Tag Archives: Depression-era

Finding the Daydreamer by Estella Kuchta

Finding the Daydreamer opens with Annabelle and her three-year-old daughter Katie on the run. It is nighttime.

Night blurs the edges of things, like cold and fear. Blankets and air. Thought and premonition. The ghosts of glaciers came down from the mountains. They drifted into the valley, rippling over the wild grass and fiddling with skeleton leaves in the moonlight.

She reaches for the comfort of her rifle, aware that grizzlies, black bears, moose, and cowboys all present a danger. She says, “… who can sleep with one hand on death?”
Annabelle says, “I’ve not started at the beginning. Time ties itself in knots. The middles of stories lead to beginnings. Beginnings loop through to ends. One can lose their way in remembering.”

The narrative returns to the events that preceded their flight. It is the Depression. Annabelle lives with her husband Hugh and daughter at an isolated ranch in the wilds of Cariboo country in central British Columbia. Ranch life is made harder by Hugh’s cold and threatening nature. But Annabelle is a dreamer, and “When the beef is tasteless, the feet are achy, and the ill mood of a husband sends a chill, [she] simply drift[s] away.” She allows herself to dream of a new life when there is an immediate and mutual attraction between her and a cowboy who comes to work on the ranch: “I’m like a moth moving toward some undetermined source of light. No plan. Just blindly drifting forward.”

Then she catches Hugh in a brutal act, and he attacks her. She tries to come to grip with the escalating situation, reflecting:

This is an old story. Its tattered pages lay scattered all across the country. Perhaps across all countries. Tucked under mattresses. Patched over ripped nightgowns. Folded like a bandage under a scarf where no one can see. This old story says truth doesn’t matter. In the wake of abuse, silence becomes the new language. Many are forced to speak it. This old story says there is no story. This old story says forgive and forget. Other women do it.

Annabelle knows she can’t do it. She and Katie must escape. Her romantic attraction seems validated when, in true Western fashion, the cowboy rides to the rescue. But Annabelle learns again that nothing is what it seems and that she must rely on her own instincts and abilities to save herself and Katie from Hugh who is urgently pursuing them. Suspense mounts as Annabelle encounters human and animal perils challenges from the land and her own frailties. When she encounters the Xat’sull – Shuswap people, she learns of the horror of residential school. One of the many pleasures of the book is Katie who is remarkably astute and verbal for someone so young.

Kuchta’s language is so lyrical, poetic and evocative that a reader might easily immerse in the simple enjoyment of her words. That, however, would do a disservice to the story as the author skillfully depicts the Cariboo – a place dear to my heart, life on a ranch, cattle drives, the struggle between dreams and reality, and the constraints placed on women by men.

Annabelle’s romantic nature leads to my only quibble with an ending that seems too easy and a little too perfect. That aside, Finding the Daydreamer is a highly enjoyable read.


Estella Kuchta is a writer, researcher, and postsecondary instructor in Vancouver. She also has the distinction of having lived on an isolated mountaintop for two years with no electricity while raising her infant son. Her creative writing and journalism projects have been published, aired, and broadcast in newspapers and literary magazines, and on radio and TV in Canada and the United States.

  • Publisher: Elm Books; 2020
  • ISBN: 9781941614-32-7
  • ISBN: 978-1941614327
  • Pages: 230

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Patricia Sandberg
Some Rights Reserved  

Radiant Shards by Ruth Panofsky

I could count the number of times I’ve read a complete poetry book in one sitting on a single digit. Until now. Ruth Panofsky’s Radiant Shards not only allows a single-sitting read but almost demands it. A sectioned story of fact and speculation, this suite of poems is well-researched yet comprised of fabricated insight that (I like to believe) must be accurate. This is an author who knows her subject intimately, adding poetic artistry that, poignantly paired with historical photos in black and white, creates an enrapturing, ekphrastic-adjacent feel.

“Panofsky’s poetry reads like narrative prose, thus the story-time readability, the gradual revealing of a fully developed character, and our desire to know what comes next.”

Panofsky’s poetry reads like narrative prose, thus the story-time readability, the gradual revealing of a fully developed character, and our desire to know what comes next. As a reader, we’re granted predominantly unobstructed views aboard a depression-era trolley-like ride through Winnipeg’s North End. I can relate in more ways than one, this being my dad’s hometown, a time and city I know well, ethnic blocks and pockets of grit. Not to mention a sex worker buddy – their journey, while unique, unfailingly familiar – who I’ve written with. Following a prompt to share something funny, something personal, with a blush he/she told the story of their most embarrassing moment – dozing off on the job, mid-job. Their second most embarrassing moment? Waking up, after dozing off on the job, mid-job. Finding levity (and strength) in situations that could break others.

Within this neighbourhood Panofsky directs our windowed ride through Hoda’s childhood, family, loss, hardship, choices or lack thereof, parenthood, a youngster and woman’s survival. It would be wrong to break the fluidity of this work, so instead I share a sequence of passages in their inherent, seamless flow.

