Author Archives: Alison Manley

About Alison Manley

Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.

Fear the Mirror by Cora Siré

Just as I enjoy works that have ambiguous endings, I also like works that have ambiguous genres. Fear the Mirror by Cora Siré has a simple “Stories,” on the front cover, but the contents of the stories are far more intriguing. Part essays, part memoirs, part short stories, Siré progressively mixes details of her own life with her fiction, blurring the lines between the facts of her life and the fictional portraits she creates. The first few stories of this collection, “Fear the Mirror,” “What Peaches & What Penumbras!,” and “Rusalka” start with Siré’s life, gradually stepping more and more into the world of fiction and poetry. While the titular “Fear the Mirror” reads as more of a true memoir, Rusalka begins the true departure of Siré’s book into fiction, essays, and other thoughts.

“This is a small but impactful book.”

The daughter of Estonian immigrants, Siré was born in Canada, with ties to Brazil, while her partner is Argentinian. The stories in Fear the Mirror travel these countries, bringing us into the complex world of a person who is caught between many cultures, has travelled greatly, and is uncertain about the idea of home. This is a persistent theme throughout the stories and essays in this collection: what is home? A time? A place?

While each of the stories in Fear the Mirror are strong by themselves, with compelling characters and situations – one that shines particularly is Virgilia, the main character of “The Mark,” a fourth-year undergraduate student who plays backgammon to earn a little bit of extra money, eyeing down who she feels are easy targets to get a few dollars out of – what is most interesting about Fear the Mirror and Siré’s writing is her playing with form and language. The memoir pieces are lyrical, tiptoeing toward poetry, while in “Pueblo Chico, Infierno Grande,” Siré tells the story of her first visit to her partner’s family in Argentina in the third person, watching “Corita,” struggle through feeling out of place and uncomfortable with the tension between her partner’s family wanting him to return home to take over the family business.

This is a small but impactful book. I was drawn into the worlds, fictional and non-fictional, and their fuzzy boundaries. I wasn’t always clear if the story was about Siré’s life, or fiction but was quickly brought around to the idea that it didn’t matter. Siré gives equal weight to the memoir pieces and the fiction pieces, and they bleed seamlessly into one another. Unassuming but thoughtful, this was a pleasant read.


About the Author

Cora Siré is the author of two works of fiction and two poetry collections. Her novel Behold Things Beautiful was a finalist for the QWF’s Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Fiction Prize in 2017. Her stories, essays and poems have been published in many anthologies and magazines in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Based in Montréal, she often writes of elsewheres, drawing on encounters in faraway places and her family history of displacement.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Esplanade Books (Sept. 29 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550655779
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550655773

This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Flora! A Woman in a Man’s World by Flora MacDonald and Geoffrey Stevens

If you’ve studied, read, or even talked about Canadian politics while living n Atlantic Canada, the name Flora MacDonald will inevitably come up. If you’re a woman, and you’re talking about politics in Atlantic Canada, someone will make a Flora reference to you or about you, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum. And so, if you want to brush up on your Flora knowledge before this happens, may I suggest Flora! A Woman in a Man’s World by Flora MacDonald and Geoffrey Stevens? MacDonald died in 2015, as Stevens explains in the introduction, at which point this memoir that they had been working on together, written in MacDonald’s words, was about two-thirds complete. The project was revived by the encouragement of her niece, Linda Grearson, and Stevens did extensive research and numerous interviews to complete the story of Flora MacDonald in her words. The result is a fascinating, seamless, and complete memoir of Flora MacDonald, a truly exceptional woman.

“Flora MacDonald was a trailblazer, and her memoir captures that perfectly yet humbly, written as if Flora was sitting across from you at the table, maybe over tea, telling you about her adventures around the world…”

This memoir is truly comprehensive, starting with MacDonald’s ancestors who immigrated to Canada from Scotland, ultimately settling in Cape Breton. Born in North Sydney, Flora MacDonald was one of eight children, five of whom lived to adulthood. Theirs was not a well-off home, and though she was bright, she always knew she was never going to go to university. Instead, she went to secretarial college in Sydney, and to work at the Bank of Nova Scotia. She was twenty-six years old in 1952, had gotten several transfers in the bank and made her way to Toronto, when she quit and went to Europe to explore. This is the first part of the memoir which really set the tone for me: Flora MacDonald, above all, enjoyed a good adventure. She was game for absolutely anything, and it was that spirit of “well, why not?” which guided her career with the federal Progressive Conservative party. A true Red Tory, Flora MacDonald had a long career with the PCs, working for the party, and eventually running to be the Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands. She sat as their MP from 1972 to 1988, during that time serving as a member of the Opposition, the Secretary of State for External Affairs (now the Minister of Foreign Affairs), Minister of Communications, and Minister of Employment and Immigration. In 1976, she ran for the leadership of the federal PCs, though lost badly.

Flora MacDonald was a trailblazer, and her memoir captures that perfectly yet humbly, written as if Flora was sitting across from you at the table, maybe over tea, telling you about her adventures around the world, her humanitarian work in Afghanistan and India, the time she attempted to climb Mount Everest, the trials and tribulations of the Progressive Conservative party – including her more strained relationships, such as being fired by John G. Diefenbaker from the party office – and above all, her pride and occasional incredulity that a girl who had no real formal education, who climbed her way to the upper echelons of the Canadian government, who travelled to more than 100 countries, and who lived a fascinating life beyond what she could have imagined. I was delighted with this memoir. Learning more about Flora MacDonald through her own eyes was a great adventure in itself, and I highly recommend this political memoir.


