two cultures both operating from a sense of protection of their own ways and intentions.  It is an example of colonization and all that can be anticipated as a result.

We then crossed the border into the United States, drove through the land where Dances With Wolves was filmed, saw Mount Rushmore, traveled through the Black Hills, all while listening to Louis L’Amour stories on book tape.  We stood overlooking the hills of Little Big Horn.  We slept in a cheap hotel room in Deadwood and we drove through the Bad Lands.  It was an amazing trip, ending with the sharing of a jug bottle of beer in Billings, Montana.

Wonders 93 Little Big HornI’ve written about Deadwood before.

It was another place riddled with a history of the ‘wild’ west…and so much of it rooted in tragedy.  It was the first time that I really thought about a lot of things.   There were huge issues that I had already read about, feeling very sad about the choices of the past, but helpless to change any of them.  One of the personalities that came to mind once we hit Deadwood was a woman of the west, Calamity Jane.  Last night I painted from one of the photo references that is an early portrait.  Thank you to Teresa for purchasing Calamity at auction.

Last night I painted her.

Kath's Canon August 19, 2015 Calamity Jane Rumble 024 Kath's Canon August 19, 2015 Calamity Jane Rumble 021I am grateful for the people I bump into at the Rumble.  They have become ‘characters’ of my own life…friends…hard workers…creatives.

Calamity Jane…what is fact and what is fiction?

What is the history that we are creating as individuals and collectively?

Kath's Canon August 19, 2015 Calamity Jane Rumble 001 Kath's Canon August 19, 2015 Calamity Jane Rumble 004 Kath's Canon August 19, 2015 Calamity Jane Rumble 005 Kath's Canon August 19, 2015 Calamity Jane Rumble 007 Kath's Canon August 19, 2015 Calamity Jane Rumble 009 Kath's Canon August 19, 2015 Calamity Jane Rumble 014 Kath's Canon August 19, 2015 Calamity Jane Rumble 016 Kath's Canon August 19, 2015 Calamity Jane Rumble 018 Kath's Canon August 19, 2015 Calamity Jane Rumble 020

Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris

Another Oprah recommendation, Songs in Ordinary Times has felt like an epic read…taking me a surprising month to complete just 740 pages.  It was snowing this afternoon.  I curled up under blankets and finally finished this tale of a very sad family. Someone who reads a book a week, I had to ask myself, “What was it about this book that hung you up?”

Here are just three reviews from Amazon.  I chose the following three reviews because, in a few areas, they express my thoughts.  I’ve indicated in bold text, my agreement.  You may be interested in perusing the others before you take this book on.  Warning!!  Not everyone who writes a review, knows how to write!  YIKES!!  I can’t take liberties with editing in this situation.  Sorry.

Review #1

2.0 out of 5 stars I CAN’T BELIEVE I READ THE WHOLE THING! February 6, 2000

I purchased this book because I trusted Oprah’s judgment, and I wanted a long book to get lost in during summer ’99. Well, it is now February 2000. Through great discipline on my part, I’m finally finished. I feel gypped. There were so many extraneous characters, and their fates were never disclosed. Why introduce characters when they ultimately fizzle out? Why couldn’t the author spend more time giving insight into the main characters? Reading this book made me feel voyeuristic. There was a lot of surface “dirt,” and I was frustrated by not knowing what made the characters tick. The adults were despicable: sleazy Omar, irresponsible Sam, needy/abusive Marie (I’m no shrink – was she manic-depressive?), among other losers. However, my heart broke for the children. I truly cared about Alice, Norm and Benjy; and I was pleased that the story ended somewhat optimistically – for Alice, at least.

This book should come with a warning: Only read it if you’re too happy. It’s guaranteed to bring your mood down several notches.

Review #2

4.0 out of 5 stars If you have patience… December 23, 2002

By Theresa W

If you can get through the first 150 pages, you’ll be happy you did. With a slow start, that’s when the story really starts to pick up & you start to remember the characters, there’s a lot of them! I agree with an earlier reviewer in that there were too many sub-plots & characters.

I did end up liking the book, and I was VERY close to putting it down & not finishing it. I am glad I stuck it out. The characters are memorable. Their plights, long & hard. You will cringe with them when things go wrong. It’s a story that is so believable it feels real. I see why Oprah picked it.

