A beautiful sunny cool morning is the setting for this posting as I enjoy a steaming cup of chai tea.
I read an interesting book last week, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World by Janet Cameron, a Canadian novelist from Nova Scotia who is currently living in Ireland. This novel tells the story of Stephen, a teenager growing up in the small town of Riverside, Nova Scotia, in the 1980s. His mother, Maryna, a beautiful yet shy woman, is a single mother whose husband, Stanley, left shortly after they married, when Stephen was an adolescent. Her dependence on Stephen often leads him to be cruel to her in petty ways, such as hiding her keys when he knows she will be frantically searching for them. Growing up in a small town can present many challenges. Navigating teenage years presents another whole set of challenges. Completing high school and becoming an adult can be daunting to anyone. Now throw in the fact that Stephen, a seventeen-year old senior in high school in a small town, whose father moved away years before and who has always felt like an outsider, discovers that he is in love with his best friend Mark, a guy who makes no secret about his disgust for “queers”. While Stephen is the main character, his relationships with other characters are complex and realistic, such as his strained relationship with his father, Stanley, who now lives in Montreal with his new wife and their young daughters. His friendships with Mark and fellow-outsider Lana are explored fully, and as in life, Cameron presents no easy answers to the hurdles he faces. This is a very realistic novel. While reading it, I often felt that it was a bit too long, but once I got to the last page and thought about it further, I’m not sure what could have been left out, so I guess it was just the right length. The characters were believable, the relationships complex, and Stephen’s reactions to his ever-changing situations were both frustrating and understandable, given his age, the setting, and the timeframe for the story. Since the story is told from the point of view of the main character who is a teen, this would definitely be suitable as a young adult novel, but it is also written in such a way that adults could also appreciate it. There are many references to the pop culture of the 1980’s, a time during which I, too, was a teenager, which I could understand and appreciate. I’m not so sure this book would be quite as meaningful for a reader if those references were not relevant. Having said that, I read lots of classic novels and enjoy them even though I can’t always understand the cultural references. This is Cameron’s first novel, and it is remarkable - I would recommend it to just about anyone, even teens.
And I mentioned in my last post that I had just started listening to The Serialist by David Gordon. Well, I’m not quite finished, but will be soon, so I will write about it now before I forget the details by next week‘s posting time. If you recall, it tells the story of Harry Bloch, a hack writer who receives a letter from Darian Clay, a serial killer on death row, inviting him to write his story. So far, Bloch has written plenty of books, such as porn, sci-fi, urban crime and, most recently, vampire romance novels, all using aliases (he employs his mother, Sibylline Lorindo-Gold, to pose for the photo shoots for the vampire novels, which he publishes under her name, even after her death). While this project presents misgivings, it may also be an opportunity to write something “real“, a book which he can shamelessly publish under his own name. Things get complicated when the women Bloch interviews as part of the deal he and Clay made at their initial interview start turning up murdered in circumstances remarkably similar to Clay’s original victims, calling into question Clay’s guilt. Bloch shifts seamlessly from innocent bystander to victim to suspect to detective, while attempting to uncover the truth behind these latest crimes. There are plenty of other interesting characters in this hard-boiled noir mystery, such as his fifteen-year old “manager”, Claire, the daughter of a wealthy father whom he met while working as a tutor and for whom he now writes term papers so she can finish high school, and the twin sister of one of Clay’s victims with whom he becomes involved after she discovers he may be writing a book about the killer (whose name I can‘t remember right now - that is one drawback to an audio book vs. a physical one: I can’t just “flip back through the pages” to find it). While the story itself is interesting, it is the way Gordon writes that is most remarkable. Not only is this book hilarious (and I give much of the credit for this to the narrator, who imbues each character with his or her own personality and really brings them to life), but it is insightful (Gordon, through his narrator, often offers thoughts on the roles of books and writing to readers) and creative (readers are offered snippets of some of the “novels” Bloch has written, such as chapters from a Mordecai Jones book and the latest vampire novel). It is both literary and entertaining, and I would definitely recommend this to just about anyone. This is Gordon’s first novel, and I anxiously await his next offering. By the way, I was just looking online and saw that there is a Japanese film based on this 2010 novel, which was released in June of this year - I definitely want to find out more!
And I just started reading Lionel Shriver’s latest book, Big Brother, which so far is excellent. I can’t wait to read further. More on that one next week, when I will surely be finished.
Have a great day!
Bye for now…