  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ McGill-Queen’s University Press (Oct. 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 328 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 022800862X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0228008620

This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling by Esi Edugyan

I truly believe that Esi Edugyan is one of the most talented and important writers of our time. All of her novels are amazing and thought-provoking, and while I could say that about a lot of writers (and do), you should believe me when I say I was thrilled and a little overwhelmed to get to review Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling for The Miramichi Reader. Part of the CBC Massey Lecture Series, this contains the 2021 Lectures, given by Edugyan. For the uninitiated, the Massey Lectures are an annual set of public lectures given by a noted scholar or public figure, co-hosted by Massey College, CBC, and House of Anansi Press. They’re broadcast on CBC, as well as published in book format by House of Anansi. They’re a Big Deal, in terms of public lectures on important issues – in an accessible, open format to the masses. And Edugyan’s lectures were truly perfect, examining race and exclusion through the lens of storytelling, visual art, and her own life.

“Edugyan’s lectures were truly perfect, examining race and exclusion through the lens of storytelling, visual art, and her own life.”

Broken into five sections, Edugyan takes us on a round-the-world examination of art and race, drawing on her own experiences in different countries to look at whose stories get to be told in art and her lived experience as a Black woman, having studied, created, and interacted with art regularly throughout her life. Starting with our Western, white idea of “what art is,” Edugyan brings us to Europe in chapter one, titled “Europe and the Art of Seeing.” Edugyan frames this chapter with her experience of sitting for an oil painting recently, while exploring who gets to be painted, and why – and despite the persistent idea that Europe was white and only people of status are white, explores the depiction of Blackness in “high art.” Edugyan continues to expand the question of inclusion, and why, as well as pushing back against traditional, white-washed narratives around the world, exploring the treatment of Blackness in ghost stories in the second chapter, focusing on Canadian ghost stories. Edugyan speaks of ghost stories as “at their core repositories of our pasts – both our personal pasts and our public ones.” (p. 46) So who are we forgetting in these pasts, as well as who we’re forgetting in the telling of them, as ghost stories so reflect the morals and beliefs of our present, rather than the past they’re telling us about.

Chapter Three is titled “American and the Art of Empathy,” exploring racial passing and the One Drop Rule. Edguyan steps into the discourse around Blackfishing, and famous examples of white people living as Black people, and then being found out – such as Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug. Edugyan is vulnerable and open in her discussion, and deeply generous in giving us her complicated thoughts on the idea of transracialism. It’s an uncomfortable chapter, forcing us to dive deeper into the messiness of racial passing.

The final two chapters are “Africa and the Art of the Future,” and “Asia and the Art of Storytelling,” both of which I think are the most interesting and provocative chapters in the book. Afrofuturism is given its time to shine here, a joyful chapter in comparison to the others. Edugyan also examines the far less joyful core at the heart of Afrofuturism: a continent which was brutally colonized, its history suppressed and revised, frames imagining any kind of future after that as a radical act. Conversely, Eugyan ends the book with an examination of Blackness in Asia, one that is more complex than we often have been told in again, white Western stories.

Edugyan’s lectures are excellent. A perfect blend of memoir and thought, pop culture and philosophy. They are extremely accessible and challenging, asking us to more thoughtfully consider race in our consumption of art and history. My own hype for this was actually not enough; Edugyan’s work is masterful and essential.


About the Author

A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria, ESI EDUGYAN was raised in Calgary, Alberta. She is the award-winning and internationally bestselling author of Washington Black, which was a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Man Booker Award and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize; Half-Blood Blues, which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Man Booker Prize and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize; and The Second Life of Samuel Tyne. She is also the author of Dreaming of Elsewhere, which is part of the Kreisel Memorial Lecture Series. She has held fellowships in the U.S., Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain, and Belgium. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (Sept. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 248 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487010508
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487010508

This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

The Blue Moth Motel by Olivia Robinson

The one comparison that came to mind repeatedly as I read The Blue Moth Motel by Olivia Robinson was how it reminded me of Miriam Toews, which is high praise! But also because it had very similar themes: two sisters, unconventional childhood, a strained relationship in adulthood. The Blue Moth Motel is a delightful book, and though it’s not entirely happy or conclusive, it’s a cozy, complicated story about family and the dysfunctions even the most loving ones have.

Iris is attempting to pursue a career as a singer in England when she receives devastating news from her doctor: she has nodules on her vocal cords and must immediately stop singing or even speaking, to see if total rest will solve the problem for her. Suddenly unable to work two of her jobs, Iris is anxious about what she’ll do for money. She’s not ready to move in with her girlfriend Julia yet, though it would help – and arriving with her own personal devastation is an invite from her sister Norah back in Prince Edward Island. Norah is reviving the summer Blue Moth Extravaganza, a party they held as children every year at the Blue Moth Motel, to celebrate the anniversary of the moths’ arrival. Iris is surprised and then dithers over whether or not to go, sinking back into her memories of their childhood.

Norah and Iris grew up at the Blue Moth Motel, where their mother Laurel worked and was owned by their grandmother Ada. Laurel’s partner, Elena, also worked there, and they lived on the property. Shunned for being a bit odd and living at the weird motel, Iris and Norah are each other’s playmates, confidantes, and best friends. Iris is more outgoing, while Norah is shy and mysterious. Their childhood is strange but loving, the motel their playground, their imaginations transforming it. And yet while Norah’s dreams were smaller and she never left PEI, Iris wanted more than anything to escape the only place she’d ever known. When confronted with the possibility of going home, she hesitates, because despite the happiness she had there, it was still confining.

And this is what I think is most masterful about The Blue Moth Motel: Robinson brings together all of the conflicting character emotions and layered relationships into a loving, gentle, compassionate novel. I was drawn into their family, the wonderful shabbiness of the motel, and the idyllic summer days on PEI. This was an immediate classic in my own collection, and I’m so happy to have read it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!


