Saturday, May 31, 2008

AWOT in the The Vancouver Sun

AWOT reviewed by MAC Farrant:
It's as if he's transplanted a group of rough-edged, foul-mouthed "folk" from reality TV to the printed page and completely blown off the shallowness and the stereotypes attached to them. His characters are individuals with beating hearts and wounded histories and sentimental hopes for the future. Before long, we sink unresistingly into their stories.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Who stole the soul?

Here's something you don't see every day: a soul record getting criticized, not for any musical lack, but for a spiritual one. And on Pitchfork, no less...

From the review (of the new Al Green):

The hole in the middle of the album is, in fact, Jesus-shaped. Green's Christianity was always an enormous presence in his music, even before he gave up secular singing for a while; his constant awareness of mortality and divinity is what raised the stakes on his love songs. His best album, Call Me, followed "You Ought to Be With Me" with "Jesus Is Waiting", and the ever-present tension between the sacred and the secular on his records came to a head on 1977's "Belle": "It's you that I want, but it's Him that I need".

There's none of that here-- the closest Green comes is singing about "a love divine" on "Too Much", and he doesn't really mean "divine." Instead, we get flabby romantic couplets ("You're the best thing I ever had/ Losing you, that would make me feel so bad"; "Your love is more than true, oh baby/ It's just, it's just for me and you"). There's no desire here for a person (or a God) that Green wants to bring closer to himself, just an appreciation of someone he's already got. Yes, it's a pleasure to hear Green articulate romantic satisfaction, and good for him if he's satisfied. But the grain and pull of his voice is all about longing for both flesh and spirit, and it doesn't quite fit here. Green's classic records were never just baby-making music, and without a context greater than a shared bedroom, this precise reconstruction of their sound is a ritual that's lost a lot of its meaning.

The Devil may have the best music, but the stuff God cranks out is a close second. (And either are preferable to whatever the hell someone like Richard Dawkins puts on his iPod....)

Speaking of Al Green, you do know the best-ever Green ripoff/tribute was by Keith Richards, don't you? (See it here.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Gone into Exile

My story "Mr Harman's Wedding" – which, up until recently, was downloadable from my other site – will be published in the spring 2008 issue of Exile quarterly.

To launch the issue, I'll be reading with Zoe Whittall and others at the Dora Keogh Irish Pub on the Danforth on June 3. Details here.

In AWOT news, Alex Good posted a slightly extended version of his review on GoodReports, and the novel got mentioned in the "Book Hound" column of the Comox Valley Echo.

To get away from books for second, I have to note that this is great stuff. Fela is a near-constant in my musical diet, but all the driving I've been doing over the past month or so has got me back onto side-length grooves that stretch and stretch without snapping.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollock

Sydney Pollock dies at 73.

This is another blow for those of you still waiting for the sequel to Eyes Wide Shut:

Eye Wider Shut – "This time it's impersonal..."

(Why make a lame joke when a man has died? Because laughter starts the healing. And because I thought of it.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

AWOT in Edmonton's Vue Weekly

"From the mundane, Whitlock has pulled something refreshing and beautiful."

Full review here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Talking Down to the Dirt

On Monday, I taped an episode of CBC Radio's Talking Books with Ian Brown. I was part of panel discussing Joel Hynes’s first book, Down to the Dirt, which, if you haven’t read, I recommend you go do so.

Now. (I can wait.)

The discussion (which should air either this Saturday or the next – I’ll let y’all know when I know) was breezy and entertaining, etc., but I never got around to making the point I wanted to about Hynes’ book, which is that it is about authenticity, and the fervent search therefor, or rather the desperate attempt to maintain a personal, sexual, cultural, and political sense of authenticity when all the world’s forces seem deadset on destroying all such notions.

