Book Reviews

Book Review By Fraser Tripp (Intermediate Fiction Workshop) 

When Everything Feels Like The Movies

Raziel Reid

Arsenal Pulp Press Vancouver, 2014

 

I first heard about Raziel Reid’s When Everything Feels Like The Movies, when an excerpt of it was read at an event for banned and challenged books. The excerpt, a part of a larger story about a gay teen navigating high school in a small town as an outcast seemed quaint and endearing. So I was a little confused as to why it was being challenged for it nomination for a Governor General’s Award.

But the short excerpt that even takes a humorous jab at Lindsay Lohan, doesn’t give justice to the trials and tribulations Reid’s set forward for his main character Jude. When Everything Feels Like The Movies is brutal in its honest depiction of an outsiders struggle in the jungle of high school. Jude is the loud and proud protagonist who uses the world of the movies to deal with tormentors, his family, and his dead-end town. There’s the crew that keeps the production on its legs, the extras that fill in the space in the background, and the movie stars—the popular, powerful characters that everyone wants to be or wants to be with. But Jude doesn’t fit into any of the traditional roles and knows he needs to find his way out.

When Everything Feels Like is a quick read at only 171 pages, but it’s full of drama, action and humour. Graphic violence, sexuality, and language mixed with underage alcohol and illicit drug use run rampant through Reid’s first work, so it’s easy to see why people might challenge this work. Aimed at a teenage audience, When Everything Feels Like does nothing to mask a harsh and explicit high school experience for one young man, but this is a story that needs to be told and, like Jude, it needs to be loud about everything it puts forward.

he Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

Reviewed by Sara Mosher

 

carterAngela Carter’s short story collection, The Bloody Chamber, and Other Stories, is deliciously disturbing and fantastically magical. Carter not only retells classic myths and folklore stories, but recreates and reinvents them. Some of the stories utilize recognizable story lines, such as “The Bloody Chamber”—the story of Bluebeard, and “The Snow Child”—the story of Snow White. Others are so completely new, only the title or character names give away the origin and inspiration, such as “Puss-in-Boots” and “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon.”

Adapting a pointedly feminist angle, this collection feeds a creative mind and leaves readers contemplating the rich narratives long after they have put the book down. Although the beautifully constructed prose is in itself enjoyment enough, the allusions, imagery, and metaphors used demand a critical reader. Carter challenges the suppression of female sexuality in unusual and sometimes totally unexpected ways. These “fairy tales” use fiction to address the “beast” that is sexual expression under the idealization of male dominance prescribed by patriarchy. The stories twist and turn expected sexual and gender expression. Yet, Carter varies equally men and women’s lust in both tender and beastly ways. In “Tigers Bride” the Beauty figure reports feeling as though the Beast is more afraid of her than she him, and lets the Beast “lick the skin off of [her]” and transform her skin into “beautiful fur” (Carter, 67). While “The Company of Wolves” portrays the Red-Riding Hood figure as anything but a victim as she uses her own sexual power and her knowledge of the Wolfs lust to tame the creature.

I strongly recommend The Bloody Chamber, and Other Stories to anyone who doesn’t shy away from a little—stunningly written—sex and gore. From forty pages to just a half a page, Carter masters the short story format in this collection of tales in a variety of lengths. Simply put, Carter’s stories are so rich and complex you can’t help but to read them more than once.

 

Works Cited:

Carter, Angela. The Bloody Chamber, and Other Stories. New York: Penguin, 1993. Print.

 

 

 

Music Review by Liam Abbott

Wildlife – La Dispute

Tell me what your worst fears are.  I bet they look a lot like mine
La_Dispute-Wildlife(with_text)The first word that comes to mind while listening to La Dispute’s 2011 album “Wildlife” is catharsis.  From frontman Jordan Dreyer’s dense, poetic, and emotionally-driven lyrics to the dynamism of the instrumentation, each song on this album exudes a raw energy that sounds as if every member is exorcising demons through every line, note, or beat.