About the Author

Olivia Robinson is originally from the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, and currently lives in St. John’s. She completed her BA in English at UPEI and her MA in Creative Writing at Memorial University. Her work has appeared in Riddle FenceCargo Literary Magazine, and the UPEI Arts Review. In 2020, a draft of The Blue Moth Motel was shortlisted for the Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union Fresh Fish Award.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Breakwater Books (Oct. 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550819119
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550819113

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Even the Sidewalk Could Tell: How I Came Out to My Wife, My Three Children, and the World by Alon Ozery

As much as I love memoirs, and especially memoirs from those less conventional writers (those written by figures who are not well known), I always approach them with a little bit of trepidation. The things that drive people to write memoirs aren’t always pleasant, and while Alon Ozery’s memoir, Even the Sidewalk Could Tell: How I Came Out to My Wife, My Three Children, and the World possesses a fairly tongue-in-cheek title, I opened the book with some hesitation. I shouldn’t have been hesitant. While Ozery tackles the difficulty of lying to yourself, suffering from the resulting mental health issues, and the fear that accompanies major life changes with a great deal of humour, thoughtfulness, and compassion for his past self. Ozery’s memoir is short but impactful, a story about a gay man who tried desperately to live the life he thought he was supposed to have, until the box he stuffed himself into became too tightly closed around him.

Ozery tells his story through the lens of seeking lessons from it. He begins his memoir with a story about walking against a crowd of workers in New York, having all left the office at the end of the workday, and how taking three steps into the wall of people allowed him to get through – taking those steps for a path to open up to you, even if the path is unclear when you take those first steps. I’m not sure I bought all of the morals and metaphors he used in his story – Ozery is clearly a man who enjoys morals in his stories, and that’s not something I connect with well. However, the humour and light, matter-of-fact tone Ozery used to explain how he spent most of his life knowing there was something different about himself and suppressing it so deeply that he never gave voice to the thoughts until he was in his forties. The oldest son of an Orthodox Jewish father and an English mother, Ozery felt a lot of pressure to be the model child, and describes a childhood where he dealt with severe anxiety, later developing slightly more effective coping mechanisms. There is no blame in Ozery’s discussion about his childhood in Israel, his experience in moving to Canada as a teenager, and the way his life fell into the traditional pattern of marriage and children.

It is this compassion and generosity that makes Ozery’s memoir so impactful. The joy with which he tells his story and the honesty with which he explains different parts of his life: his service in the Israeli army, his work as a successful businessman running a commercial bakery, his strong family-centred relationships, and the pressures he felt to live the seemingly perfect life. When Ozery is finally able to start asking questions of himself and talk about sexuality with his therapist, you want to cheer. Ozery’s coming out as a gay man is not especially fraught, but he conveys the anxiety and fear he felt, as well as the realization that he had a supportive network all around him, once he began to reveal his authentic self. Thoughtful in its reflections, this is an excellent memoir to read for anyone who needs an example of strong self-love and care, even after a lifetime of trying to be someone else.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in Toronto and raised in Israel, Alon returned permanently to Canada at age twenty-one, earning his undergraduate degree in hospitality management from Ryerson University. He married at age twenty-four and raised three children with his wife. Alon is the Co-Founder of Ozery Bakery, a commercial bakery that sells natural baked goods across North America. He also co-owns the successful Parallel Brothers, a restaurant and sesame butter brand located in Toronto. Alon began exploring his inner self in his midthirties. He is still on that journey today.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Regent Park Publishing (Nov. 5 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 206 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1544524692
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1544524696

One Who Has Been Here Before by Becca Babcock

Set on the south shore of Nova Scotia, just outside of Halifax, One Who Was Has Been Here Before by Becca Babcock is a seasonally appropriate read: mysterious, vaguely spooky, and full of emotionally complex situations. It’s very reminiscent of Gothic literature, with a strong contemporary and a very pleasing Maritime twist (for those of us who are Maritimers and devoted to reading literature set in the region).

Emma is a mature grad student at the University of Alberta, starting work on her historical auto-ethnography involving the infamous Gaugin family, who lived on a compound in rural Nova Scotia. They kept to themselves, and ultimately, the adults were all arrested for a whole host of crimes, including neglect, child abuse, incest, and sexual assault. The children were taken from their parents and put into foster care, or other situations under the care of the province. Early on in Emma’s exploration of the abandoned Gaugin compound, we learn that she was one of those children – and this journey to work on her thesis was also a journey to answer her questions about her birth family and where she came from.

“To me, the most beautifully written parts were about Emma’s mental health and the parsing of her trauma.”

Babcock was inspired by the real-life infamous Goler clan, who were very similar to the Gaugins of her novel, and alluded to in the text: Emma mentions that the raid of the Gaugin compound was inspired by crackdowns on similar families. But those looking for a lurid retelling of the life on one of those compounds will be disappointed. Babcock instead focuses on Emma’s exploration of her past and her tentative connections with those who populated it.

There are a number of “twists” in this novel; Babcock doesn’t give away much at the beginning, though as we get to know Emma and her topic area, the twists are very easy to spot and guess. To me, the most beautifully written parts were about Emma’s mental health and the parsing of her trauma. Babcock writes these with such tenderness and a keen understanding of the pain of anxiety and depression.

