Thursday, August 27, 2009

#42 - February

Hands down, Lisa Moore's excellent February might just be my favourite Can-lit book of the year. When I read it over about 24 hours in the hospital I couldn't help but admire both Moore's storytelling abilities, how her plot drifts around like clouds but with all the purpose of the weather behind them, and her emotional resonance, how each of the characters carry their sadness and happiness around with them in almost equal measure.

In 1982, almost at the start of their lives together, at the very least within the first, happy, happy years, Helen O'Mara's husband Cal tragically loses his life in a major oil rig accident. Over the course of the novel, moving backwards and forwards from the past to the present (sometimes even within the same paragraph), Moore reveals Helen's life. How she raised her four children almost by herself, how they grow up, stay or leave, and relate to her as both a mother and then a grandmother. But the astonishing truth about the story isn't just Helen's ability to get on with her life while at the same time being utterly unable to forget Cal, it's more how she manages to fit all of the pieces in without completely breaking down outwardly.

The sharp contrast between the Helen that lives inside her mind and the reality of Helen's world ensures February endlessly (and easily) drifts between the two pulling the reader closer and closer to the character. It's impossible not to get emotionally involved with Helen's life, with the loss of her greatest love, with her difficult relationship to her equally difficult son, with the glimmer of hope when the chance for happiness comes around.

In short, I guess you could say that I loved this novel. And I can't think of a better book to start off my latest Canadian Book Challenge. That's one down. Also, I was reminded of Marilynne Robinson's equally excellent Home while reading February. They both have similar plots in the sense that a son must return home to face up to the consequences of their lives...if you enjoy Robinson's writing, you would enjoy Moore's latest.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

#41 - We Need To Talk About Kevin

Lionel Shriver's Orange prize-winning novel has been on my "to be read" pile ever since I started working at HarperCollins Canada, two point five years ago. Somehow, it always got shuffled around, whether or not I was trying to start or finish a challenge, or something flashy had caught my eye, the book remained on the pile. I guess I found the subject matter a little daunting: a mother talks through letters to her ex-husband about their troubled child, Kevin, who was responsible for a serious school shooting incident.

But once you start We Need to Talk About Kevin, it's almost impossible to put down. Shriver has a way with character that forces the reader to confront human nature head on -- both the good and the bad. There's no stereotype in Eva. She's an individual who has made her way in the world, created a successful company and lives a happy life with her husband. She's hesitant to start a family for a number of reasons: will she be a good mother, how will a baby change their lives, what will it do to her relationship, all of which seem rational when making a decision as big as whether or not to start a family. And it's apparent that it's a decision, and not an accident, when she gets pregnant with Kevin. Everything else that happens later seems to fall from Eva as a result of her inability to feel happy about the birth of her son. It's not as if she blames herself but more that she's working through the blame, the denial, the regret, as she sends letter after letter to her estranged husband, Franklin.

The letters are personal and they are obviously missing a bit of perspective. But that's why they are just so effective, you are in Eva's life irrevocably, and you feel her pain, are motivated by her hurt, and want to understand what went wrong almost as much as she does. I don't think you can write a book like this without laying bare the limitations of humanity in a way -- of society's ability to forgive and forget to a point that benefits those directly involved in tragedy. For Eva, she's haunted by her losses, surely, but she's also haunted by the simple fact that life doesn't end even if you might want it to, even if you believe it should. You take a step and move into a more, miserable life, but you're alive nonetheless.

Her relationship to her son, the mass murderer, is complex, difficult, aching, and utterly real. But what I loved most about my Perennial edition, was the story behind the book at the end. Apparently, Shriver (and I'm paraphrasing so hopefully I don't get this too wrong) wrote this novel really quickly and sent it to her agent at the time who rejected it entirely. The string of novels she'd written up to that point hadn't been enormously successful and when the agent refused to sell it, Shriver took it upon herself to send it to an editor friend, who ultimately (I think) published the book. Then, as we all know, it won a well-deserved Orange Prize. Sometimes a writer simply has to trust her own voice. Right?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Quick Update

After the mess of appendicitis, I'm heading up north for my final week of recovery. I'm excited to go back to work on Monday, even just for the short week that I have planned, if only because after all of this, I just need some part of my life back. I don't need my ass back and am quite happy it's disappeared, but my life, well, I honestly miss it, even the crappy parts.

