Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bird Eat Bird by Katrina Best, etc.

Do you like funny things that are also secretly serious? And stories? And stories that are funny and secretly serious? I do. Which is why I gave Katrina Best's Bird Eat Bird such a positive review in the latest issue of Broken Pencil! Follow this link to read the review. It includes words like 'indelible' and 'panache.'

Speaking of Best, I'm also doing a profile on Katrina, which is very past deadline. I'll have it done eventually, and when I do I'll post some of it, all of it, or a summary of it on here. Katrina Best is a cool person. Trust me. And funny.

On the subject of funny books, I also reviewed two books that aren't really funny for past issues of Broken Pencil. The reviews are below.

You should still read those books, too. Not everything has to be funny.


Isobel and Emile

In the opening pages of Isobel and Emile, poet Alan Reed's debut novel, the eponymous characters wake up, get dressed and go to the train station. While Emile hops on a train, Isobel stays behind, assuming squatter's rights over her now ex-lover's apartment and the menial grocery store job he left behind. After arriving in Montreal Emile reconnects with Nicholas, an old friend who silently offers Emile a place to stay, and Agathe, a sultry scenester who arranges to have Emile's short documentary film about marionettes debuted at a local cinema.

Readers accustomed to narrative dynamism will be disappointed by what they find in Isobel and Emile, a short novel where something as simple as the unloading of cabbages can span several pages. Consider this, one of many scenes in which an aimless Isobel feels trapped in Emile's old apartment: "Her dress is on the floor by the bed. She walks over to where her dress is. She bends down. She picks it up. She puts it on the bed. She looks at her dress lying on the bed." Here, as elsewhere, Reed strives to make the subtle act grand, training his lens on the mundane in an effort to capture it from every angle. While Reed's militant commitment to the subject-verb-object sentence construction can get tiresome, Isobel and Emile manages to accomplish something quite impressive, pairing a story of two estranged lovers stuck in a rut with a strangely hypnotic, and ultimately complimentary, writing style. That combination means you'll either find Isobel and Emile tedious, repetitive and unimaginative, or the rarest of things: a thoughtful, poetic synchronicity between content and form.

Pitched as "a story of what happens after a love story," Reed's elegiac debut novel is for contemplative readers who don't mind walking in circles, provided the view is nice. (Andrew MacDonald)

by Alan Reed, $18.95, 165 pgs, Coach House Books,

[published in BP, issue 48]


Front Porch Mannequins

Rebekkah Adams' debut novel Front Porch Mannequins centers on the bleak, bruised lives of Nan, Alice and Lily, three women living in small town Ontario. The novel begins promisingly when Nan hatches a plan to improve Lily's marriage to her abusive husband by mowing him down with a car. The scene is grotesquely brilliant and, perhaps more impressive, utterly realistic -- a testament both to Adams' skillful world-building and her mastery of her characters. At the movies we'd call this kind of thing the inciting incident -- an event of such gravitas that it can't help but bring about epic narrative change. Instead of propelling the narrative forward, however, Nan's plan ends with a disappointing fizzle. Too often Adams takes extended dips into the uniformly troubled pasts of her characters: lengthy interludes that leave their present incarnations stuck, like Delane the mannequin, in the purgatory of Alice's front porch. I kept waiting for something to jolt the trio out of their communal stupor until finally, in the last 30 pages or so, the discovery of a severed hand precipitates the solving of a mystery I didn't even know existed.

A capable writer with an eye for finding hope in the places we least expect, Adams handles the novel's final pages effectively, serving up a credible, redemptive ending with grace and panache. Expanded, these moments would make for even finer narrative fodder. As it stands, they are too little, too late, making Front Porch Mannequins a commendable, though flawed, debut. (Andrew MacDonald)

by Rebekkah Adams, $16.95 176 pgs, Signature Editions PO Box 206, RPO Corydon, Winnipeg MB, R3M 3S7,

[published in BP, issue 47]

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