Overall, while this was a novel that was easy to figure out before all the pieces had been revealed, it was compelling and sensitive. I was drawn into Emma’s journey of study and self-exploration, and even enjoyed a giggle at the fictional University of Nova Scotia, a clear stand-in for Dalhousie University, down to a description of the library that matches the Killam Memorial Library. And while the novel was not particularly spooky, story-wise, Babcock created a brilliantly dark, strange, and foreboding atmosphere throughout. An excellent fall read!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Babcock is an award-winning writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Alberta and a PhD from Dalhousie University. She often worries about being asked for medical help and having to explain she’s not that kind of doctor. She has previously published a short story collection, Every Second Weekend, and her fiction has appeared in literary magazines in Canada and abroad. One Who Has Been Here Before is her first novel.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Vagrant Press (April 12 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 280 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771089296
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771089296

Because Venus Crossed An Alpine Violet On The Day That I Was Born by Mona Høvring, trans. Kari Dickson and Rachel Rankin

Do you like challenging, experimental fiction? Do you like less focus on plot and more on meditations, philosophy, and transformation? Pull up a chair, because Because Venus Crossed An Alpine Violet On The Day That I Was Born by Mona Høvring and translated by Kari Dickson and Rachel Rankin is for you. If not, if you prefer more plot-driven novels and less time in exploring thoughts and self, you absolutely will not enjoy this novel. However, as a solid lover of challenging and experimental fiction, Because Venus was exactly for me, and it’s been a while since I enjoyed such a tightly written, magical, and thought-provoking novel. It won the 2018 Norwegian Critics’ Prize for Literature, and so it’s a delight to read it in translation – while I can’t directly compare the original Norwegian text with the English, I can say that Ella, the narrator, has a strong and unique voice, and the language use is honestly delightful. Kari Dickson and Rachel Rankin did a wonderful job in translation.

“…as a solid lover of challenging and experimental fiction, Because Venus was exactly for me, and it’s been a while since I enjoyed such a tightly written, magical, and thought-provoking novel.”

Ella and her sister Martha head to a small Norwegian village in the mountains, to stay in a hotel and let Martha rest after a mental breakdown. While Ella embraces the holiday and carefully observes their temporary surroundings with a sense of wonder and peace, Martha shows little interest in the hotel, the other guests, the hotel workers, or her sister. Ella befriends Ruth, a member of the staff of the hotel, and Dani, Ruth’s lover. Before Ella is able to realize her own attraction to Dani, Martha calls her out on it during breakfast, and after a confused argument, vanishes from the hotel. Given the gift of time and space while waiting for Martha to come back, Ella explores who she is without the responsibility of her sister, learning about her sense of self and her preferences, as well as leaving her room to explore a relationship with Dani.

This is a relatively short novel, clocking in at 142 pages. Høvring, and Dickson and Rankin, did not waste a word, bringing us deep inside Ella’s mind as she goes on this trip to the country. Ella’s thoughts and observations about the hotel and the village are funny and endearing, and we get to watch Ella gain confidence, rethink the path her life has taken so far, and take a few chances. Like I said at the beginning of this review, this is not a book for those who like a plot-driven read, but for those who enjoy a thoughtful study of a character, Because Venus will not disappoint. An excellent novel in translation.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mona Høvring is the author of six poetry collections and four novels. Her previous novels include the acclaimed Something That Helps (2004), The Waiting Room in the Atlantic (2012), winner of the Unified Language Prize, and Camilla’s Long Nights (2013), nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize. Because Venus Crossed an Alpine Violet on the Day that I Was Born won the 2021 Dobloug Prize, the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature, was a finalist for the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize, and was included on numerous critics’ Best of 2018 book lists.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Book*hug Press (Oct. 5 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 140 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771667060
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771667067

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

On Opium: Pain, Pleasure, and Other Matters of Substance by Carlyn Zwarenstein

Part memoir, part history, part policy examination, and part roadmap for the future, On Opium: Pain, Pleasure, and Other Matters of Substance by Carlyn Zwarenstein is captivating, rage-inducing, and most important of all, helpful. Zwarenstein is a regular user of opioids, a fact she explains at the beginning of the book, explaining her chronic illness and pain, her sometimes difficult relationship with opioids and getting her life back, and the use of opioids by writers in the past. Also, the people were quite dependent on weed which recently has taken a jump to the usage of CBD oils for chronic pain or stress. Today, all they have to do is merely take a tour on the web with ‘best CBD oil UK‘ or any other place, and they can get a range of CBD products that they might want to have. Coming back to our previous discussion, this first part was originally published in a slightly different form as Opium Eater: The New Confessions. What struck me most in this first section was Zwarenstein’s careful examination of her own substance use, a use which would be considered more “legitimate” by many, and how she aligns it with those “less legitimate” uses. This compassion and immediate breakdown of the line that exists between those dubbed addicts of illicit drugs, and those who begin by using prescribed opioids to treat a condition. Zwarenstein, while examining her own use, a use she admits helps her function, but also – she likes the feeling. How does that, then, make her “different” than those who use illicit drugs? In the subsequent parts of the book, she explores the history of substance use, the creation of stronger and stronger opioids, the opioid crisis, and the very personal stories of those caught in the midst of this maelstrom: substance users from all walks, prescribers, researchers, and the programs which actually work.

“Detailing the relationships she built through her research, Zwarenstein offers a blend of anecdote and evidence to pave the way for the real meat of her book, a radical solution to substance use: decriminalization and managed use programs.”

Zwarenstein demands that we stop looking at substance use through narrow windows. If someone is using a substance, whether it’s prescribed or not, they are trying to treat themselves so they can function. Detailing the relationships she built through her research, Zwarenstein offers a blend of anecdote and evidence to pave the way for the real meat of her book, a radical solution to substance use: decriminalization and managed use programs, perhaps assisted with medication that can alleviate symptoms of opiate withdrawal and the like. She refers to the mountain of evidence that indicates demonizing substance users is ineffective and punitive, as well as the pervasive idea that the only way to manage addiction is to quit the substance entirely, a practice which is not realistic for many. Some people can become clean, some require maintenance therapy with methadone, buprenorphine, or other drugs, and others would do better in managed use programs or access to safe supply. Continuing to criminalize substance use is criminalizing poverty, trauma, and marginalized populations. Zwarenstein is matter-of-fact in her examination of the social determinants of health, as her work and some of her interviewees in this book were unhoused people, who rightfully point out the many issues with many of the supports provided to them requiring them to abstain from substance use. How do you ask someone to give up the drug which is keeping them alive, in order to receive services? Zwarenstein is adamant that because her substance use is prescribed, she is white and middle-class, that hers is considered acceptable while others’ is not.