The vocals are at the forefront in this album. They run the spectrum from soft, solemn spoken-word to plaintive yells without diminishing in intensity or distracting the listener from the meaning behind the words.  Dreyer’s ability to marry passages of lengthy description with abstract contemplations on recurring themes such as death, doubt, fear, and confusion is nothing short of jaw-dropping.  It’s rare for an album to tackle topics like the decline of a community church (“St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues”), the drive-by shooting of an innocent child (“King Park”), the stabbing of a man by his schizophrenic son (“Edward Benz, 27 Times”), or the documentation of a journal by a mother who has lost her young child to cancer (“I See Everything”) without sounding heavy-handed or preachy.  “Wildlife,” however, is consistently authentic, relatable, and compelling.

Don’t listen to this album if you’re looking to forget your troubles because they will be screamed into your ear.  Don’t listen to this album if you’re looking for a solution to your problems because none are offered.  Listen to this album if you’re looking for a voice that understands whatever pain you’re going through.  Listen to this album if you don’t want to feel alone in your struggles.  Even if it’s just until the end of the song.

 

gaiman “A Lunar Labyrinth” by Neil Gaiman

Reviewed by Mark Wheeler

Neil Gaiman has already established himself as a documentarian of the strange and the unsettling things that haunt us all. A long-time student and practitioner of the horror genre, Gaiman is drawn to and aims to write “stories that prickle the flesh and make the shadows deeper and, most important, remind us that we live, and that there is something special, something unique and remarkable about the state of being alive” (BrainPickings).

With his third collection of short fiction Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, Gaiman succeeds in this endeavour. In the collection’s first piece of prose, “A Lunar Labyrinth,” Gaiman juxtaposes light and dark to reveal shadows where they may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Curiously wandering and observing, the story’s protagonist is a relatable character trying to find a connection and a meaning in his solitary life. The plot follows the protagonist up a hill to a burnt down maze, taking labyrinthine paths through Ancient consciousness. It is ambiguous whether any of the dangers in the story are real or imagined, yet it maintains a creepy and unsettling aura throughout. It is this ambiguity, the uncertainty, that gives the story its disturbing atmosphere. White and black, day and night, and good and evil are all easy to understand, but the things that lie in between, the indefinable, are torturous.

Coming from a collection whose title is literally a warning of unsettling, and potentially triggering, content, “A Lunar Labyrinth” does not fail to disturb. It forces the reader to engage with the circuital horrors that have plagued humanity since the emergence of ancient societies.

 

 

*****

Breakfast on Pluto 

Reviewed by Samantha Bigelow

 

plutoA large portion of 20th century Irish literature deals with the Irish war of Independence, the IRA or the Irish Civil war. Breakfast on Pluto, Patrick McCabe’s 1998  #1 bestseller in Ireland, represents a modern and unorthodox viewing of the turmoil in Ireland during the 1960’s to the 1970’s. Breakfast on Pluto is narrated by the story’s protagonist Patrick “Pussy” Braden, a young trans-woman, and follows her coming-of-age adventures through war-stricken Ireland on the search for her birth mother.

The story is written as a series of letters to her psychiatrist, which she chooses to write as stories about important points in her life. By the middle of the novel, her stories border on the stream-of-consciousness to the delusional, as she begins to represent herself as a superhero. The novel satirically deals with issues of religion, nationalism and sexism in Ireland, and has a more conversational tone than most novels. In this sense, McCabe tackles dark and horrific scenes of IRA rebellion and violence with a carefree, satirical tone, however not so much as to neglect the seriousness of the situation. Rather, McCabe aims to reflect upon the problems of Ireland through a character who is distant from them, only to see the turmoil in passing on her way through her own path.

I say in confidence that this is one of the most endearing, attention-grabbing novels I’ve ever read, as the character’s voice is so entertaining, intimate and unforgiving that, whether or not you love her or hate her, you cannot simply look away. McCabe does a wonderful job at creating a voice that is both humorous and informative—a perfect reflection and rejection of the false notions of nationalistic identity.

 

Author: Patrick McCabe

Publisher: Harper Perennial

******

 

Books that Inspire: Catch-22

By Stephen Karmazyn

catch 22There are not many literary classics that are funny. Sure, there’s funny scenes now and again among revered candidates for the ‘best ever’ intellectual library, but most of those won’t have you in side-splitting euphoria.

