Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Mercy Among the Children, by David Adams Richards

Mercy Among the ChildrenMercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Periodically there are books which come into our lives we choose to read not because they are guarantors of entertainment, escapism, pleasure, but because we are aware the writer has something to say, hopefully says it well, and the scent of which lingers in years to come like a primal memory, an underlying truth.

Such is the case with David Adams Richards' Giller Award winning novel, Mercy Among the Children.

Told through the unreliable narrator of Lyle Henderson, son of the main protagonist and chief underdog in the story, Sydney Henderson, Mercy Among the Children is an epic tale of hypocrisy and greed, of ignorance and poverty not only of economics but of morality. It is not a pleasant read. Nor is it an easy read. But it is gripping and needs to be read much in the way Steinbeck needs to be read, or Harper Lee, or any number of writers who have championed the cause of the disenfranchised and downtrodden.

Set in the Miramichi Valley of New Brunswick, Canada, this labyrinthine tale weaves through betrayals, robberies, murder, toxic waste of the soul and the environment, through generations of people held under the implacable autocracy of the company town. It is relentless in its brutality and sorrow. There are no happy endings in sight. And it resonates with an awful truth which simply cannot be ignored.

My only quibble is in the opening third of the novel the relentless barrage of misdeeds against the Henderson family teeters on the brink of the precious, so that at any moment I fully expected Dickens' Tiny Tim to make an appearance. Beyond that, there is a court scene which very much put me in mind of Harper Lee's now legendary court case in To Kill a Mockingbird, and the societal burden Steinbeck presented in The Grapes of Wrath

A recommended read which should be followed immediately by something mindless, hilarious and utterly frivolous, just for balance.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Why Men Lie, by Linden MacIntyre

Why Men LieWhy Men Lie by Linden MacIntyre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The last in MacIntyre's Cape Breton Trilogy, Why Men Lie completes the fallout from a brutal act in WWII which has haunted the men involved and their families.

In this novel MacIntyre visits the character of Effie Gillis, who lived in silent fear for years, and now as a middle-aged woman attempts to reconcile that past and her own visceral, instinctive reactions to any trigger which might be construed as related.

While it is a story about latent violence both of the spirit and the body, it is also a story of quiet hope, one without blazing moments of epiphany, but rather of muted understanding.

Ultimately a very Canadian novel from a very Canadian writer.

Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: The Long Stretch, by Linden MacIntyre

The Long StretchThe Long Stretch by Linden MacIntyre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first of MacIntyre's award-winning Cape Breton trilogy, The Long Stretch is a beautifully crafted illustration of the axiom: the sins of the parent shall fall upon the children.

The narrative, set on Cape Breton Island, reveals the mystery and horror of one brutal act during WWII, and how the men involved in that crime attempt to retain some semblance of normalcy for themselves and their families in the years which follow.

Written in a staccato style of stuttering sentence fragments, MacIntyre creates a story of tension, pain and ultimately of love without recourse to graphic descriptions and hysteria-blown scenes. A master work of literature from a master Canadian journalist.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: The Emperor's Soul, by Brandon Sanderson

The Emperor's SoulThe Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sanderson was recommended to me as a genre author worth reading. I'm not sorry I followed up on that recommendation.

The Emperor's Soul presents an intriguing story of a forger who is able to create reproductions through magical carving of seals, inscribed with the history and detail of the object and its maker. In fact, she is so good at her art she is employed by the Emperor's most trusted advisers to create a seal which will return the Emperor to himself after a botched assassination.

Rich with character studies, environmental detail and intrigue, this is an engaging bit of escapism.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: Touch, by Alexi Zentner

TouchTouch by Alexi Zentner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zentner presents a fascinating, historical story of hardship, endurance and superstition set in the British Columbia/Yukon interior around the late 19th century. The characters are well-defined, the environmental descriptions vivid, the plot intriguing.

Memorable, readable, recommended.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: Gibberish, by Gordon R. Gibb

Gibberish: Tall Tales & Domestic Disasters from Beyond the MicrophoneGibberish: Tall Tales & Domestic Disasters from Beyond the Microphone by Gordon R Gibb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An engaging, witty, often hilarious series of articles, anecdotes and broadcasts by Peterborough native and broadcaster, Gordon R. Gibb. The collection is highly readable, written in very easy and accessible language. Very much put me in mind of Stewart McLean.

Great reading for the commute, the waiting room, wherever, whenever.

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