In my professional life, I engage with a lot of research on substance use and the efficacy of harm reduction, which has sealed my support for harm reduction strategies. Even so, I found this revelatory, with its comprehensive blend of story, history, and investigation. This takes the work being done across North America and packages it up for everyone from the layperson to the lawmaker to read and digest. In On Opium, Zwarenstein challenges us to imagine a world in which we toss out our antiquated, actively harmful ideas about substance use, stop thinking of addicts versus “legitimate” users, and embrace harm reduction in a meaningful way, with decriminalization and safe supply. CBC Books listed this as one of the fall’s must-read nonfiction books, and I agree. I absolutely recommend this book: its compassion, accessibility, readability, radical proposal, and examination of privilege will leave you the tools to demand better.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carlyn Zwarenstein is a writer based in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Toronto Star, and Vice. She is also the author of Opium Eater: The New Confessions.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Goose Lane Editions (Sept. 14 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 368 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773101811
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773101811

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

What Does the Wind Say? by Kamal Parmar

It seems fitting to have read Kamal Parmar’s latest collection of poetry, What Does the Wind Say? as we settle very firmly into fall on the east coast. Centred around time, memory, and the change of seasons, Parmar has put together a collection that has us walk down the path of time, watch it pass and change, and be mystified by how it gets ahead of us. Parmar layers changing seasons with an anthropomorphized Time to examine the different facets of time and how we interact with them in this collection. It’s a short collection but impactful: Parmar reflects on ageing and youth; warmer seasons give way to winter. There’s a lot of repeated imagery in these poems, though it never crosses over into feeling tired. Instead, Parmar’s poems feel familiar and cozy, examining these themes through different lenses and revisiting different tropes over multiple poems.

The titular poem is a perfect example of the thoughtful way Parmar uses seasonal images to explore emotions:

It begins to snow and I am sucked in its deep silence, 

looking for answers that never come.

Parmar is alternately kind and sharp in these poems, flatly reminding us “There are no replays here,” in the poem “Pondering,” while tenderly remembering a father in “Many years have rolled by”:

Sitting in one corner of the living room, 

is a cushioned chair that no one sits on. 

It is empty. 

It will always be empty, 

because it was Dad’s chair.

This brief but comforting collection of poems is poignant in the nicest possible way, and especially so during the COVID-19 period in which time feels very strange. A touching and mindful collection of work.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nanaimo poet and writer, Kamal Parmar has been passionately involved in writing for the last 20 years. Her genre is poetry and she has a few books, both poetry and creative non-fiction,  to her credit. Her poems are simple though poised and evocative enough to set the reader thinking. She has a number of poetry publications in reputed Canadian literary journals and magazines. She is a member of several writers’ organizations and Writers Guilds and is also a manuscript evaluator in one of them. She is currently, an active Board member of the B.C Federation of Writers, and was also Secretary of The Ontario Poetry Society, while in Ontario and has also given poetry readings in various libraries, in ON, SK and in BC.

Currently, she is an Associate Member of the League of Canadian Poets, a Board member of Federation of BC Writers and a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association as well as of Haiku Canada. She is the current Poet Laureate for the City of Nanaimo.


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

I Am the Earth the Plants Grow Through by Jack Hannan

Introspective and lyrical, I am the Earth the Plants Grow Through by Jack Hannan takes us on a cross-country trip through time, away from Montreal of the 1970s and Montreal of the present day, following a love story and an art story. Hannan sinks us into the story of Tomas and Marie: Tomas, the photographer son of a Prince Edward Island fisherman, and Marie, the engineer daughter of an Algerian immigrant, meet while Marie is married to another man, a painter. Drawn to one another, Marie ends up leaving her husband and entering a relationship leading to marriage, and a child, while also acting as a muse for Tomas. He takes hundreds of photographs of her through their lives together, including many of his most striking works. Splitting their story into two pieces: Hannan details a motorcycle trip Tomas and Marie take to Vancouver, for a gallery showing of Tomas’s work; and the present day, where Marie has since died and Tomas, at 74, is a presence in the life of David, their son; Lorca, their daughter-in-law; and Charlie, their grandson. Lorca and David lead a much more conventional life than the romantic, art-driven days of Marie and Tomas, but their story, in many ways, reflects Marie and Tomas’s.

“I am the Earth the Plants Grow Through is an unconventional adventure: it can be meandering in places, contemplative in others, and rarely shows its hand.”

Hannan creates a beautiful, evocative story, following Tomas and Marie across the country. People tend to hold road trips as a kind of “test” of what another person is really like, and during the motorcycle trip, relatively early in their relationship, Marie and Tomas explore what it means to be together and what it means to know someone else. In the present day, Lorca and David do the same: how do you know someone, what is comfort in a relationship, and when do you stop trying? While the stories of the two couples diverge, they trod down the same paths of discovery. Rounding out the family is Charlie, a boy who routinely skips school to go observe people in the world, wondering about who they are, their relationships with one another, and how they got to that place in time.

