Sunday 10 August 2014

Post during the "Dog Days" of summer...

So far this summer, we’ve been experiencing cooler, sometimes wetter, weather, which is OK with me.  During this past week though, while at the cottage, we had some hot, sultry days (“dog days”) when it was the ideal time to sit on the deck and listen to the birds, the lapping of the bay, drink tea and read.  Doesn’t that sound perfect?!  But now I’m home again, and I miss the sound of the water.  Still, tea and birdsong will be part of my days for a while yet, as I have two more weeks until I go back to work.
While I was away, I finished reading a collection of short stories by Bill Gaston entitled Juliet was a Surprise:  stories.  I am not an enthusiastic short story reader, and can recall reading only two complete collections in my adult life, The Tattooed Woman by Marian Engel and a collection by Budge Wilson, a Nova Scotia writer, called Courtship.  Anyway, I devoured the stories in Gaston’s collection, finding them simultaneously sinister, bizarre, and compelling.  Some of the plots involve a vacationing professor who encounters a young couple at his rented cabin and believes that they are plotting to attack and possibly kill him; an arborist who suffers professional crisis when he is asked to cut down a 70-foot deodara unnecessarily; an arena manager whose real interest lies in writing and submitting extremely bad passages for a romantic writing contest; a couple who go to Mexico to break up; and a pizza delivery boy who thinks he’s witnessing a magical occurrence.  All of these stories are separate, but somehow linked by the main characters’ inability to connect with his or her significant other, or with reality as others see it.  These stories are also connected by sex, and the reader encounters several adult male virgins throughout the book.  While I am familiar with Gaston’s name, I know almost nothing about him, but I am definitely interested now in checking out his previous writings, especially some of his earlier novels, as he certainly has a gift with words.
I also read The Town that Drowned by Riel Nason for my book group, which met yesterday.  I have read this novel before, and enjoyed it both times.  Based on a true story, it is a coming of age story set in the 1960s in the small town in New Brunswick where the author grew up.  Ruby Carson is 14 years old and is experiencing some bullying from other girls at her school.  Her younger brother, Percy, is “eccentric”, but possibly the smartest kid Ruby knows.  Her mother is an artist, and her father works for the government.  Already feeling like she doesn’t belong, when at a winter church skating party Ruby falls through the ice, bumps her head and has a vision of the townspeople floating by her underwater, she becomes a total outcast and is teased relentlessly by the other students and children in the town.  When it is later announced that the town will be flooded to build a hydro-electric dam, the townspeople accuse Mr. Carson of having foreknowledge of this event, since he works for the government, albeit in a completely different department.  At first people rally against this decision, then resign themselves to it and make the necessary plans to accommodate the changes, representing one of the main themes of the novel, that life is unpredictable and we must choose how we deal with the events and circumstances with which we are faced.  There is also a love story, as Ruby meets a boy from Ontario, Troy, who inspires her with the confidence to stand up to the bullies and fight back.  One of my book club members pointed out that, in the 1960s, people with eccentricities were just accepted as part of the fabric of the community, but now we have labels for everything:  Percy would have been autistic, Miss Stairs is a hoarder, and June and Linda are bullies.  Is this better or worse, to be labelled?  We were undecided on that point.  This is generally considered a Young Adult book, based on the collection in which it is housed in the public library, but it can definitely be read and appreciated by adults.  It is told in a gentle way that conveys the themes of the novel from the point of view of a teen, but like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, this novel can be read and appreciated on many levels, and by different age groups.  For example, most young adults experience bullying at some point, or at least fear being different from their peers - they all want to fit in.  Most also want to find romance, and are exploring their own gifts, whether academic, athletic, or artistic.  For adults, we may be better able to identify the symbolic aspects of the novel, such as the untrustworthiness of the government, and the dam as a necessary evil which will lead to the convenience that a new town offers.  There were so many themes and characters to discuss that we ran out of time, but let me just say that everyone loved this book, and the discussion was interesting and lively.  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good story told using a traditional structure, or to anyone who enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  And don’t be put off by the fact that this award-winning novel is considered Young Adult – you’ll love it!
Not sure what I will read next – there are so many books piled on my coffee table that I don’t know what to choose.  I’m hoping for a good, productive reading week to come.

Bye for now…

PS My group has convinced me, by unanimous vote, to change our book selection for November from Anna Karenina to Watership Down.  I can't quite understand why everyone was so reluctant to read the Tolstoy novel, but for months now, they've been dreading this selection and complaining at every meeting.  Perhaps it is due to the nearly 1000 pages of small print... anyway, like the townspeople in Nason's novel, I demonstrated my ability to change and have reassigned the selection for November, by popular vote.

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