Just remember, there are many books that start off slow, but they don’t always have such a rewarding ending.

Review #3

4.0 out of 5 stars Knowing the setting isn’t everything January 11, 1999

By B. Michael Harlow

A friend who lives in nearby Rutland, Vermont, loaned me this book because she had loved it. I should trust her taste. I guess I’m a snob because knowing it was an “Oprah Book” and that its setting was Rutland, Vermont (thinly disguised as “Atkinson, VT”) slowed down my beginning to read it; I’d had it for a year before guilt set me going once my friend had asked so much whether I’d started it yet. I loved it! It is not a layered piece of philosophic artistry, but the characters are so true and the honest striving of so many of them is so palpable that I’ll buy a copy for my classroom library. These people are flawed, for sure, but most of them are striving mightily to live a good, moral life, especially Marie Fermoyle, whose kids probably see her as mean. But the novelist’s keen and unflinching sympathies let us see a woman in a hard place trying to do right even if she does not always succeed. I found many scenes very profound emotionally, especially the scene where Benjy wants to drown [285–6] and the scene in which Benjy tells his brother Norm the truth [438]. Many of my favorite scenes involved Benjy, the youngest Fermoyle who just wants his mother to be happy, but who carries the load of so many secrets. I also loved occasional descriptions such as this: “Her perfume smelled of roses and wrinkled dollar bills.” [502] The language does not often call attention to itself, but the characters are unfailingly well-observed and believable. There are enough psychologically complex but accessible characterizations to fill a family’s social circle in a small city like Rutland. The book also unfolds slowly enough that a reader can really get the sense of the passage of time in the summer of 1960. I moved to Rutland ten years later in 1970, but it was still essentially the town from whose Catholic high school Morris had graduated in 1957. Knowing the geography, however, is not the main pleasure of the novel; its compassionate and accurate reach goes well beyond merely regional items.

My thoughts on character….

I despised the characters both individually and as a collective.  They felt weak.  Omar’s manipulation and his lies were disturbing.  Marie’s needy dependance on Omar even when she knew that he was impossibly corrupt and her disregard for her own children angered me.  Benji kept secrets because of the ideal life he wished for his family.  Norm was overwrought with anger.  Alice was merely coping.  Sam was busy trying and failing and trying again. Father Gannon was weak. I don’t ditch books.  I am stubborn and so I kept reading even though the content was dark and disturbing.

The redeeming qualities of the novel included the authentic description.  Also, the world is NOT ‘all roses’ and the pain was true-to-life.  I suppose I would say that fiction offers us an opportunity to escape the sadness a little.  This novel was humourless.

I have no idea what the criteria was for Oprah’s recommendations and this one really makes me wonder.  I’m posting the list of her reading group questions here, in the case that the questions give some sort of insight into her motivation.

The Oprah synopsis:

About the Book
It’s the summer of 1960 in Atkinson, Vermont. Marie Fermoyle is a strong but vulnerable divorced woman whole loneliness and ambition for her children make her easy prey for dangerous con man Omar Duvall. Marie’s children are Alice, seventeen – involved with a young priest; Norm, sixteen – hothead and idealistic; and Benjy, twelve – isolated and misunderstood, and so desperate for his mother’s happiness that he hides the deadly truth he knows about Duvall.

We also meet Sam Fermoyle, the children’s alcoholic father; Sam’s brother-in-law, who makes anonymous “live” calls from the bathroom of his failing appliance store; and the Klubock family who – in contrast to the Fermoyles – live an orderly life in the house next door.

Songs in Ordinary Time is a masterful epic of the everyday, illuminating the kaleidoscope of lives that tell the compelling story of this unforgettable family.

Epic!  YES!

  1. Omar Duvall is known to the reader as a dishonest and potentially dangerous man. Why do you think the people of Atkinson are drawn to such a reprehensible figure? What does he offer people like Marie, Benjy, Harvey Klubock, and Bernadette Mansaw? Why do these characters refuse to accept the truth about him, even when it’s clearly evident that he has lied to them?
  2. How do you feel about the character of Marie Fermoyle? Given the circumstances she’s had to face — the breakup of her marriage to the heir of a prominent family, the economic hardships she’s endured, the scrutinizing eyes of neighbors and other members of the community — can you sympathize with her actions towards her children, Oman Duvall, and her ex-husband?
  3. Although most of the novel’s characters are flawed, few of them are truly malevolent. Discuss, for instance, Renie LaChance’s telephone calls to women, Sonny Stoner’s affair with Eunice, Father Gannon’s affair with Alice, Robert Haddad’s Thievery, and Sam’s alcoholism. What do these characters, and their failings, have in common? What compels them in their actions?
  4. What do Joey Sheldon and his popcorn stand represent to the novel and/or to the town of Atkinson? Why do you think people feel so strongly about Joey, one way or the other?
  5. How does Morris use humor to offset the darker events of the novel? Do her humorous passages make you more sympathetic toward characters such as Omar Duvall, Jarden Greene, or Astrid Haddad?
  6. Why do you think Norm, who had been Omar Duvall’s greatest detractor, is taken in by the soap-selling scheme? How does Omar manage to manipulate Norm’s feelings about him, and why, eventually, does he fail?
  7. What does Father Gannon mean when he tells Alice, “I realize that my faith has become a wholeness. It’s a unity of mind and soul. And flesh … I finally feel like a real priest!” Do you think he really loves Alice? What does she give him and what, in turn, does he offer her?
  8. Omar insists that he truly loves Marie, despite all the ways in which he has deceived her. Do you believe him? Do you believe his involvement with the Fermoyle family has changed him? What clues does Morris offer, especially in the final scene involving Oman, Norm, and Benjy, that affect your feelings either way?
  9. How does the concept of salvation figure in the novel? Which characters can’t be saved from their own desperate acts, and which are trying desperately to save themselves?
  10. What do you think the future holds for Marie Fermoyle and her family? How has the presence of Oman Duvall changed each of them, as well as their relationships with each other?

Postcards by E. Annie Proulx

Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 199, Annie Proulx.

I have completed yet another E. Annie Proulx novel, Postcards.  Over the course of the novel, I began to carry Loyal Blood around with me…fearful for his life choices, the anguish of his life, and curious about the challenges of his work.  During the daytime, I wondered over and over again if he just might at some point include a return address on one of his postcards to his family.  I wondered if he would return home.  This book, like Accordian Crimes, is NOT for the faint hearted.  I ached for the characters in this 1940s Vermont farming family.  ‘Proulx wrote me there.’  I anticipated each postcard from Loyal because each one linked the struggling family with other struggling individuals across 1940s America.  This was yet another tale of misery and the strength of the human will.  It was just a most hostile and ‘tough’ time in the United States, whether that be in a rural or urban community.  The writing was compelling; the imagery, authentic.  I grieve Loyal, his life, even as I type.

Above, I’ve included a link to a very thorough interview with Annie Proulx.  I thought that some of my readers may wish to look at it.  Proulx’s work is not light reading.  It is necessary to plough through her stories.  It is, I think, important that the reader bring their personal views/ knowledge and experiences to the reading.  At times it is a question of whether to be angry at the ‘stupid’ motivations of characters or to feel ’empathetic’…I think both reactions are ok.  Proulx doesn’t seem to hold any expectations.

I am saddened by the loss of the farm.  I am saddened when Jewell sets out in her car into those mountains.  I fear for the miners as time seems to tick in the dark wet chill.  This is another dark story.  Don’t say that I didn’t warn you! I’ve read a number of reviews and David Bradley’s is, by far, the strongest…so make certain that once you’ve spent time with Postcards, you look this one over.

 

 

First Off…

My readers don’t truly believe that the cat is here, do you?  You are also wondering how I can possibly keyboard and write while a Peanut-Meister is curled up in my arms.  I will publish proof…not staged.  As I’ve been reading some remarkable and entertaining novels lately, it is sometimes a thin line, that line between what’s ‘real’ and what is fiction.  From where you sit, you may never believe that the cat is here, but in the case that you don’t… right off the bat, I want to leave you with an image.  This will cause you to doubt yourselves.