That’s what gives the book so much of its life, but it’s also the achilles heel. Books with a laser-focus on preserving authenticity tend to burn themselves out before they’re done, and DTTD is no exception. They also tend to reserve the fight for one character, often the authorial stand-in, which means everyone else in the book is forced to play straight men or blocking characters, which reduces complexity and eventually makes the whole thing start to feel inauthentic. It’s not long before you start to wonder why only it’s only this one privileged person who ever figures out the lie that is modern life, society, etc. It starts to feel like a set-up. It often feels as though the book has to work twice as hard to maintain this "one vs. the world" stance. “Never let them see you sweat” is good advice for fiction, too, and there are moments near the end of DTTD where the book’s armpits start to darken from all the effort made to keep the main character fighting the good fight.

And it has to be said: books about one character’s desperate search for authenticity tend to appeal most to a particular kind of male reader/writer; one who, for better and worse, can’t quite let go of that part of their personality that was forged in adolescence. I’m not condemning it, and it’s not like I’m personally any different. On a personal level, it’s very important to keep in close contact with this part of your personality, the one that refuses all compromise, detests hypocrisy, and cannot understand why reality fall so short of ideals. But it can often have a limiting effect on art, precisely because it is such a self-centred perspective.

Women, for various cultural and biological reasons, tend to discover woefully early on that the ideal of “do whatever you want whenever you want” is either impossible, or sustainable only at the risk of enormous unhappiness, even destruction. “But that’s the point!” is the obvious objection. Live hard, die young, etc. It’s not really the ideal itself I’m arguing against here, it’s the reaction that comes when you finally realize it’s pretty much impossible. And even then, only how that reaction manifests itself in fiction.

As I said, women tend to learn this lesson early on, which is why it’s usually male characters who spend so much time throwing petulant fits at the discovery that their world has limits, that society has expectations, and that other people have needs. I often find myself, when reading these kinds of books, trying to look over the shoulder of such main characters to where someone else is standing, some overburdened, thoroughly comprised, even weak-willed character who may be less fun at parties, but is much richer fictional material, precisely because he or she is so burdened. As Mordecai Richler said (though didn’t always follow), novelists should be the “loser’s advocate.” It’s not about picking the most boring person in the room, but it shouldn’t be about simply picking the most exciting, either.

That all sounds harsh, and I don’t want to suggest at all that DTTD is a failure – even if it were, it’d be a hell of a noble one. In fact, one thing I especially liked about the book is that it provides a more dialectical view of its raging main character than is the usual case. In fact, it's made pretty clear that the main character, Keith Kavanagh, is as much simply vain and emotionally childish as he is heroic. (Mike Leigh did a similar trick with Naked.)

Down to the Dirt spills over with verbal energy – it’s great to see a Canadian work of fiction that gets ridden hard and put away wet. So everything I write above should not be taken as being prescriptive – i.e., the book would have been better if only Hynes had made everyone in it a little more boring/sensible. It wouldn’t have. This is just me playing critic/spoiler.

More Hynes matter here and here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Foto fun

Some photos from last week's event at Supermarket in Kensington Market, courtesy of Open Book Toronto and Lisa Myers.

Note my skateboarding sweatshirt, which I only wear to make my son jealous.

(By the way, I'll be Open Book's Writer in Residence for the month of June, which means there'll be some cross-posting going on. Oh, and a party.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Meet the CFACers

Trying to work out the logic in this letter to the editor in the Toronto Star:
Your statement, "Right wingers like Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College and the Canada Family Action Coalition, are all for C-10 because it's a way of keeping sex and violence off the screen," is either wilfully ignorant or wilfully false.

Had you even attempted to be fair and accurate you would know that CFAC has not called for banning, censorship or any curtailment of making any films. We have supported Bill C-10 on the sole basis that taxpayers should not be required to pay the salaries of wannabe film producers, etc., for films that are likely losers at the box office.

Brian Rushfeldt, Canada Family Action Coalition, Calgary

That would be this Canada Family Action Coalition, whose site poses such chin-scratchers as "Childcare - nationalized or socialism?" and "Will England develop 'camps' for 'homophobes'?"

(Magic 8 Ball says: "I don't know karate, but I know ke-razee.")

But no, they are not about censoring dirty movies – what a suggestion! – all they want is for our precious key grip and best boy dollars be taken away from immoral unprofitable films and put toward potential blockbusters like: Without the Family, There Is No Freedom, or Sex Crazed Government Adults, or Another Case of Intolerant Homosexuals (and its sequel, It is A Queer Thing!), or The Enemy is Not Done With Canada, or my personal favourite, Virgin is Not a Dirty Word. (All titles from the CFAC site - go look.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

This in THIS

One more quick one: AWOT reviewed in THIS magazine.

"Whitlock has an excellent grasp of metaphor and simile, and A Week of This is a highly polished novel."

And a quick reminder: I'm a guest eulogist at the launch for Bigfoot: I Not Dead tomorrow night at the Gladstone. It's free, so come one, come all.

Monday, May 12, 2008

More of this

I'm back from reading and talking here and there, and am a little tired of self-promotion at the moment...

...but all the same, one must soldier on, so here's some places where AWOT has popped up over the past couple of days:

Review in The Ottawa Citizen.

Review in the Guelph Mercury.*

Review in The Danforth Review.

(Thanks to everyone who came out to the various events over the past week or so.)

ADDED: AWOT was also reviewed in the May 8 issue of Scene magazine (London, ON), which said the book is "filled with vibrant, gritty imagery and wondrously colourful turns of phrase" and "an ideal springtime read."

* this one also ran in The Waterloo Region Record.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Some Montreal numbers

Six hours of driving, three minutes reading, one mid-reading Bob Newhart reference, a dozen or so drinks, a couple of old friends, two separate conversations about No Country for Old Men (the movie), one lost room reservation, one basement bed in a student hostel, three hours sleep, one big hangover, a $40 parking ticket, two cans of Red Bull and a stale croissant, six more hours of driving, listening to Hank Williams, Richard Pryor, Lindsey Buckingham, Bill Hicks, Nigeria Special, and a lecture on Kierkegaard, of all cheerful things – I feel like I need the mental equivalent of a tub of Rolaids, along with the actual kind.

Thanks to everyone who came out, and thanks to the LPG for hosting/organizing.

One day back and then it's on to the Ottawa Valley. Onward and northward.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Montreal reading

A reminder: I'm reading in Montreal tomorrow night (Monday, May 5) at the Casa del Popolo as part of the LPG's "Fiery First Fiction" campaign.

Come have your brain melted by the scorching words of some incendiary–

Never mind – just come out if you're in the 514.

Furthermore: May 8 - Pembroke Library, ON; May 10 - Bean House Cafe, Deep River, ON; May 11 - Collected Works, Ottawa, ON; May 12 - Supermarket, Toronto (another "FFF" event).

It's the "AWOT Across Montreal and Parts of Eastern Ontario" tour.

Not that you need me to tell you...

Iron Man: lots of fun.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Choke me

From the Toronto Star:
Chasing cheap highs, tens of thousands of Ontario adolescents are strangling themselves or each other in what's known as the choking game, a report out of Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says.

The report says as many as 7 per cent of Ontario students – some 79,000 – between grades 7 and 12 will have played the game, which is often prolonged to the point of fainting and is blamed for at least 82 deaths in the United States since the mid-1990s.

Even when I was a dumb teenager – and choking highs were a six-month fad – I thought the whole thing was stupid. Hilarious, but stupid. I remember being at a house party and watching two drunken 15-year-olds earnestly trying to make each other pass out. I couldn't breathe either – from laughing so hard. One of the most ludicrous sights I've ever seen. I said then, and I saw now: what happened to good, old-fashioned glue huffing?

    A very subtle and funny writer - one I've become obsessed with over the past year - in a decidedly Muriel Spark mood. Imagine The Pr...