Monday, August 10, 2009

TRH Reading Catch Up -- The Movie Tie-In Edition

So, I've read a number of books since I've been, well, unblogging, if we can call it that. Two weeks in the hospital and a number of weeks of recovery still to come means I'll probably read a pile more before I head back to work at the end of the month. I'm going to start with three books I finished up in July, before my appendix met its untimely demise:

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (#38): The folks at work could not believe that I had never read the Harry Potter series. I've always enjoyed the films, and the one based upon this book still remains my favourite, but figured I'd get around to the books at some point. I read it in one sitting. There's so much more to the books and there's a real sense of wonderment that gets kind of lost in the Hollywood versions.

2. The Strain (#39): While technically not a movie tie-in (yet; I can't see Guillermo del Toro not making a movie from these books), the novel is truly cinematic, both in its dialogue and its plotting. The story follows a scientist/doctor (can't remember if he's either or both), Ephraim Goodweather, as he tries to uncover the truth behind a number of mysterious occurances through his work with the Centre for Disease Control. When a plane touches down at JFK with a cabin full of very dead people and little explaination beyond a very strange coffin-like container on board that may have something to do with their deaths, Eph and his co-workers have quite the mystery on their hands. Creatures start to take over Manhattan (um, the body bags tend to do strange things when left in the fridge and that's all I'm going to say about that terrifying moment in this book) and Eph has to convince the world that there's a serious medical crisis, an infection, that's spreading across the island. Will people believe him? I guess we'll have to wait until the next book to find out for sure. It's an entertaining novel, and not my typical fare, but it truly creeped me out in places, which was fun for summer reading.

3. Julie and Julia (#40): Now this book I loved. As Stuff White People Like says, us whiteys like to read the book before we see the movie. So, when I was shopping for a 70th birthday book for my aunt in June, I picked up Julie and Julia on a whim because I knew I wouldn't be able to resist the movie. Oddly enough, this was my favourite of my three "movie" books. It's charming, delightful, well-written, entertaining and utterly engaging. Yes, she swears a lot. But it's kind of funny once you get used to it. And I loved the concept of the book and the blog; there's just something so interesting about self-met challenges. On the whole, I hope the movie is half as good as the book so I enjoy it too.

Okay, that's it for today.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Still The Worst Time of My Life

I've been back in the hospital since Friday morning with complications from the surgery. Essentially, the necrotic (sp?) appendix has caused further complications, problems that most people don't have during such a routine operation. Because of the disease, my organ tissues are sensitive, and because the appendix stayed in my body for so long being so rotten, my bowels have simply stopped working.

Graphic, I know.

1. We came back into the hospital on Friday morning after I threw up on Thursday night and then again in the AM. My body was retaining so much water that my legs were three times their normal size and my scars were so swollen and bloated they were poking out of my legs.

2. Unlike the first hellish visit, we managed to see a doctor after about an hour. They put a tube up my nose and down into my stomach because while sitting on the bed, I "projectile vomited" (as the RRHB) said pure green bile. Seriously, it looked like grass.

3. The NG tube started to suck up everything left over in my stomach: essentially any and everything I hadn't already thrown up based on two days of eating "normally" out of the hospital.

4. They need to give my bowel a rest, which means no food or water. That's been since Friday. It's now Tuesday.

5. The doctors keep saying to be patient, that it'll rectify itself and get better but we're still here waiting for my bowels to work.

6. First it was 24-36 hours, then Tuesday at the latest and now they just don't know. More tests today, I guess.

7. The surgeon who came in this morning said that he's not surprised there are these complications. I asked him, "but I am going to get better, right?" Yes, was the definitive answer but I can't say that I am not terrified every single moment I am spending in this hospital.

8.They're desperately trying to avoid more surgery, which I can understand. I don't want more surgery. But I also wish that everything with my health wasn't so bloody complicated.

9. Lessons in it can always get worse, I suppose. And we're clinging to the positives. Piles of gas in my belly means pain but also that things are working, but not completely. Piles of antibiotics means that they are killing the infection but also my poor tummy. There will be a lot of restorative yoga and healthy eating when I get out of here.

10. Still a rotten way to spend a birthday if you ask me.