Our Prologue:

As I walk / the North End / streets / Hoda’s body / the pitch / of her voice / beckon // Soon / I find myself / yielding / to her rare / dignity / compassion / and grace

Beginnings:

Fatso cow / the kids call me / cracked too // but I know better – / my body sparkles / my mind stirs // let them jeer – / I say nuts to them

Initiation:

Hodaleh, Hodaleh / Daddy calls / his voice // nearly breaks me / he is gentle / I betray his trust // easily / sleep with boys / in the adjacent room // and pretend otherwise / I do it for him / to earn our keep // and make him safe / by my side / in my sight

And Renewal:

His words / and will / strengthen / my resolve / against the / bullying torment / that rises anew / in Daddy’s hallowed North End.

While structure allows fluent absorption of this work, Panofsky’s content – words, style, structure – pull us through this time, this space, and this story of resilience in such a way we FEEL our heroine’s strength, determination, caring, need, and yes, pride that makes an individual – real or imagined, relatable. This is a project of passion shared in a rich, engaging manner. I’m left pulling for a person I’ve never met, but perhaps now know.

***

About the Author: Ruth Panofsky is an award-winning poet who lives and writes in Toronto, where she teaches Canadian Literature and Culture at Ryerson University. She is the author of Lifeline (2001) and Laike and Nahum: A Poem in Two Voices (2007), which won the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award. Radiant Shards: Hoda’s North End Poems, her third volume of verse, received a Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Research Award.

About the Reviewer: Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of WIBA Finalist Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Dromomania: A Wonderful Magical Journey. His Indie Folk CD is Studio 6. Bill’s poetry, articles and columns are published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. When not trekking the globe with a weatherproof journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making friends and misbehaving. https://www.amazon.com/author/billarnott_aps

Title: Radiant Shards: Hoda’s North End Poems
Author: Ruth Panofsky
Publisher: Inanna Publications, May 26, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-77133-757-1
Pgs: 128 pp

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Lay Figures by Mark Blagrave

The literary figure of the flâneur is a symbol of urban observation. Made popular in the 19th century, the flâneur is a man of leisure who wanders through the city and watches as he walks. He attempts to understand life in the city and the feelings of alienation that can come from such a life. He is often an artistic figure who attempts to portray the dynamism of modern life through a direct engagement with his environment.

Elizabeth MacKinnon, the protagonist of Mark Blagrave’s novel Lay Figures, is a kind-of flâneuse. Though lesser-known than her male counterpart, the flâneuse also bears witness as she journeys through her city. She observes. She is immersed. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf, one of Elizabeth MacKinnon’s noted idols, the flâneuse shakes off the feminized domestic realm and begins “street haunting” as a way to interact with her surroundings.

There is certainly a ghostly essence to Elizabeth’s journey. She walks up hills and crowded staircases, through parks and around Mount Pleasant, and crosses bridges that offer access to “neither one place nor the other.” As she walks, readers not only get a sense of her own outlook and opinions but also a feel for the vitality of a complicated Maritime city. Stately homes, small art studios, run-down apartments, brush factories, Provincial hospitals, and public libraries all comingle in her world. In many ways, Elizabeth is both an outside observer and an active participant in the events of the novel. Like the lay figures of the title, she is an autonomous being yet often feels moved by unseen hands.

We learn early on that Elizabeth has relocated to New Brunswick in the late 1930s. Almost by chance, she is absorbed into the artistic community in Saint John and unites with an eclectic mix of actors, playwrights, painters, poets, and potters. The various artists that comprise her community are unconventional. Serious painters like Frank Gray work alongside erratic actresses like Suzanne Packard. Some of the characters are more fully formed than others, but the narrative effectively balances depictions of this community, Elizabeth’s consideration of her artistic process, and the struggles of the Depression-era.

Lay Figures is beautifully written. Blagrave’s prose flows easily and is full of robust descriptions of both the cityscape and landscape. If a reader has ever been to Saint John, it will be easy to conjure up the smells of the city, the red brick facades, the encroaching fog, and the tension between the area’s natural beauty and its industrial infrastructure. Perhaps more importantly, readers who have yet to visit Saint John will not be at a loss. Blagrave’s descriptions are evocative and vivid, enveloping readers in sensory language as we move with Elizabeth to various locations.

While the numerous literary, artistic, and mythological references get a bit dizzying, the research put into the novel is impressive. Readers get enough detail to get a feel for the places and the people at the heart of the narrative, without feeling bogged down by contextual material.

Above all, Lay Figures provides a fascinating look into what Blagrave rightly labels “the under-sung city of Saint John.” In his note to the reader at the start of the novel, Blagrave writes of his “ongoing love affair” with the city, and his passion and commitment shine through. Saint John comes alive as characters “ponder what it means to be looked at and to do the looking.” In differing ways, readers are left to consider who ‘owns’ Elizabeth’s narrative – both the novel itself and the pieces that she inevitably writes. Although the ending leaves some lingering questions, Lay Figures offers a captivating commentary on art and creation, love, lust, and betrayal, social disparity, and the cultural history of the Maritime region.

Lay Figures has been added to the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Fiction and for Best Cover Art.

Lay Figures by Mark Blagraves
Nimbus Publishing

Paperback: 272 pages
ISBN-10: 177108832X
ISBN-13: 978-1771088329

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This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved