Review: Hellgoing: Stories by Lynn Coady

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hellgoingTitle: Hellgoing: Stories
Author:
Lynn Coady
Genre: Short Stories
Source: Purchased (eBook)

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With astonishing range and depth, Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist Lynn Coady gives us eight unforgettable new stories, each one of them grabbing our attention from the first line and resonating long after the last.

A young nun charged with talking an anorexic out of her religious fanaticism toys with the thin distance between practicality and blasphemy. A strange bond between a teacher and a schoolgirl takes on ever deeper, and stranger, shapes as the years progress. A bride-to-be with a penchant for nocturnal bondage can’t seem to stop bashing herself up in the light of day.

Equally adept at capturing the foibles and obsessions of men and of women, compassionate in her humour yet never missing an opportunity to make her characters squirm, fascinated as much by faithlessness as by faith, Lynn Coady is quite possibly the writer who best captures what it is to be human at this particular moment in our history.

my thoughts-01

Short stories have always been something that alludes me. I mean, I understand the novel and I kind of get poetry (something I never really studied in university. Give me books!), but when it comes to short stories, I felt like it took a lot of work to really extrapolate the TRUE meaning of the story. If there was a meaning. Which, in university, there’s ALWAYS a meaning.

I’m not sure if I would have picked up Hellgoing on my own, but when I saw that local author Lynn Coady was up for a Giller Prize with her collection of stories, I decided to give it a whirl. Not only do I love trying out prize-worthy books, but I also have been on a mission to really explore the depths of local talent we have here in the capital city.

Without a doubt, it’s easy to see that Lynn Coady has talent. Right off the bat, I was in love with her writing style. It’s more mature than what I was used to, but it was also very accessible. I didn’t find myself fumbling through the text and actually found myself absorbed in the stories. Shocking, right?

I think my favourite stories in the collection have to be The Natural Elements, Wireless, and Body Condom. All had very real characters and interesting studies in our actions as humans. The stories aren’t light, they’re hard and sometimes a bit crude. It can be hard to really get to know a character through a short story, but I think there are certain characters (as in my favourites listed previously) who stand out. We don’t get a lot of filler with a short story, nor do we really get a lot of backstory. Instead, we get the here and now and the story that’s happening in this moment. It’s like we’ve suddenly attached ourselves as flies on the wall of someone else’s life, if only for a brief instant.

I’m definitely interested to try out some of Lynn’s full-length works. I think she is a true local talent and definitely worthy of acknowledgement. I’d be interested to see her writing a little serious of a story — maybe something with a mix of seriousness and a bit of humour, but I’d still say that this is a good introduction to her work.

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Review: Tampa by Allisa Nutting

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tampaTitle: Tampa
Author:
Allisa Nutting
Genre: Adult Fiction
Source: Library (Hardcover)

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Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She’s undeniably attractive. She drives a red Corvette with tinted windows. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed, and devoted to her.

But Celeste’s devotion lies elsewhere. She has a singular sexual obsession—fourteen-year-old boys. Celeste pursues her craving with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought; her sole purpose in becoming a teacher is to fulfill her passion and provide her access to her compulsion. As the novel opens, fall semester at Jefferson Jr. High is beginning.

In mere weeks, Celeste has chosen and lured the lusciously naive Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his teacher, and, most important, willing to accept Celeste’s terms for a secret relationship—car rides after school; rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works late; body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods.

Ever mindful of the danger—the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind—the hyperbolically insatiable Celeste bypasses each hurdle with swift thinking and shameless determination, even when the solutions involve greater misdeeds than the affair itself. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress driven by pure motivation. She deceives everyone, and cares nothing for anyone or anything but her own pleasure.

With crackling, rampantly unadulterated prose, Tampa is a grand, uncompromising, seriocomic examination of want and a scorching literary debut.

my thoughts-01

In the genre-world of writing, I think we should add a new one: books that make us uncomfortable.

While reading is supposed to be for enjoyment, I can’t say that every single book read is written for pure enjoyment. Some books are written to make us squirm, to make us feel uncomfortable, and — most importantly — to make us want to talk to others about it. These books can be tame or they can be super controversial. Like this one.

I had initially thought I wouldn’t read Tampa, a story about a teacher who has a bit of a sexual obsession with 14-year-old boys. I mean, it just sounds a little too serious and a little too crude for me.  But then again, there’s something to say about authors who choose to write something that makes their readers squirm, something that is so outside of the box that readers are left wondering if even writing it was right or wrong.

In this book, we are DEEP in the brain of this sex-obsessed teacher. Normally, it’s not such a bad journey. I mean, the character has their problems, but it’s just sex, right? Except when we factor in the thing that triggers in her sexual obsession (14-year-old boys) and the fact that she’s a teacher, it just seems wrong.

However, while the whole thing seems like it just shouldn’t exist, I felt like it was a very interesting character study. By the end of the story I felt uncomfortable even saying that I liked the book. I mean, no one should like this kind of story, right? But I felt like the character of Celeste was done so well.

My only real qualms with the story was how realistic it actually was. I’d like to think that someone would say something about this teacher. She really couldn’t get away with these things, right? And if SHE is getting away with them, is it a safe assumption to say that there is probably someone out there exactly like her in the real world? There were certain things that Celeste would do in her classroom, or certain things she’d wear that really made me wonder WHY no one would report her. I’d like to think kids are smarter than that.

In the end, though, I felt kind of glued to these pages, kind of like watching an inevitable train wreck. You know it’s going to end bad, you know that you might get squirmy waiting for something bad to happen, but it’s going to happen either way. As I finished the last page, all I wanted to do was talk about the story to someone and tell them how wrong the whole thing was.

Be warned, though, this book is EXTREMELY graphic. If you’ve read romance novels in the past, expect something like that, but times about ten, between two people who should NOT be together. This isn’t swoon-worthy romance and sex, but rather something you will want to look away from.

So THAT is why I liked this book. The subject matter disgusted me and yet I couldn’t look away. I had to know what happened in the end. But it still kept me intrigued. Horrifying subject matter or not, I’d say that’s the sign of a good book.

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Review: Pilgrimage by Diana Davidson

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pilgrimageTitle: Pilgrimage
Author: Diana Davidson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Author (Paperback)

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Pilgrimage opens in the deep winter of 1891 on the Métis settlement of Lac St. Anne. Known as Manito Sakahigan in Cree, “Spirit Lake” has been renamed for the patron saint of childbirth. It is here that people journey in search of tradition, redemption, and miracles.

On this harsh and beautiful land, four interconnected people try to make a life in the colonial Northwest: Mahkesîs Cardinal, a young Métis girl pregnant by the Hudson Bay Company manager; Moira Murphy, an Irish Catholic house girl working for the Barretts; Georgina Barrett, the Anglo-Irish wife of the hbc manager who wishes for a child; and Gabriel Cardinal, Mahkesîs’ brother, who works on the Athabasca river and falls in love with Moira. Intertwined by family, desire, secrets, and violence, the characters live one tumultuous year on the Lac St. Anne settlement—a year that ends with a woman’s body abandoned in a well.

Set in a brilliant northern landscape, Pilgrimage is a moving debut novel about journeys, and women and men trying to survive the violent intimacy of a small place where two cultures intersect.

my thoughts-01

Thank you to Diana Davidson for sending me a copy of this book for review!

As I write this review, I’m currenly nine months pregnant, waiting for the birth of Baby Reading In Winter. In the past few months I seem to have been drawn to books that have pregnant characters or that revolve around pregnancy. Coincidence? Probably, though some of these books can be quite graphic and quite sad, though even in their beauty, I find that I’m drawn even more to stories like this, rather than finding myself getting scared from reading them.

Ever since I started to really look into local authors and what they were producing, Diana Davidson was high on my list. I loved the cover of Pilgrimage and loved the synopsis even more. There’s something about a local artist writing about history that is so close to home that is very appealing to me. Really, I just love hearing of the places I know (like Edmonton! Fort Chippewan! Jasper! Vancouver!), knowing that I could place them on a map without hesitation. With Pilgrimage, there’s a lot of talk about the weather as well, which is something most Albertans are definitely familiar with.

The story is a beautiful story. It’s also very sad. In fact, I don’t think I was too prepared for how sad the story would be (even after reading a short story by Davidson in the 40 Below anthology that pretty much ripped my heart out) and I kept saying to myself  “10 more pages, okay … another 10 pages” until I finished the book. The characters were developed well and I found myself latching onto certain ones, desperate to hear their story. Other characters drove me nuts, but were definitely a product of their time. The book deals with race, class, and status and I found that Davidson did a great job of showing all of these things in her writing.

When it came to characters, I was mostly in love with the stories of Moira and Makhesis. Moira came to Alberta with the Barretts from Ireland and Makhesis is a “half-breed” as described by Georgina Barrett (the one character I found myself loathing throughout the book). Both were so different, but had great similarity in how they were treated. I just couldn’t get enough of their stories! Davidson completely drew me in with her writing, with these two women who were seeking love and acceptance. But most importantly, this book deals a lot with fertility and how women really had no control over how fertile they were, or who actually impregnated them. This was the sad thing about the classes of this society — especially when compared to what we have available today.

It was actually quite interesting reading the author’s note at the end of the story of where Davidson’s inspiration came from. I love how a news story led her to research the history of the this part of the country and its people from a century ago.

While this book was a wonderful read, I found myself slightly detached at times, maybe because a lot of the book doesn’t deal with driving actions or dialogue, but we’re inside of the characters heads a LOT more. I don’t usually mind a lot of internal (for lack of a better word) stuff going on, but it does make the story read at a bit of a slower pace and I found myself wanting to SEE more action rather than being told of what was going on.

Regardless, this really was a book I was happy to have read — even if it hit a little close to home with some of the pregnancy and birthing events, not to mention the way that the people of this province used to be treated. It was hard not to think about that time period and want to know more about it — maybe one day I can delve a little deeper than the history I learned in school. At any rate, I’m interested to see what else Diana Davidson comes up with in the future. She really has a true talent!

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