I pressed the PUBLISH button for the entry, Write On, and Peanut glared at me.

Swann by Carol Shields

 

Swann by Carol Shields

I’m engrossed in the novel, Swann by Carol Shields and because I am, it is moving slowly.  I am eating up and treasuring every single word, especially where the character development is involved.  In fact, the characters are so real to me that one day I found myself doing an internet search for the poet, Mary Swann.  She is so elusive and Shields writes Mary’s life as an isolated woman in rural Canada, so believably.  Mary Swann is someone the reader wants to know, especially as bits and pieces of her memory disappear…a journal…a dictionary…a photograph.  For me these become symbols of her tragic and brutal ending.  What motivates Mary to write?  Where does she find the words?  Poignant.  Nostalgic.  I absolutely celebrate the act of turning on my reading light, pulling up the covers and spending time with a good book!

Maggie Kawalerczak reviews Swann here…I think she is ‘bang on’ with this particular review.  I chuckled as I read, In fact, if I may generalize, there is certain “Canadianness” to the material.  This, I believe to be an accurate assessment of this ‘mystery’.  I am consistently drawn to Canadian content and respond to regional settings (landscapes I know so well), the sorts of characters that reside in these settings and that particular style/expression of Canadian authors and their words.  What is that particularity?  The same goes for Canadian film, doesn’t it?

Mary Swann, herself, is an enigma.  I am captivated by this book!

One Book One Calgary

This past November, the Calgary Public Library provided the city with a beautiful initiative, One Book One Calgary; talks, discussion groups and events around the book, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway.  An excellent guide has been provided by the Public Library, with questions and contextual information.  I attended a couple of the events and was excited to hear, in panel; Steven Galloway, Author, Heather Slater, Director, Artistic Operations, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, and Michael Green, Curator and Creative Producer of Calgary 2012 as they explored, along with us, the role of Arts in Society.  An excellent session that ended abruptly, as if on cue, with a four-truck fire alarm. :0)

I am inspired by the story of the Cellist of Sarajevo,  Vedran Smailović.

Regarding the book, we are cautioned as readers of fiction rooted in true world events, that there is a potential for misunderstanding/misinterpretation and that for the most part, the reader needs to take responsibility to inform themselves and to read other books, both fiction and non-fiction, that might give light to historical events and the impact those events had/have upon the ‘real-time’ characters in the situation.  The Cellist of Sarajevo is another such-book.  The essay by Walter Trkla supposes that Steven Galloway does not care.  I think that this may not necessarily be true…but certainly, when writing about someone else’s history, it is a supposition that can be taken.  I’m not certain that Walter Trkla and Steven Galloway have been in conversation.

“In The Cellist of Sarajevo, the uninformed reader is not able to separate fact from fiction. One might assume Galloway does not know, nor does he care, if the reader knows the facts, since for most people in the West, including Galloway, our news is derived from media manipulation of events. As Galloway himself states, one of the people he interviewed, “Nenad Velicaovic, a Bosnian writer, shouted at him one day telling him to ‘Go home and write about Canada’. ‘You know nothing about Sarajevo.’ And he was right.” Galloway does not join the history of Sarajevo, he runs from it and in the end fabricates it. Galloway’s novel and its historical backdrop are manipulated writing that brings into question his main message on the impact of war on the individual.”

Vedran Smailović

I’m thinking of other writing based on history…closer to home, the stereotypical “Cowboy and Indian” stories.  I would not be too far off to state that, the viewpoint of the settlers of the west and those of the First Nations inhabitants of the day, would see these adventures of the west in a completely different light.  I would also guess that the writer had NO first hand experience of the west, when taking the plunge to write about it.  I think that it’s really important that we all educate ourselves about what is going on in the world so that we can be discerning readers.

Recently, I read The Wars by Timothy Findley.  I know from much of my recent research that Findley successfully coloured the events of 1916 and based his fiction on truth.

As a result of the One Book One Calgary initiative, I was prompted by a friend to enter the Art for Peace contest, with three different age categories.  Just today, I was notified that I am one of the winners, whose name was drawn for a prize,  and can’t be more thrilled!  Support your public library…it is more than a quiet place for research and silent reading…these days, a library is so much more!