I am the Earth the Plants Grow Through is an unconventional adventure: it can be meandering in places, contemplative in others, and rarely shows its hand. It’s a window into the lives of these three generations, and how each relationship in each generation shapes the children who come out of it. It explores the reasons we love each other and stay, and the reasons we drive each other apart. Hannan’s book is quietly triumphant: beautifully written and deeply thought-provoking.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Hannan has been a hotwalker, a typesetter for Fred Louder, a bookseller, and a publisher. He is a novelist and poet who lives in Montreal, Canada, not far from the house where he was born. His first book was published in 1977, and his first novel, The Poet is a Radio, was published in 2016. His work has been shortlisted for the A. M. Klein Prize for Poetry and the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. His family knows he is either at home or will be back soon.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Linda Leith Publishing (Sept. 13 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773900951
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773900957

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Don’t Lose Sight: Vanity, incompetence, and my ill-fated left eye by Genevieve A. Chornenki

The preface of Genevieve A. Chornenki’s short memoir, Don’t Lose Sight: Vanity, incompetence, and my ill-fated left eye is a glowing ode to the visual surprises of the every day. Chornenki delights in the colours and textures of a cabbage, exclaiming in wonder about this simple thing, while her husband isn’t nearly as riveted. However, after a retinal detachment that went untreated for longer than it should have, Chornenki is far more appreciative of the things she can see after this brush with sightlessness. Exploring illness while parenting, advocating for more than herself, and walking the up-and-down journey that is managing health. Brief but frank, this is a great look at the value of sight and the challenges of taking care of it in our current healthcare system. As Chornenki points out so deftly in this memoir, we take vision for granted until we suffer the loss of it.

“Chornenki, in the space of 125 pages, explores the context of her retinal detachment: how the treatment and recuperation bled into her work, affected her ability to parent, and resulted in pressures and judgement from others who were unaware of her vision issues, pain, and active healing.”

Which brings me to the reason why I’m reviewing this book. James reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in reading it specifically, because he knows that I have a visual impairment, resulting from my own brush with an eye disease. So my review comes from the lens of someone who already knows what it’s like to live in a world with some vision loss, and what that means – which, for the purposes of this review, means that I definitely got a lot out of it, but also had to reconcile my own biases resulting from my experience while reading this.

Chornenki, in the space of 125 pages, explores the context of her retinal detachment: how the treatment and recuperation bled into her work, affected her ability to parent, and resulted in pressures and judgement from others who were unaware of her vision issues, pain, and active healing. This is a well-rounded look at how medical issues can spiral, or even what we consider to be “minimal” vision problems, can wreak havoc on your life, require years of treatment, and are always a risk. Eyesight is incredibly fragile, and Chornenki captures that lesson beautifully in this memoir.

The other major part of this memoir is advocacy: advocacy for yourself as a patient, and advocacy for others. Part of Chornenki’s story is her then-optometrist misdiagnosing her retinal detachment as migraine, leaving it to get worse and then become more difficult to repair. Chornenki ultimately decides to make a complaint, and she details the arduous and occasionally demeaning process of filing a formal complaint. Attacking this part of her story with the same pluck as she attacked her treatment and healing, was interesting, enraging, and very informative.

Chornenki describes this memoir as a “small story.” I agree with that, and I also agree that small stories are important. This was valuable to me, as a person who has vision loss, and I think would be wonderfully helpful for anyone going through something similar.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Genevieve Chornenki is a dispute resolution consultant and emerging writer based in Toronto, Canada. When she was in grade 4, the teacher noted on her report card, Has excellent story-writing ability which should be encouraged as much as possible. No one in the family noticed. Nor did first prize for poetry in high school relieve her of household chores like washing dishes and sweeping the kitchen floor. Eventually, she figured out that writing is about persistence, not permission. It also helps to have something to say. Genevieve holds a Master of Laws in Alternative Dispute Resolution from Osgoode Hall Law School, a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto, and a Certificate in Publishing from Ryerson University. Her works include Bypass Court: A Dispute Resolution Handbook and When Families Start Talking, a CBC Ideas radio documentary. Visit her at www.genevievechornenki.com or email her at gac@chornenki.com.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Iguana Books (April 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 140 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771804807
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771804806

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Flash Reviews of Four Recent Indigenous Titles by Alison Manley

(Editor’s Note: Alison Manley is one of The Miramichi Reader’s most treasured reviewers. Her reviews are sharp, insightful and honest. Besides her formal reviews for us, she also posts many ‘flash’ reviews – of books and lipsticks – on her Instagram account, @alisonburnis. I suggest you follow her! With her kind permission, I have collected several of her recent Indigenous reads here, and posted them verbatim.)


Indian in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power – Jody Wilson-Raybould

Today and every day is a good time to read works by Indigenous authors and support Indigenous artists. It’s a happy accident that my review backlog led to this title being posted today, but it’s a good one because JWR makes a lot of very salient points about the political structures and people in Canada and how they are not ready for truth and reconciliation, how they are not honest about nation to nation relationships, and how white supremacy is so baked in that change from the inside is not possible. JWR points out the work that she was able to do, but it was done *in spite* of the status quo, not because of it.

I think this was the hottest political book out there, released six days before our recent federal election? With good reason. JWR focuses on the events which led her to run for the Liberals federally, her time as Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, and the SNC-Lavalin affair, which led to her being shuffled in the Cabinet, her ultimate expulsion from the Liberal caucus, and her later run as an Independent MP for Vancouver-Granville. This offers a lot of insight into her thoughts and feelings during the 3.5 years she served as a Liberal, and the constant attempts to control her, control her staff, and the racism she faced on Parliament Hill. JWR is a proud Indigenous woman, and after reading her memoir, as well as Mumilaaq Qaqqaq’s comments on her time as an NDP MP for Nunavut: we have so much work to do to tear down these systems.

JWR is extremely readable – if you struggled with her book of speeches, this is not at all like that, and she doesn’t hold back. I recommend it if for no other reason, to examine how our government treats Indigenous peoples in the halls of power.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperCollins Publishers (Sept. 14 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 352 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1443465364
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1443465366

From Where I Stand: Rebuilding Indigenous Nations for a Stronger Canada – Jody Wilson- Raybould

Before the Canadian federal election on Monday, I decided to assign myself both of JWR’s books. (For the non-Canadians in the house, Google the SNC-Lavalin affair.) I’m much further left than JWR politically, but I do think she’s an interesting figure: an Indigenous leader, the first Indigenous attorney general, and when shit went scandalous, she stood firm in her convictions and professional expertise. This is her first book, which is a collection of speeches she gave over a ten-year period, predating her foray into federal politics, stretching to the fallout of the SNC-Lavalin affair. It is a little repetitive, as speeches by the same person can be, but JWR is clear and consistent in her arguments throughout time and provides some thoughtful solutions to Indigenous-Canada relations. Her stances have been criticized by other Indigenous leaders, but she presents them with passion and lived experience, and it is not for me to say whether she is correct. I will say she has clearly immersed herself in the issues with the Indian Act and impresses the urgency of dismantling it in each speech.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Purich Books; Illustrated edition (Sept. 20 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0774880538
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0774880534

Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality – Bob Joseph with Cynthia F. Joseph

I actually read this the afternoon before I went on vacation – this is the first time I’ve ever abused my power at work to read a book we added to the collection before processing it. I’m so glad I did. What a fantastic, practical text. The Josephs take the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and provides practical, meaningful direction on how to implement the recommendations both professionally and personally. Yes, it’s hard. But this text gives guideposts, checklists, and very simple dos and don’ts. Excellent read, incredibly valuable, and I look forward to sharing it widely at work.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Page Two Books, Inc. (May 9 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 208 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989025641
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989025642

Indians on Vacation – Thomas King

Bird and Mimi, a retired couple, are on vacation in Prague, following the last of the postcards Mimi’s Uncle Leroy sent from Europe after he ran away from home. Mimi is cheerful and excited, while Bird, the narrator, is a grumpy old man, afflicted with various mysterious ailments. Through their vacation in Prague, Bird relays their past: meeting, falling in love, breaking up, returning to one another, and the retirement of following Uncle Leroy’s trips. Uncle Leroy stole a medicine bundle when he left, and Mimi wants to track it down – while also creating a new one.

Funny and wry, not much happens but it’s hilarious no matter what. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also very pumped I found this at the thrift store – love an unexpected new release on the shelf!

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Harper Collins Canada (Aug. 20 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1443460540
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1443460545

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Essential Elizabeth Brewster as selected by Ingrid Ruthig

“Despite accolades, Elizabeth Brewster has remained at a distance,” Ingrid Ruthig writes in the introduction, explaining why she was compelled to put together this collection of Brewster’s poetry. This slim volume is short compared to the extensive bibliography of Brewster’s work included at the end, but it’s extremely effective: if I’ve ever known Elizabeth Brewster, the memory has been lost, but I do know her now – and I’m definitely interested.

Brewster, born in New Brunswick, “felt keenly the obstacles of her gender and poor, provincial background; she was excluded from male-only reading rooms, as well as from scholarships and support systems,” at the beginning of her career as a writer and scholar. Her career path, as described by Ruthig, was characterized by a long period of precarious employment before finally obtaining a position in Saskatoon – a career path that would not be out of place today. It was after she settled in Saskatoon that Brewster spent more time on her writing. However, over a span of fifty years, Brewster created an immense body of work, and Ruthig compiled a selection of poems spanning all of Brewster’s career, with a select few poems from each of Brewster’s eras in this collection.

One of the things that struck me the most while reading The Essential Elizabeth Brewster was the varied subjects and syntax, and even very different tones, but with a strong, consistent, narrative voice. The poems both felt at home within the “traditional” canon Brewster was left out of – certainly, her work is strong enough to fit in – and also fresh and modern. Brewster covers all topics, from the landscapes and nature which tend to dominate Canadian poetry, to complaining about the ephemerality of most writing, except those deemed classics, in the poem “Tired of Books”:

I don’t want to write 
literature 
the stuff students are examined on

Brewster does this frequently throughout her work: poking fun at the things one is supposed to want, and embracing those that are more suited to who she feels she is. In “When I’m Old,” Brewster cheekily states: “I shall let my hair go grey, / and I’ll eat as many meringues as I want,” before moving to the more contemplative, “And at long last I shall write / the great poem I have not yet written.”

I’m glad to have learned more about Elizabeth Brewster and her work through this collection chosen by Ruthig. Her poetry is lovely, and by shining this light on her with this volume, hopefully, Brewster will at least posthumously be given the attention and study she deserves.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Brewster (1922–2012) was part of a second wave of modernist poets who helped influence the national conversation about Canadian poetry. Born in Chipman, New Brunswick, Brewster was the frail fifth child in a family unsettled by poverty. While her early school attendance was irregular, nothing stopped her from reading, writing, and later, seeking higher education, first at the University of New Brunswick, where she helped to establish the vaunted literary journal The Fiddlehead, and then at a number of institutions including Harvard’s Radcliffe College; King’s College, London; and Indiana University. She settled in Saskatoon, and taught literature and creative writing at the University of Saskatchewan from 1972 until she retired in 1990. Brewster died in December of 2012 in Saskatoon, at the age of 90. (Image courtesy of University of Saskatchewan, University Archives and Special Collections, Photograph Collection, A-11138.)


Ingrid Ruthig, writer, poet, visual artist, and former architect, is the author of This Being (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2016), winner of the League of Canadian Poets 2017 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her work has appeared most recently in Resisting Canada (Véhicule Press, 2019) and Am, Be: The Poetry of Wayne Clifford (Frog Hollow Press, 2018). A 2018 Hawthornden Fellow, she is the editor of several books, including David Helwig: Essays on His Works (Guernica Editions, 2018) and The Essential Anne Wilkinson (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2014). She lives near Toronto with her family.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Porcupine’s Quill; 1st edition (May 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 64 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0889848785
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0889848788
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Satched: Poems by Megan Gail Coles

Satched: The state of being soaked through to the skin or caught in a heavy downpour. (from the back cover)

A couple of years ago, I read the absolutely delightful novel, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles and fell madly in love with her prose. When I saw she had a collection of poetry coming out this fall, I just had to read it. And while Small Game Hunting smacked me in the face with its extreme east coast feeling, Satched packs an even harder punch.

“This is the kind of work about our region that I identify most with: lovingly critical, demanding more of the place we call home while acknowledging the hold it has on us.”

Coles takes the trials and tribulations of living on the east coast of Canada and spins them into beautiful, reflective poems on a life in a chronically depressed economy, reliant on long-dead industries. This is the kind of work about our region that I identify most with: lovingly critical, demanding more of the place we call home while acknowledging the hold it has on us. Coles rages, jokes, and reminisces about a life in Newfoundland, originally home by birth but now home by choice.

For those who don’t connect as strongly with the east coast vibes of this collection, the work’s other themes are just as engaging. Wonderfully feminist screeds like “Lay Your Whispers on Some Other Pillow,” will resonate with many women, opening with a blunt takedown:

Please, yes 
do mansplain it to me, 
the answer I’ve searched 
my whole life to find just 
happens to be in your pants

Coles wryly examines being a woman in your thirties in this collection, the impossible pressures that society places on women, as well as the way we treat women of different ages. In “Run Bitch Run,” Coles writes:

Five minutes ago 
you were too young 
and now you are too old 
the middle place where 
you are just right 
does not exist.

As a woman of a similar age, this is a real mood. Coles tells of her adventures in home renovation and being taken advantage of by repairmen, of childhood memories, of the abusive relationship workers are locked in with the companies which come to Atlantic Canada to exploit industries and then abandon the region with environmental destruction in their wake, and the very similar, later relationships workers have with the oilfields in Alberta. She critiques the settler relationship with the land and the way climate change has made itself very apparent in our lifetimes. This is a passionate collection of poems, and I appreciated how Coles’ poems could make me laugh, cry, and nod in deep understanding, all in the same stanza.

Satched is an excellent poetry debut, full of excellent works, and at 130 pages, on the longer side for a poetry collection. I promise it is well worth your time to open the cover and step inside a proudly rooted on the east coast book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Megan Gail Coles is a graduate of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the University of British Columbia. She is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Poverty Cove Theatre Company, for which she has written numerous award-winning plays. Her debut short fiction collection, Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome, won the BMO Winterset Award, the ReLit Award, and the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award, and it earned her the Writers’ Trust of Canada 5×5 Prize. Her debut novel, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and a contender for CBC Canada Reads, and it won the BMO Winterset Award. Originally from Savage Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland/ Ktaqmkuk, Megan lives in St. John’s, where she is the Executive Director of Riddle Fence and a Ph.D. candidate at Concordia University.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (Sept. 7 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 112 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487008945
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487008949
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

The History of Rain by Stephens Gerard Malone

In 1915, in a French convent turned hospital for soldiers wounded in the Great War, Rain wakes up with a new face. Blown up in the trenches and the only survivor of his regiment, Rain is free to reinvent himself, forget the circumstances that brought him to the hospital, and begin again. His face, permanently scarred and mangled, becomes his buffer to the world, keeping him to a solitary life…but one where he finds his true talent, as a gardener. In his convalescence, Rain starts to assist the old caretaker of the grounds at the hospital in crafting a garden and restoring the grounds. This is only Rain’s first garden: the book follows Rain across continents and countries, to different gardens he shapes, garnering attention for his art. Through all of this, Rain longs for Lily, a girl he first saw through the window at the hospital. Rain and Lily’s lives remain intertwined over the decades, from the convent-hospital to the sets where he builds gardens in Hollywood toward the end of his life. And despite Rain’s undying love for Lily, she sees him only as a friend and rescuer.

“Malone doesn’t waste a word here: the novel never feels rushed or draggy, each sentence is measured and contributes to the story.”

This is a sprawling novel, covering a lot of ground and time in what feels like too few pages for the scope of the story. However, Malone doesn’t waste a word here: the novel never feels rushed or draggy, each sentence is measured and contributes to the story. Rain is a sad character, clearly suffering from unresolved trauma from WWI, but is able to mask it with his devotion to the creation of beautiful gardens and his burgeoning success over his life, which brings him wealth, as well connections to movie stars (the fictional Lena Lines, clearly an amalgam of the big stars of the early 1950s). Rain is someone who things happen to, rather than someone who makes things happen, and this can be frustrating as a reader: you see him being used and mistreated by other characters, as well as dealing with the pain of his unrequited love for Lily. Rain is an easy character to love but not an easy character to watch.

I enjoyed The History of Rain very much. Despite its WWI opening and its WWII later setting, this isn’t a classic war novel, following the soldiers or other workers in their lost youth. Rain’s injuries and scars are a matter of course, the payment for shedding his previous identity and following the path where his gardening skills take him. The novel whisks Rain through several settings and depicts the ways we can be changed by our environments, while other parts of us remain the same. An unconventional portrait of an artist, The History of Rain is a quietly moving novel.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephens Gerard Malone was a child of military bases and once wallpapered a Toronto apartment with publishers’ rejection letters. He’s the author of five novels, including Big Town, (Nimbus Publishing/Vagrant Press). His novel of rural angst, Miss Elva, was shortlisted for the Dartmouth Book Award. While the world-renowned gardens in The History of Rain may be fabulous, his is not. Stephens writes in Nova Scotia with his chow chows, living and remembered.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nimbus Publishing (Sept. 14 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 232 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771089792
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771089791
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved