Monday, July 11, 2011

Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War by James Loney

My review of James Loney's Captivity appeared in the Toronto Star yesterday.

One of the enduring myths of contemporary Western society is that we are a culture desperate to be tested. We are a fatted, decadent, overly complacent bunch (the myth goes), which makes us yearn to be stripped of our comforts (at least for a little while) to see how we hold up under pressure.

Comfort is inauthentic; stress and fear and adrenaline are “reality.” How would you act in an extreme situation? How strongly held are your ideals, and how quickly would you abandon them in order to survive?

The problem is that in reality, a true testing of one’s ideals never yields a clean result. When push becomes shove, and shove becomes kick, ideals splinter and multiply. Every breath becomes a test, and we often only survive to be tested again.

Get the whole scoop here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review two-fer: The Meagre Tarmac by Clark Blaise and A Description of the Blazing World by Michael Murphy

Two reviews of mine appeared this weekend - the new Clark Blaise in the Toronto Star and Michael Murphy's debut novel in The National Post.

Read the Blaise review here and the Murphy review here, if only to confirm that I am not filling this endless blogging hiatus with wine, women, and song.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Use and Abuse of Literature by Marjorie Garber

I haven't exactly been riding this blog and putting it away wet lately - in fact, I only just realized I hadn't posted this review of Marjorie Garber's The Use and Abuse of Literature, which ran in the Toronto Star last weekend.

Here's a taste:

The jacket copy for Garber’s book positions it as something polemical, even reactionary, in the vein of E. D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy (1987) and Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education (1991), but if anything, it is a witty and fleet-footed argument against literary polemics. In fact, for the first few chapters, it’s a little tough to work out what ultimate point Garber is trying to make. There are seeming digressions into scholarly disputes of the past, the use of literary allusions, the rise of graphic novels, the idea of a literary canon and even a brief look at some of the other books that use the phrase “the use and abuse of …” in their titles.

Eventually, however, it becomes clear that this digressive method is the message: Literature is not something about which one should write manifestoes, but something that needs to be seen as uniquely welcoming to contradiction and a diversity of thought. It also becomes clear that Garber sees both the “use” and the “abuse” of literature as two sides of the same coin — the inevitable distortions of meaning merely create new meanings.

And here's the whole thing.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Are You Married to a Psychopath? by Nadine Bismuth

Interrupting my long winter's nap* here to note that my review of Nadine Bismuth's Are You Married to a Psychopath? ran in the Toronto Star yesterday.

A taste:

Though most of these 10 stories feature young, urban women whose sense of self-esteem relies heavily on the whims and fancies of their male counterparts, Bismuth’s fiction is far too scathing, intelligent and clear-eyed to be considered Chick Lit. There are no Cinderellas here, no Prince Charmings, no problem-dissolving baby bumps and no happily-ever-after.

Bismuth is singularly interested in laying out the problems faced by fallen women in a fallen world, but makes no guesses as to where redemption may lie. She is doing literary forensics, not spinning fairy tales.

Read the whole thing here.

* the semi-bitter, semi-sweet irony being that I have probably slept less in the past few months, thanks to daily pre-dawn novel-writing sessions, than I have at any point in my life - other than those times when my kids cut teeth. As with that teeth-cutting, I hope all this pain, frustration, and fatigue results in something bright, hard, and useful, but the odds are against me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Monday, February 07, 2011

Apocalypse for Beginners by Nicolas Dickner

My review of Nicolas Dickner's second novel in the Toronto Star.

A wee sniff:

It’s getting harder and harder to make the end of the world seem interesting. Familiarity breeds contempt, even when it comes to the something as big as the apocalypse.

Indeed, among the more recent depictions of the end of days — and there have been so many, usually with war, plague, zombies, ecological disaster or some combination of all four playing a role — only a precious few have treated it with anything close to seriousness or dread. At a time when publishers are offering up tongue-in-cheek zombie survival guides and post-apocalyptic cookbooks, a work like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is an anomaly. (And even that was seen as approachable enough for Oprah viewers.)

Montreal’s Nicolas Dickner, in his second novel, eschews neither comedy nor gravitas in his own take on the end of the world, but the register he sticks to most faithfully is boredom. His is a story in which the concept of apocalypse is more a source of personal frustration than anything else. Unfortunately, his book enacts that frustration and boredom a little too faithfully.

Thee whole thing.

[Edit: Corrected the spelling goof in Dickner's name.]

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Symbol of Overly Grand Metaphor

The film itself may end up being the most brilliant thing since the last most brilliant thing ever, but the trailer for Tree of Life looks like a high-budget parody of a credit card commercial. ("For all those times when you look back on your family, with their strange habit of only doing and saying things that were thematically significant, and wonder if maybe there is more to life than a bunch of pretty images and some warmed-over metaphors, there is Mastercard.")

It's like a David Attenborough documentary being raped by Oprah's Book Club. I only say this because I just read, for the four thousandth time, that this very trailer is proof there is hope for cinema yet. This looks like the kind of Serious Meaningful Art that can't stop telling you it is Serious Meaningful Art. The difference between this and porn is that porn tries to space out the money shots a little.

I'll give Mallick this: the trailer actually manages to be hokier and less subtle than the film's title. (And this is from someone who has been raving to all who will listen about a movie entitled Another Year...)