Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Had The (Worst) Time Of My Life

It all started off so well. My dad surprised me at the cottage. My RRHB's van broke down so the tour was cancelled. Plenty of people were around for my birthday and I had managed a delicious dinner with veggies and herbs from my Recession Garden. And then it all went way, way down hill from there. I'm unwell, so here's the list, and here's a warning that it's a little graphic:

1. I started throwing up at about 10 PM. We were up at my aunt's cottage, the elder generation imbibing, and I went back to my grandmother's cottage because I was feeling so unwell. And then I couldn't stop throwing up. My brother took me to the Campbellford hospital around midnight, and I spent many hours barfing and being in massive amounts of pain. They couldn't figure out what's wrong: ran some blood tests, did an x-ray, and made me feel a bit better by the time I left. 

2. We got home from the cottage (on my actual birthday) and everything started up again, well, actually, I didn't barf again, so that was something. But I have never experienced that much pain in my life. Not when my tragic hip was acting up, not when I had hip surgery, nothing was like the pain in my stomach. It lasted all night.

3. The next morning my RRHB called our family doctor, whose offices are at Toronto Western. She saw us for about 30 seconds before she sent us down to Emergency.

4. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. While we waited almost three hours to make it to the "Rapid Assessment Zone." The ER doc called my Super-Fancy Disease Doctor who also works out of the Western. He told them to do a CT scan. That's when they discovered that my appendix had ruptured. Numerous doctors came by then: my SFDD, a few interns, a different ER doc and a surgical intern who told me they don't usually operate once the appendix has already ruptured; they treat you with antibiotics and see how you do. That's when I asked for more morphine.

5. The actual surgeon came to see me and said with the Wegener's being active and with the suppression of my immune system, they can't leave the organ in my body. So, surgery is back on. 

6. Surgery is scheduled for "as soon as possible." They prep. I pee. And have more morphine. My RRHB calls our loved ones and let's everyone know what's going on. 

7. I go under the knife at about 9 PM on Monday night. The day after my birthday. I never like waking up from anesthetic. Oxygen up the nose and three incisions are my presents. 

8. The next morning the surgical team comes by to see me. He's excited: "Your appendix was BLACK! BLACK!" There was some pus on my liver and leakage all over my bladder. This was what was causing the pain. When the head surgeon came to see me later on that evening, she said that my organ was "terrible." That it had actually turned gangrenous, built a wall around itself, but was leaking, and the pain not being in the typical place confused everyone. What saved my life? My SFDD telling them to get a CT scan. That's why he's SFDD. 

9. I spend a miserable night in hospital next to a snoring and painfully uncomfortable old guy and get no sleep.

10. They send me home (it's now Wednesday) and it's marvelous to be not in the hospital. I'm bloated, in pain, and myriad other things but at least I can watch TV and walk around when I feel like it.

Happy birthday to me.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I Have Not Disappeared

But I'm out of town this weekend and have been stuck in conference the past couple weeks. However, I have read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Julie and Julia, and The Strain. So, loads to review. Next week things should calm down a little and I'm going to squeeze in some TRH updates.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Obsession

As if I needed another reason to be obsessed by all things French (and the idea of living in Paris one day). But, sigh, this film looks so very, very good:



And we're publishing a huge Coco Chanel biography in the fall that I'm also chomping at the bit to read. Until then, I guess I'll just have to listen to more Edith Piaf.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

#37 - The Winter Vault

I'm a bit late finishing up my Canadian Book Challenge this year (technically I finished on July 4th, but that's entirely the wrong birthday). Anne Michaels's The Winter Vault represents the last title in my "For the Ladies" theme that I was working within. Like so many of the books that I read over the course of the year, I found the writing strong and engaging in The Winter Vault. But I also have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this novel. In a sense, I can't decide whether or not I love it or find it extremely frustrating. Maybe I'll come to a conclusion at the end of this review.

I purposefully started reading the novel on June 30th. Knowing that we had Canada Day off, and knowing that I am a fairly quick reader, I figured that I'd have no trouble finishing it by sundown on July 1st. But the novel didn't grab my attention as I thought it would, the plot didn't seem to shake itself out early enough to pull me in, and the dialogue felt more like philosophical treatise than how people actually talk. Yet, every few pages there would be a sentence that would stop me in my tracks in terms of its beauty, its innovation (word use) and its utter writerly-ness. The story feels simple at first glance: a young couple who meet accidentally find themselves in Egypt during the building of the Aswan Dam. Avery works as an engineer and Jean has accompanied him. While there, a tragedy threatens to overwhelm them both as a couple and as individuals. Back in Canada, they attempt to put their lives back together, each in different ways, and suriviving becomes more about recognizing their bond as much as what separated them in the first place.

There are so many important parts to this novel. That Michaels imagines and integrates the loss of community, of culture, of landscape in terms of the pulsating forward motion of society into the novel is commendable. That she makes the setting of the beginning of the novel so foreign (Egypt) and the people so familiar (Canadian/British "colonial" interlopers with a heart) instills a political discussion of what progress actually means. It's heartbreaking for Jean to experience the loss of the displaced Egyptians, the Nubians whose culture had remained by the river for thousands of years, as the river swells up to create the power that will charge an entire country. It's thought-provolking for Avery to participate in the moving of the giant pyramid, recognizing the irony of destroy and saving culture at the same time. These discussions that the book seems to have through its characters, through their long rambling conversations, are so typical of the genius of Canadian literature. Of our writers' ability to insure that issues are crafted as parts of a story and are separated and exposed from more than one point of view, this is something I respect very much in terms of Michaels' The Winter Vault.

However, unlike a truly brilliant book like Camilla Gibb's Sweetness in the Belly, some of the overarching socio-political discussion gets lost because it isn't integrated well enough into the characters and/or the pacing of the novel. Great, vast swaths of text are narratively separate and sit outside the experience of Avery, Jean, and then later Lucjan (a man who befriends Jean while she and Avery are separated). There's no consistency of story within the text, and while the central relationship between Avery and Jean, their marriage, their love, is what binds everyone together, it might have been even more interesting to have them actually experience the more political parts of the novel. They seem apart from the action in a way, and even though they are there in Egypt, their personal experience in a sense seems beyond the more political observations the narrator makes on their behalf.

And this brings me to my last pickle: the dialogue. I had a conversation with a co-worker last week who fought vehmently for the side that people do exist in the world who are as intense and thought-provolking as Jean, Avery and Lucjan. That they do speak in two-three page long solioquays that underscore the meaning of life and the essence of human interaction -- all the time. But I'm not sure I agree. I will forever harken back to something a teacher once told me: "dialogue must seem ordinary but not be ordinary." Anne Michaels writes conversations that feel extraordinary -- long, rambling passages that feel like philosophical dialogues more than pure discussion. They seem to lecture rather than actually converse and each character remains alarmingly introspective. Their stories come out slowly, revealing the characters over time, instead of having the dialogue move the plot forward. This is not a fast-paced novel. It's a slow read, a book that forces you to pay attention to its details, to its every word.

All in all, I think I'll continue to sit on the fence about this book for a few more weeks. The Winter Vault is a novel worth studying, worth maybe even reading it alongside In the Skin of the Lion to see how the two compare (I really felt as though Michaels was writing back to Ondaatje with this book), and worth every moment of the time it'll take to read it.

READING CHALLENGES: The final book in this year's Canadian Book Challenge! Now I just have to think about what I'm going to read this year. Bestsellers? YA? Classics? I don't know! What books are your list? Any suggestions?

WHAT'S UP NEXT: Currently reading Guillermo del Toro's utterly spooky The Strain.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

TRH Movie - Public Enemies

There's always one big movie, like that one big book, that I get almost too excited about. We could make the obvious, cliched observation that I'm like a kid at Christmas -- big stars, great supporting cast, interesting story, something really worth going to see on opening day. This should be my first clue -- nothing ever lives up to the hype, and I always find myself a little defeated after closing the covers or exiting the theatre (see The Little Stranger). Today I half-made my RRHB go see Johnny Depp in Public Enemies. I mean, on the surface, it had everything that a great summer blockbuster should have, and still, after leaving the Queensway two and a half hours after we sat down, I'd have to say the best thing about the whole film was seeing the super-cute trailer for Julie and Julia.

Wait, I'm exaggerating.

But only a little.

Michael Mann seems to have fallen in love with the whole "modern" (or would we say "post-modern"?) style of film making so influenced by the Bourne series. Quick cuts, extreme close ups, hand-held camera shots, all meant to employ a frenetic sense of action on screen. Yet, I think he's so intent upon capturing the moment in fragments that he actually sort of lost the movie. There's little plot and what there is remains terribly contrived (bank robber gets caught; escapes; robs; gets caught, etc) throughout.

The film lacks the nuance of Bonnie and Clyde, the intelligence of The Usual Suspects, and especially the engaging, epic nature of a great film like The Untouchables. There's flash, there's gunfire, there's a pretty girl and a handsome man, but the most interesting aspects of the story, the evolution of the FBI, the cat and mouse chase between the agents and the criminals, all sort of get lost in the muddled cut and paste of yet another shot of someone's fingernails.

The actors don't do much because you can barely see them. And when you do, the dialogue is so stilted and awkward, and let's face it, bad, that the story doesn't seem to advance in any kind of rational way. The film's all about hard punches when it should be about the dance -- and I have to say I lost interest well before we even hit the second act. There were things that I liked, like I said, the film could not have attracted a better cast (the performances are solid); and there's just something about a gangster picture that gets your blood pumping. The excitement of knowing that eventually something's going to go terribly wrong and films are always more interesting when things go awry than when they move slowly toward a conclusion.

But capturing your attention and holding it are two different things, and Mann simply can't move beyond the style to create something substantial. Strike one for my excitement today. Now I'm just waiting for Where the Wild Things Are to let me down. It won't right? There's still hope for Max.

EDITED TO ADD: WOW, I can't believe I left this post sit for two days and didn't spell check. Ack.