Canada Reads 2009: Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards
Filed under: Canada Reads — Ibis at 9:21 pm on Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Canada Reads blurb for the book:
“When 12-year-old Sydney Henderson pushes Connie Devlin from a church roof, he makes a pact with God to never harm another soul if the boy survives.

Everything in Mercy Among the Children stems from this defining incident. After Connie gets up from the fall unscathed, Sydney goes through life in state of almost masochistic passivity and pacifism, in spite of the intolerance and ridicule he faces in his rural New Brunswick community.

Sydney’s choices eventually have consequences for his entire family, particularly his volatile son Lyle, who cannot comprehend his father’s turn-the-other-cheek attitude. When Sydney is implicated in a heinous crime in his Miramichi Valley community, Lyle decides that violence might be a more effective way to clear his family’s name.

Richards has been compared to Tolstoy for the moral questions he raises in this wrenching story. The novel is a compassionate depiction of people who struggle to endure the legacy of abuse, poverty and misfortune they’ve inherited from their parents.

Released to much praise in 2000, Mercy Among the Children was named one of the best books of the year by the Globe and Mail and Ottawa Citizen, and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize.”

Other useful links:
the Canada Reads page for Mercy Among the Children

My thoughts:
Before – This book has garnered much critical acclaim. Sometimes this heralds a good book, other times the book doesn’t live up to its hype. We’ll see which one Mercy turns out to be.

Canada Reads 2009: Fruit by Brian Francis
Filed under: Canada Reads — Ibis at 10:00 am on Monday, February 2, 2009

The Canada Reads blurb for the book:
“It’s 1984 in Sarnia, Ontario, and 13-year-old Peter Paddington is mortified. He’s overweight, has few friends and a crazy family and, to top things off, he’s just sprouted a pair of talking nipples.

When the ridicule of the bullies in his eighth grade class at Clarkedale Elementary grows too much to bear, Peter retreats into his own vivid imagination. At night, he seeks solace in his ‘Bedtime Movies’ — glamorous narratives, where he is always popular, famous and, most of all, loved. But by day, those pesky nipples won’t shut up. When they threaten to expose Peter’s innermost secrets and desires, he is forced to come up with a new plan, one that will help him finally accept himself.

Published in 2004, Brian Francis’s coming-of-age novel captures the realities of puberty and budding sexuality in living colour. Anyone who has ever felt like an awkward teenager or grown up around an eccentric cast of characters will find something to relate to in Peter’s story. This humorous and vivid take on one teenager’s life will have you laughing one instant and wincing in recognition the next.”

Other useful links:
the Canada Reads page for Fruit

My thoughts:
Before – This book was the one I was least looking forward to. An adolescent boy whose nipples talk to him? Everything about it seems unpleasant and juvenile. I’ve heard that it’s very funny so I’m trying to approach it with an open mind, but I can’t imagine that it will be a book that I think every Canadian should read.
After – This was a very quick read. Parts were somewhat humourous and I enjoyed the flashback to the 80s aspect (like Peter I was in grade 8 in 1984 too). Sometimes, especially at the beginning, I found it rather misogynistic (all the women put down by the narrator as annoying, selfish, or in the way of what he wants). It was okay, but not fantastic. Disliked the whole preoccupation with the nipples thing & the ending was particularly dumb. Not sure if I preferred this book or The Outlander.

Canada Reads 2009: The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay
Filed under: Canada Reads — Ibis at 11:22 pm on Friday, January 23, 2009

The Canada Reads blurb for the book:
The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant is a colourful, loving portrait of life in a Montreal neighbourhood, explored through an enchanting chorus of voices.

One by one, the characters inhabiting the cramped apartments on la rue Fabre emerge: Albertine, sister-in-law of the fat woman of the book’s title, who dreams of a more glamorous life; Marie-Sylvia, who runs the Arc-en-ciel restaurant across the street; Béatrice and Mercedes, two ‘chippies’ who ply their trade under the disapproving gaze of prudish neighbours; Duplessis, Marie-Sylvia’s fickle and always ravenous cat; and a number of pregnant women, who struggle to make ends meet while their men are either unemployed or away at war.

Their stories are relayed in the breezy, comic tones of the gossip the women exchange on the no. 52 Mont-Royal streetcar. Deftly translated into English by Sheila Fischman, Tremblay’s depiction of his childhood neighbourhood is fond but never sentimental. He describes the poverty in matter-of-fact detail and his dialogue is true to the district’s frank, expressive language.

Tremblay allows each of his characters to shine, and fashions a novel that hums with the hustle and bustle of everyday life in a big city.

Published in 1978 as La grosse femme d’à côté est enceinte, the novel was published in English translation by Talonbooks in 1981.”

Other useful links:
the Canada Reads page for The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant

My thoughts:
Before – I’m very optimistic about this one. My mother was born in Montreal in November of 1942, so the “fat woman” of the title might just as well be my grandmother (of course I know that she’s Tremblay’s mother but you know what I mean).
During (30.01.09) – I’m enjoying this so far, despite my general aversion to the paragraphless style. I’m about halfway through and I have a bad feeling that something awful is going to happen to Duplessis (who reminded me immediately of Mottyl, the cat from Not Wanted on the Voyage). Twice so far I’ve wanted to rap Sheila Fischman on the knuckles for saying “should of” instead of “should have”. Aaaack!
After – Loved this book. It seemed so effortless but was in fact extremely complex and multilayered. I really got used to the “megaparagraphs” and came to like the style by the end of the book. So far, it’s my pick to win.

Canada Reads 2009: The Outlander by Gil Adamson
Filed under: Canada Reads — Ibis at 10:16 pm on Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Canada Reads blurb for the book:
“Gil Adamson’s beautifully written debut novel plunges readers into the action at the outset: The year is 1903, and Mary Boulton is being chased by dogs and her vengeful brothers-in-law under a moonlit sky.

Following this gripping opener, Mary embarks on a journey from the Prairies to the southern end of the Rockies. She encounters many intriguing characters along the way, including fellow outsider William Moreland, who is based on a real-life figure plucked from Albertan newspapers.

While she struggles to avoid starvation in a harsh and unfamiliar landscape, Mary must also contend with the dark memories that threaten to overtake her mind, in this tale of survival and liberation.

The novel’s blend of historical detail and meticulously crafted, lyrical fiction has garnered much praise since it was published in 2007. The Outlander recently won the ReLit Award for best novel and the in Canada First Novel Award.”

Other useful links:
the Canada Reads page for The Outlander

My thoughts:
Before – I’ve heard good things about this book & Nicholas Campbell seems to like it a lot.
During (18.01.09) – It took a while to get into this book—I didn’t really find it interesting until the appearance of the Ridgerunner guy and now he’s disappeared again, I’m somewhat bored. I don’t really like Mary Boulton as a character and I’m not sure why the author keeps calling her “the widow”: it seems an unnecessary affectation.
(22.01.09) – Another long, dull part in the middle. More not liking the characters much. A little disappointed with the Frank Slide disaster description (I can’t help but compare to Hugh MacLennan’s Barometer Rising).
After – Well, I liked parts of this book and some of the writing, but overall I wasn’t thrilled. I’ll be quite interested to see what Campbell has to say about it. I guess I never really got grabbed by any of the characters, especially Mary.

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