#50 – Degrees of Nakedness, by Lisa Moore

I read Open several years ago, because I’d been hearing Lisa Moore’s name all over the place and wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I don’t recall if I was living in Waterloo or Sudbury at the time, but I do remember somebody accusing me of buying the book solely because the cover featured an attractive woman in a bikini. I also remember enjoying the book quite a bit, but not why, nor are the details of any of the stories clear. Degrees of Nakedness will probably elicit a similar reaction from me several years from now. I enjoyed the book, but there’s nothing about it that I would really call remarkable or particularly unique. Each of the stories seems told in the same detached, slightly sombre tone, and Moore’s prose is so relentlessly clean and straightforward that it’s difficult to feel much of anything for most… Continue Reading

#49 – The Tracey Fragments, by Maureen Medved

I admit to buying this book for the sole reason that it was made into a film starring Ellen Page. After seeing her performances in Hard Candy and Juno, as well as interviews with her, I simply could not resist. She’s far more intelligent and dedicated to her craft than most people her age in any field, and light years beyond your average actor or actress. While I was reading I noticed a full page ad in the back of the book for “reading guides” that Anansi makes available for download. I think they’re intended to help book groups with discussion, and I find the idea fascinating. The guide won’t really tell you anything about the level of discussion found in your average book group (and The Tracey Fragments doesn’t seem like the kind of choice your average book group would make), but rather what Anansi thinks the level of… Continue Reading

#48 – Exotic Dancers, by Gerald Lynch

I did not realize it when I purchased this book, but it is a sort-of sequel to his 1996 novel Troutstream, which also happens to the be the name of the fictional Ottawa suburb in which both books take place. Perhaps it would have been useful to have read that book first, I don’t know. I bought Exotic Dancers mostly, I’ll admit, because of the interesting cover and the fact that it’s told in several different voices, including passages in which the narrator breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses the reader and discusses events in his life unrelated to the story. Besides, the title suggested that there might be a little bit of sex and adventure in this story, and I am still on a deliberate search for something less parochial in Canadian letters. The first fifty pages could not have done more to turn me off. The introductory… Continue Reading

#47 – Stunt, by Claudia Dey

I enjoyed this novel, but I’m having some difficulty trying to explain why. It reads, for one thing, like the lyrics to a Dresden Dolls song. It is so crammed with contradictory metaphors that, while the prose is quite lovely, it often betrays its own internal logic, tenuous as it is. Imagine that Jeannette Winterson has read about two-thirds fewer books than she actually has, and has also lost her interest politics and you’ll have a good idea of how Claudia Dey’s prose functions. Not my sort of thing at all, really. And yet I could not put it down. The plot and characters were very fairy-tale-like, with names like “Eugenia”, “Immaculata”, and “I.I. Finbar Me the Three”. Eugenia, the narrator, is on a quest to find her father, a man who seems, based on his behaviour, to be either a mad artist or a mad hobo, or potentially even… Continue Reading

#46 – Night Soldiers, by Alan Furst

Some months ago my father sent me a box of books, mostly historical fiction, and in that box was Alan Furst’s Dark Voyage, of which I have already written on this site. I learned some time later that it was part of a series, a later part, bound together more by theme and setting in time than by characters and situations. The series is called “Night Soldiers”, named for its first volume. I’ve made it my business to acquire the other books (all now except two), with the intention of reading them in order. This is the first of them. I confess that I could never quite get used to the structure of this book. It mostly follows Khristo, a young Bulgarian from along the Danube who, during the rise of European Fascism, gets sucked into the world of espionage, specifically with the NKVD, the Soviet agency that would eventually… Continue Reading

#45 – A Week of This, by Nathan Whitlock

It’s always interesting to read novels written by critics, and I must say that I was looking forward to A Week of This with greater than average anticipation, because not only is Nathan Whitlock the reviews editor for Quill & Quire, he’s also quite well-known as a blogger in the somewhat limited circles I travel in. (I have linked to his blog above, but not his author-promo site, because it resizes your browser window, and quite frankly, fuck that.) The question one always has to ask with critics-cum-writers, is what will they do about all those pronouncements they’ve made over the years? Will they swing for the fences and attempt to be the next Gaddis or Pynchon, or will they play it safe, get their man on base and settle for being the next Mike Barnes or Elizabeth Hay? Nathan Whitlock, it seems to me, chose to bunt. What I… Continue Reading

#44 – Wildlife, by Richard Ford

This is my first Richard Ford novel. I had wanted to start with The Sportswriter, but it has two sequels, and I don’t like to start a series, even one as loose as the Frank Bascombe novels, unless I intend to finish it. Not knowing much about Ford beyond his reputation, I thought it would be better to start with something that stood on its own. Besides, I could only afford to buy one book. I’m not so sure anymore just how Ford earned his reputation. Wildlife isn’t a bad book by any means (I keep wanting to call it Wildfire, partly because of the forest fire that rages through the whole of the book—and it’s the only thing that rages, really—and partly because of the excellent abstract oil painting used on the cover of my edition, a picture of which I could not find anywhere online), but neither is… Continue Reading

#43 – Homicide, by David Simon

I’ve wanted to read this book for more than a decade. I doubt there’s many people left who don’t know David Simon—or at least who don’t know his work. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets was adapted into the award winning NBC police procedural called Homicide: Life on the Street, and on which Simon worked as a writer and (I believe) eventually as a producer as well. It’s also, in my opinion, the finest police procedural ever to air on North American television, and is my favourite television series of all time. This book was also mined quite heavily (by Simon himself) for HBO’s The Wire, the second best police procedural in all of North American television. The premise for this book, the first work of non-fiction I’ve read in something like a year, is simply this: it is the chronicle of a single year, in this case 1988,… Continue Reading

#42 – The Recognitions, by William Gaddis

I apologize for the lack of updates over the last five weeks or so, but I knew this book would require considerable amounts of both time and concentration. I considered taking notes, but I don’t review in a professional capacity on this site, and nor do I wish to go into academic levels of detail. And really, whoa, this book has a lot of avenues to explore. It’s essentially a satirical exploration of all kinds of fakes and forgeries, from the world of art, currency and religious artifacts to the most fundamental ways in which people live their lives. Ostensibly the main thread of the plot follows Wyatt Gwyon as he goes from being a talented artist working in an antiquated style to a master forger unable to separate himself from his fantasies about a past that never truly existed. I say “ostensibly” because the majority of the book has… Continue Reading

#41 – You Only Live Twice, by Ian Fleming

The prose in this book was as compact and exciting as it has been for all the previous books, but Fleming was pretty obviously losing steam. The idea of dressing him up as a Japanese miner (including skin dye!) and training him in Japanese customs and then expecting him to pass muster in less than a week is patently ridiculous. The Japanese culture is incredibly nuanced, and at the time Fleming wrote this novel, the influence of the West had not extended so far into their culture as it has now, making Bond’s transformation even less believable. I suppose the only consolation is that it doesn’t work. Bond is found out very quickly by almost every Japanese person he meets. I won’t comment on the Euro-centric attitudes that border on racism; I’ve already mentioned how poorly Fleming fares with non-European cultures when reviewing previous Bond novels. All that should be… Continue Reading