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review 2018-02-18 02:37
"Dance, Gladys, Dance" by Cassie Stocks
Dance, Gladys, Dance - Cassie Stocks

I have a bad habit of critiquing books while I'm reading them. Even when I'm immersed in the story and enjoying myself, part of my attention is on how and why the book works. It gives me pleasure and mostly I can't help it.

 

"Dance, Glady's Dance" was an exception. It reached past my over-analytical head and connected with my emotions. It made me happy, even when it was making me sad.

I'm not entirely sure how Cassie Stocks did that but I'm very glad she did.

 

"Dance, Glady's, Dance", like many of the best things in life, requires you to use a little bit of imagination and to be willing to hope.

 

The story starts with Frieda Zweig looking, at twenty-seven, for a fresh start where she can put aside her former life as a would-be artist and live a life more ordinary. She asks herself:

"Who was I going to be? I was more inclined towards inertia than upward mobility and didn’t like most people enough to devote my life to helping others less fortunate than myself. I’d work somewhere, I thought, watch TV in the evenings, and become wholly involved in the lives of non-existent people. I’d develop my own life of quiet desperation, as Emerson’s buddy Thoreau suggested the mass of men (and, presumably, women) led."

To help with this self-imposed task, Frieda defines  "Five Steps To An Ordinary Life":

1. Get a real job.
2. Stop seeing the world as a series of potential paintings.
3. Learn how to talk about the weather.
4. Do the things that normal people do.
5. Figure out what normal people actually do.

Although the initial tone of the book is light-hearted, "Dance, Gladys, Dance", is not a comedy. Frieda uses humour to distance herself from her problems and to suppress the strong emotions that always result in her needing to paint. True, Frieda's reality is often orthogonal to the surface of life as most of us live it and she spends a good deal of her time puzzled and occasionally defeated by everyday things like shopping for clothes, but Frieda is bright and intuitive and kind and fundamentally serious in her approach to life.

 

Frieda's doomed attempt to embrace the ordinary leads her to renting a room in a Victorian house owned by a widower who teaches photography at a local Arts Centre. After she moves in, she meets, Gladys, the ghost of the first woman to live in the house.

In addition to a cleverly designed set of events in the present day that weave together the fates of a number of strong characters, we have chapters that tell us more about Freida's life and how she came to give up on the idea of being an artist and, bit by bit, we hear Gladys' story.

 

Many of the characters in the book are damaged or in pain because they lack belief in their own talent or they have given up on their belief that they can be who they want to be. The book shows women in particular as being at risk of losing themselves in this way or being denied the right to use their talent.

 

The message of the book seems to be: trust yourself, use your talent and take the small opportunities we all have to make the world a less awful place to live in. Delivering this message without coming across as either didactic or sentimental is what makes this book such a triumph.

 

stocksphoto"Dance, Gladys, Dance" was Cassie Stocks' first novel. In 2013 it won the Leacock Memorial Medal, awarded to the best book of humour written in English by a Canadian writer.

 

You can find an interview with Cassie Stocks on writing "Dance, Gladys, Dance" here.

 

You can find details of her biography here.

 

 

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review 2018-02-12 23:00
Bikers, escorts, and a detective with a conscience in hipster Vancouver
Invisible Dead - Sam Wiebe

I do read mysteries, but I don't tend to read the gritty crime/noir genre. Too dark, in most cases. I loved this, though. 

 

Wiebe captures the culture, ephemera, and atmosphere of Vancouver with endless telling details, making his narrative about crime and the seedy, dark underbelly of the city all the more alarming. Reads smoothly and convincingly, with all-too-recognizable characters. The endless men (and some women) dismissing the harm they do to others, particularly to the most vulnerable (and often First Nations and visible minority) women, are the company owners I've worked with and for, the powerful and dismissive, the entitled and self-satisfied, and most of all, the casually careless.

 

The specificity of eating out in Vancouver and enjoying the views are so common in the city as to be living stereotypes, and the friendly familiarity of the lifestyle and location details drives the knife in even further as one character after another drives the women who've suffered in this book, and on our streets in real life, further into the mud.

 

I prefer reading mysteries set in exotic foreign places and times. New York. Chicago. London. Paris. 1920s. 1940s. A crime novel calling out not only the shady hidden figures of my Vancouver, but all of us in the city, privileged and struggling alike, for glossing past, stepping over, and treating with casual disdain and irresponsibility the ones having the hardest time surviving, hits far too close to home. But there's a balance of hope and tenacity in this book that keeps the darkness from feeling entirely crushing. So I'll read more of Wiebe's work, if only to remind myself of the faces, the voices, and the stories I need to not forget.

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review 2018-01-07 00:15
Great Nisei/Canadian-Dream historical novel
Floating City - Kerri Sakamoto

Really enjoyed the historical detail in this; the Nisei experience on Canada's west coast is fascinating, and I've only read a few perspectives on it. Authentic-feeling story of a Canadian-born son of Japanese parents from the 1930s-1980s. Starts with childhood experiences living on a floating house on the BC coast and follows through the internment and mountain camps of WWII, setting out to Toronto in the postwar period to build a life, dreaming and working toward success, and dealing with the fallout of letting ambition lead to selfishness. There's a strong fantastic/spiritual/magical realist element throughout, based on legends, dreams and altered perceptions. Very firmly in the literary fiction tradition, with some themes that don't entirely link up. I read a lot of genre fiction and YA, so I wasn't really up for the dark period in the last third, but I liked the earlier bits and the resolution. On the whole, less dark and depraved than a lot of adult literary fiction; it manages to convey a sense of hope, optimism and potential throughout. Very cool Canadian perspective, and it feels authentic enough that I was sad there aren't floating cities in Toronto's harbour yet.

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review 2018-01-06 11:00
Retrospective of a Painter's Life: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood

Some twenty years have passed since painter Elaine Risley left Toronto, Canada. Now she is back for a retrospective exhibition of her work and memories of childhood and youth flood her mind. Many of them are one way or another related to her "best friend" Cordelia who bullied her in primary school until she lost her power over Elaine when she almost froze to death in a ravine. Although she almost forgot those difficult years, they had a lasting impact on her life... and her painting.

 

Read more about this Canadian novel here on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany.

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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review 2018-01-04 18:34
I loathed this. You need to read it.
Nice Try, Jane Sinner - Lianne Oelke

 Disclaimer: reviewing digital proof via NetGalley; final version may differ.

 

This is one of those hard-to-pin-down reviews. I almost put down the book in the first pages, and dragged myself through the first half, and finally adjusted by the second. The voice and format are distinctive, so if you like them in the first place, it'll help. Basically, it's one of those so-real-it-hurts contemporary fiction pieces that capture all the things about teens that makes people avoid them. Snark and superiority, carelessness and endless appetite for causing misery and pushing other people's buttons, willful destruction etc.

 

High school dropout Jane Sinner is depressed, bored, and checked out of life when she comes across a flyer for a student production; a reality TV roommate show at the local community college. It's a chance to move out of the family home and cut down on conflict with her parents, so she jumps at the chance. Cue snarky thoughts and meaningful silences, passive-aggressive housekeeping battles and pranks, and low-key hijinks, all chronicled in a distinctive journal-and-interior-thoughts format that often reads like a script.

 

It's painful - and all too familiar. Oelke captures an authentically nihilistic voice, unironic Canadian culture (note the outward politeness, while massively pranking and internally back-talking others). Bizarrely, one of the most unique elements is Jane's background as a church kid, and her experience of questioning and discarding her parent's religion once she realizes she doesn't know God or believe in any of it. Lots of Canadians, and even more Americans, have at least some exposure to North American Christian culture/religion, and yet it never makes it into books outside of the Christian Lit aisle. The way aimlessness and lack of goals/direction, dismal future outlook and relational/romantic ineptness are handled are likewise on point.

 

At the risk of spoilers, this isn't a heartwarming teen special about overcoming depression/finding a dream/fitting in/adjusting etc. The plot picks up as the tension rises in the reality show Jane participates in, and there are some good twists as it nears the finish line that keep tension high and provide a moderate level of catharsis. The next chapter of Jane's life struck me as unrealistic and too convenient, but maybe it fits well in the world of reality TV/pop entertainment anyways.

 

I wouldn't call this an enjoyable book (and definitely not a clean one - older teens and adults only for foul language, substance abuse, and some sexual situations), but it does an excellent job at capturing a certain experience of our time. It's the sort of book you may or may not want to read, but you absolutely should spend some time with.

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