You’ve got your Huckleberry Finn and your Confederacy of Dunces, sure, but most important works of literature usually doesn’t have time for funny.

And then you have Catch-22, published by American Joseph Heller in 1961.

I have never read a book packed with more gut-pounding, smile-inducing, knee-buckling laughter. How Joseph Heller managed to make what is a pretty grim scenario – WWII bomber pilots terrified of their inevitable doom – and turn it into one of the funniest books ever is a testament to the author’s skill, and the power of writing in general.

What Heller does so masterfully is transform this dark subject matter into something palatable by taking the absurdity and ratcheting it up to new heights of nonsense. By exposing the inherent dysfunction in bureaucracy (army and otherwise), Heller exposes real-life flaws that probably got people killed but we end up laughing anyways, because of how Heller communicates that nonsensically.

For every conceivable reality Heller presents, he quickly follows with the inconceivable. For every inept person rising through the ranks due to family connections (something we’ve all experienced) he has people rising through the ranks simply because their name was Major Major Major and somebody wanted to promote Major Major Major to Major so they could have a Major Major Major Major. For every comment on how generals send men to their deaths for medals, he has scenes of people eating chocolate covered cotton because the army bought all the cotton supply in the world.

It’s with this deft humorist’s stroke that Heller takes dark and makes it funny. Even as the novel progresses, with death increasing in regularity, Heller never forgets that even in the midst of one of the worst situations humanely imaginable, there’s always something to laugh at.

 

#GIRLBOSS

girlboss

Review by Chloe Daen (ENGL 3903, Intermediate Fiction)

Other people’s stories of determination and success often provides inspiration within our own lives, and that fact doesn’t seem to change for Sophia Amoruso’s book, #GIRLBOSS. Amoruso, the founder and CEO of an online fashion retailer known as Nasty Gal, sheds some light and wisdom through her experiences that led her to where she is today.

Amoruso’s #GIRLBOSS not only empowers female individuals, but also emphasizes that working hard does not happen overnight. #GIRLBOSS is realistic, it’s raw, and relatable—an amazing and uplifting read overall, especially for women who are looking for inspiration to chase their ambitions.

#GIRLBOSS is a feminist book, and Nasty Gal is a feminist company in the sense that I encourage you, as a girl, to be who you want and do what you want” (14).

Amoruso’s writing is sassy, humourous, and truly portrays her ‘kick-butt’ attitude towards working hard and aiming high. Throughout the book, she stresses that achieving great things goes hand-in-hand with working hard—a fact that individuals who aspire to be successful often overlook. But Amoruso doesn’t leave you with a sense of impending doom; instead she takes the opportunity to establish the fact that your success reciprocates the amount of work you invest in it, and that at the end of the day: “You’re a badass.” (11).

Lastly, the most notable aspect of Amoruso’s book is that it is not necessarily a ‘manual’ that tells you how to be successful, but rather the kind of journey that may unfold once you venture down that road.

In the words of Amoruso herself: “If I, and this book, have anything to prove, it’s that when you believe in yourself, other people will believe in you, too” (16).

Author: Sophia Amoruso

Published: 2014
Publisher: Portfolio / Penguin and G.P. Putnam’s Sons

 

What I Talk About When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami. (Random House: 2008)

murakamiYou don’t have to be a runner—or a writer—to draw inspiration from Murakami’s straight-forward and very reassuring exploration of how writing is, like long-distance running, a test of –not of talent necessarily – but of strength, endurance, and commitment to daily practice.

Murakami really helps see the “big picture” of how writing a novel is like training for and then completing a race: daily grind, lots of time spent alone, improving/ progressing in small increments.

Best lines:

“To deal with something unhealthy [like dark themes/ content/ subject matter in a book], a person needs to be as healthy as possible. That’s my motto. In other words, an unhealthy soul requires a healthy body.” (page 98.)

When Murakami describes running his first marathon in Athens he writes, “When I lick my lips they taste like anchovy paste.” (page 63)

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Carleton University's Creative Writing Concentration

%d bloggers like this: