Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Canadian Book Challenge (#42, #43, #44)

You'll just have to take my word for it that I finished on time (4 PM on June 30th) for this year's Canadian Book Challenge. I had one province (New Brunswick) and one territory (Nunavut) left and was pleased with exactly one of the two. Here we go:

#42 - The Lost Highway - David Adams Richards

I don't know why I do it to myself. Keep reading Adams Richards, that is. I know he's a lauded Canadian author who's won piles of prizes and even more acclaim, but his work is just not for me. This book was beyond hard to get through and I wouldn't have finished it had it not been for the challenge. The repetition contained within his writing style makes me crazy. It's as if he finds two or three key elements to each character and continually reminds the reader of them over and over again as the novel progresses. One part murder-mystery, one part typical East Coast depressing drama, and two parts nothingness jammed in to fill up the pages, The Lost Highway is about a warring rural New Brunswick family (there's a shock) living in a town that pretty much runs the length of, you got it, a road.

The patriarch, a misery of an old man named Jim Chapman, metes out punishment to all around him, including his bumbling, quasi-lost nephew, Alex. A former student of philosophy who can't seem to do anything right, Alex gravitates from hating his uncle to loving his uncle, from brash irresponsibility to regret, from whimsical romance to stalker, from bumbling fool to calculating criminal throughout the novel. And every five minutes, we get a lecture on what it means to be ethical from the "narrator" who makes a confusing appearance at the end of the novel. I found the setup to be preposterous, the writing tedious, and the story unbelievable. I was captivated for about fifty pages somewhere in the middle of the book where the action heats up, but for the rest of the time I plodded my way to the end trying to find any spare moment so I could just get through the damn book. I know I like to find good things in every book I read, and I just need to remind myself that it's not that Adams Richards isn't a good writer, it's just that his books are for another kind of audience (that doesn't include the likes of me).

Alas, but all pages do lead somewhere and so I cross New Brunswick off the list.

#43 - Unsettled - Zachariah Wells

Wells's undeniably charismatic and utterly engrossing book of poetry, unlike the above, held me tightly all through my reading of it. I spent most of Monday with my nephew, a gregarious, spirited little guy who kept me on my toes all day (and who refused to nap). And even though I was tired, I sat down and read the entire book in one sitting, and then went back and re-read a lot of the poems a second time because I liked the titles so much. Having never been to the North, I think the part of his poetry I enjoyed the most is the clash between how you imagine the landscape to be and the writer's human interaction within it. I also enjoyed the "freight" poems and could definitely see the Milton Acorn comp from the book's back blurbs. His talent feels raw but the words are obviously chosen very carefully, and that's my favourite kind of poetry, pieces that feel tossed off by the tips of ingenious fingers that read so easily but you know there were most likely draft upon draft before the author came to the final incarnation. All in all I can't say enough how powerful I felt the poems to be and if I hadn't left my copy at home I'd put in some quotes (to be added later).

Huge props to Kate S. for suggesting it and super kudos to Insomniac for sending it priority post so I could take care of Nunavut by the Canada Day deadline.

So that's it for this year! Now I have to do some thinking about next year's challenge, which is technically now this year's challenge because it's July 3rd today. So. Yeah. Thirteen more Canadian books by this time next year. What to do, what to do.

I do think I'm going to count Night Runner as my first (it's a YA novel we're publishing this fall that I read on Canada Day eve and Canada Day after finishing Unsettled) because it's a book I just adored from start to finish (#44). Anyway. An entire list tk.

1 comment:

John Mutford said...

I believe you!

Good job, and I love that you ended with Unsettled. I really love that collection as well.