Books Read in 2022: Five-Star Everything
Last book post! So I looked at the totality of my reading for the year. I did pretty well with my 'read more women' goal - 81 books by women out of 118, or 69%. For reading non-white women, I stopped paying attention and rather dropped the ball - 15 books by non-white women (13%), and one by a non-binary latinx author. I'm thinking I might only read black authors in February for black history month - I just found a list of black Canadian authors while I was reading about Canada Reads. This year I've actually read three out of the five Canada Reads contenders, which makes me think I should really make an effort to read the other two before the program airs in March.
I also realized I was still reading my way through the 2022 Giller Prize shortlist and it was now 2023 and I didn't even know who'd won the freaking prize. It was one of the two I haven't read yet - The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr - which I find obscurely annoying. In sum, I have assigned myself so much reading I might as well be back in school.
Two things I missed the chance to make fun of in my previous posts - in Color Blind, when the villain was monologuing at the end, she calls a character named Hank 'Hank E. Poo' multiple times. Not Hanky Poo, which would be bad enough - Hank. E. Poo.
As for one of the books I really didn't like, I almost posted the author's photo to make fun of her expression - I literally Googled "sulky author photo" to find it again - but it feels too mean, so I'm not going to. But trust me - the author photo matched the adolescent moodiness of the book.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead: Synopsis from Goodreads: Bridge is an accident survivor who's wondering why she's still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody's games—or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade? This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl—as a friend? On Valentine's Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?
For me this was the John Green novel for the early-teen girl set. Maybe some of the girls are a little more self-aware than most, maybe some of them turn a cleverer phrase than is strictly believable (not really for me, given the things I've heard from my daughter and her friends) - that is one hundred percent fine by me. Rebecca Stead just gets it, or remembers it - what it's like to be that age, the terror and exhilaration, the dangers, the sky-high stakes attached to almost everything. The longing to fit in, to figure out what it even MEANS to fit in, and then if you do, figuring out if maybe it's better not to. I read this in one afternoon in my hanging chair on the back porch, and it was delicious.
Broken Homes (Rivers of London #4) by Ben Aaronovich: Synopsis from Goodreads: A mutilated body in Crawley. Another killer on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man? Or just a common or garden serial killer? Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load. So far so London. But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans and inhabited by the truly desperate. Is there a connection? And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River?
--”In the 1950s and ‘60s the powers that be made a concerted effort to rid London of its working class. The city was rapidly losing its industry and the large numbers of servants who were needed for the Edwardian household were being superseded by the technological wonders of the age of white goods. London just didn’t need that many poor people any more.”
-"It’s a sad fact of modern life that sooner or later you will end up on YouTube doing something stupid. The trick, according to my dad, is to make a fool of yourself to the best of your ability."This is the first of this series that I've five-starred, because in addition to being a funny, imaginative, warm, thumping good read culminating in a shocking hairpin curve, it also has a thread about the whole concept of home woven through it; what home means to different people, how structural inequality impacts housing and how substandard housing affects the people living there. This was all very subtle, and I only graduallly became aware of it, but when I did it was really impressive. I feel like Aaronovich is really coming into his own in this series, the characterization and the magic system depictions have deepened and I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes next.
Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin: When the house at the end of the lane burned down, none of the townspeople knew what happened. A tragedy, they called it. Poor Rita Frost and her ward, Bevan, lost to the flames. Only Mae and Rossa, Rita’s niece and nephew, know what happened that fateful summer. Only they know about the owl in the wall, the uncanny cat, the dark powers that devour love and fear. Only they know about the trials of loving someone who longs for power, for freedom, for magic. Only they know what brought the house tumbling down around them. And they’ll never, ever breathe a word.
This was strange and beautiful - a coming-of-age story with painfully accurate and perceptive characterization, a story of love and loss and betrayal, all inextricably woven into a story of really dark and messed-up magic. The language is so beautiful I kept reading sentences over and over again, even though I was sometimes slightly afraid of what might happen if I did that one time too many.
Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher: Synopsis from Goodreads: After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra—the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter—has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself. Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince—if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning. On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra's family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.
-”The knowledge bloomed inside her like blood soaking through a bandage. Prince Vorling had picked a tiny, vulnerable kingdom who could not fight back. He had done it deliberately. He had married their daughters, knowing that he could torment them at a whim, and they would have to take whatever he gave, to keep their people safe.”-”’Oh, Bonedog,’ she said. He licked her hand and she could feel his tongue, not quite substantial but more than it had been.
‘Enough of this place,’ said the dust-wife. ‘Everyone have their souls still? Shadows still attached? Then let’s go before that changes.’”
And this one took me right back to being blown away by this author after that small bobble with the mushroom book (fungi are really having their moment, people. I literally finished a book about an evil fungus-related empire and then my husband started watching The Last of Us and guess what the first few minutes are all about? I don't even like mushrooms, but I'm starting to feel like I need to be nicer to them).
This read like an instant classic to me - it was so beautifully inventive and yet I felt like I had known this story my whole life. It has all the fairy tale tropes - impossible tasks, godmothers, kings and queens and evil princes, and a wonderful dog made of bones. And magic, of course. It also has a feminist overlay, witty dialogue to spare, fantastic characters (god I love a ragtag band of misfits) and basically I loved every word of it. I intend to buy it and keep it forever, or more likely, buy it and keep giving it away and buying it again.
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward: Synopsis from Goodreads: This is the story of a serial killer. A stolen child. Revenge. Death. And an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street. All these things are true. And yet they are all lies... You think you know what's inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you've read this story before. That's where you're wrong. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, lies something buried. But it's not what you think...
Okay, so the synopsis is dead on here. I DID think I knew, and I was wrong, and nothing was what I thought, in the coolest possible way. Last night I was reading back through the Best Horror of the Year book and discovered that one of my favourite stories in it was by this author, only I didn't know her as a book writer yet. She has an amazing dark sensibility and an expressive language that gives a voice to fully-fleshed out nuanced characters, rather than two-dimensional types only meant to advance a formulaic plot.
In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living With Cancer by Teva Harrison: Synopsis from Goodreads: Teva Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 37. In this brilliant and inspiring graphic memoir, she documents through comic illustration and short personal essays what it means to live with the disease. She confronts with heartbreaking honesty the crises of identity that cancer brings: a lifelong vegetarian, Teva agrees to use experimental drugs that have been tested on animals. She struggles to reconcile her long-term goals with an uncertain future, balancing the innate sadness of cancer with everyday acts of hope and wonder. She also examines those quiet moments of helplessness and loving with her husband, her family, and her friends, while they all adjust to the new normal. Ultimately, In-Between Days is redemptive and uplifting, reminding each one of us of how beautiful life is, and what a gift.
-”And my heart? My heart is breaking every day in the most selfish way. All the things I want. The excruciating act of scaling back my dreams. Paring down my hopes for this life into three-month bites. Living the enormity of hope and the gut-churning fear that accompany every single scan.”
-”Granny took me to volunteer for the first time, when I was eight, at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. I handed out bags to athletes, and they gave me their pins. She also gave us a very earnest board game called Volunteer. The game was modelled after Monopoly; in it, you went around and around the board, volunteering at the hospital or the animal shelter. To be honest, the game was no fun.”
The first time I read this, I couldn't feel anything but sad. This amazing, amazing person taken by cancer far too young, and then the stories about all the other people in her family who were also stricken in their youth. And then I read it again, because it wasn't fair to refuse the hope and beauty and even humour that she put into this. I love how she absolutely refuses to always paint herself in the best light, admitting to all manner of flaws and hypocrisies. The illustrations are beautiful, and reminded me what a gift it is when someone so talented is ill and afraid and yet uses their talents to put something like this into the world.
The first two books here have a liberal sprinkling of magical realism and could have been categorized as fantasy, but, well, this is my post and I didn't categorize them that way, thbfft.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel: Synopsis from Goodreads: The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time travel, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space. Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal--an experience that shocks him to his core.Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She's traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive's best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him. A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.'
-”On the port side, where they’re standing, the ocean extends uninterrupted until, as far as Edwin can figure it, the coast of Japan. He has the same queasy sense of overexposure that he felt on the prairies. It’s a relief when the boat finally makes a slow right turn and begins travelling up an inlet.”
-”’Okay,’ I said, giving up on pleasantries. ‘So the tracker sends information to my device?’
‘Remember that time I gave you a cat?’ she said.
‘Of course. Marvin. He’s napping at home as we speak.’
‘We sent an agent back to another century,’ Zoey said, ‘but the agent fell in love with someone and didn’t want to come home, so she removed her own tracker, fed it to a cat, and then when we tried to forcibly return her to the present, the cat appeared in the travel chamber instead of her.’
‘Wait,’ I said, ‘my cat’s from another century?’”
I read Station Eleven in 2014 when it came out and really liked it. I tried two or three times to read The Glass Hotel and just couldn't get into it. I LOVED this one. I guess it's not that weird that so many books about pandemics came out or were written during the IRL pandemic, although it might be weird that I'm still reading them. This isn't even St. John Mandel's first plague book, although this might be the first one that contains an author who wrote about a plague in this book that contains a plague (I believe this happened with Songs for the End of the World by Saleema Nawaz also). Whew, recursive much?
Much like Station Eleven, this contains a sprawling range of characters, although I think we range about more in time in this one. I can't really articulate why I loved it, but when I think about it I have this impression of light, and liminal spaces, and flawed characters struggling but doing their best, and just a gorgeous expanse of space. I felt like she loved her characters, even while knowing how many of them weren't going to make it. I guess it's ultimately about connection, in ways both obvious and strange, and there's a Time Institute and we all know I'm an absolute slut for time travel.The Trees by Percival Everett: Synopsis from Goodreads: Percival Everett’s The Trees is a page-turner that opens with a series of brutal murders in the rural town of Money, Mississippi. When a pair of detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation arrive, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist White townsfolk. The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till. The detectives suspect that these are killings of retribution, but soon discover that eerily similar murders are taking place all over the country. Something truly strange is afoot. As the bodies pile up, the MBI detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried. In this bold, provocative book, Everett takes direct aim at racism and police violence, and does so in fast-paced style that ensures the reader can’t look away. The Trees is an enormously powerful novel of lasting importance from an author with his finger on America’s pulse.
-”She screamed, ‘Oh, my fucking gawd!’
‘Language!’ Granny C. said.
‘Fuck you, old lady. Wheat is dead!’
‘What? Oh, Lawdie!’
Charlene fell over herself getting to the phone on the wall in the kitchen. ‘My husband is in the shitter and he’s dead,’ she said.”
-”’Another murder. Wheat Bryant.’
Jetty shook his head and stared at the house like it was on fire. ‘What the freegone fuck is going on?’”
‘Sheriff, did Fondle have all of his parts?’ Ed asked.
‘Were his balls cut off?’ Jim asked.
As if it pained him to say it, Jetty mumbled a quiet, “Yes.’ Then in a clear and loud voice, ‘His nuts were in the Black man’s hand. You just wanted to hear me say that, didn’t you?’
‘Yeah, sort of,’ Jim said.”
‘Even if I believed there was a god I wouldn’t believe that. Less than 1 percent of lynchers were every convicted of a crime. Only a fraction of those ever served a sentence. Teddy Roosevelt claimed the main cause of lynching was Black men raping White women. You know what? That didn’t happen.’
‘Why do you think White people are so afraid of that?’
‘Who knows. Sexual inadequacy, maybe. An amplification of their own desire to rape, which they did.’ Mama Z puffed out smoke. ‘But I think rape was just an excuse.’
‘You think White are just afraid of Black men?’
‘I think it’s sport.’”
I've mentioned that I sometimes rely on fortuitous forces to lead me to new reads. This one popped up randomly in my library ebooks. I borrowed it without even looking at the synopsis because the title made me think of The Overstory, which both Eve and I read and loved last year. I thought it might be another sprawling song of praise to nature and the environment. It .... was not.
I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this. I read most of it with my mouth hanging open, figuratively if not literally. It's about racism, and gruesome murder and dismemberment, and yet much of it is hysterically funny. There's something sort of perfect about the way Everett doesn't bother with the tiresome business of showing good people on both sides - nope, the white people are all eye-wateringly out-in-the-open racist and so stupid they probably need cue cards to remind them to breathe. The black detectives are weary and long-suffering and also very funny. And then suddenly you're brought up short by an accounting of all the black people lynched and all the white people determined to make sure nobody ever pays for it. Maybe the author was thinking that it's unlikely anyone will ever pay for it unless the rules of life and death become less fixed. So there's supernatural stuff going on. And it's all happening at a breakneck pace. This returned itself to the library before I was finished and I bought the Kindle book because I had to finish it.The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Synopsis from Goodreads: Achilles, "the best of all the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath. They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.
I got Circe for my daughter for Christmas. Obviously I'm going to read it, but probably not right away, because nothing I do makes any damned sense, as is becoming increasingly apparent.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr: Synopsis from Goodreads: When everything is lost, it’s our stories that survive. How do we weather the end of things? Cloud Cuckoo Land brings together an unforgettable cast of dreamers and outsiders from past, present and future to offer a vision of survival against all odds. Constantinople, 1453: An orphaned seamstress and a cursed boy with a love for animals risk everything on opposite sides of a city wall to protect the people they love. Idaho, 2020: An impoverished, idealistic kid seeks revenge on a world that’s crumbling around him. Can he go through with it when a gentle old man stands between him and his plans? Unknown, Sometime in the Future: With her tiny community in peril, Konstance is the last hope for the human race. To find a way forward, she must look to the oldest stories of all for guidance. Bound together by a single ancient text, these tales interweave to form a tapestry of solace and resilience and a celebration of storytelling itself. Like its predecessor All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr’s new novel is a tale of hope and of profound human connection.-”It all leaves Anna breathless. All her life she has been led to believe that hse is a child born at the end of things: the empire, the era, the reign of men on earth. But in the glow of the scribes’ enthusiasm, she senses that in a city like Urbino, beyond the horizon, other possibilities might exist and in daydreams she takes flight across the Aegean, ships and islands and storms passing far below, the wind streaming through her spread fingers, until she alights in a bright clean palace, full of Justice and Moderation, its rooms lined with books, free to anyone who can read them.”
-”Moonlight: his ropy tail, his shaggy cloven hooves. God knits him together in the womb of Beauty beside his brother and he lives for three winters and dies hundreds of miles from home and for what? Tree lies down in the reeds and fouls the air around him and Omeir wonders what the animal understands and what will happen to Moonlight’s two beautiful horns and every breath sends another crack through his heart.”
I loved All the Light We Cannot See, but it took me a long time to pick this up because I just wasn't sure I had the bandwidth. This definitely wasn't universally loved, which is borne out by a cursory glance at the reviews on Goodreads. Some people don't enjoy books about disparate viewpoints and some people that generally do didn't like it here. I thought it was magnificent. It was sprawling in time and place and made all of those times and places viscerally present.
Most of the characters begin as children, and the story featured so many ways that life can be hard for children who feel powerless, and so many ways that stories are curative and enlightening and empowering and joy-bringing. It was so heartbreakingly sad and yet so kind and healing. I studied Aristophanes' The Birds in university but didn't remember that that was where Cloud Cuckoo Land came from until I started reading, and had to look up whether the Antonius Diogenes play was made up by the author (it was). I read it as an ebook but I think I will probably buy a hard copy to reread.
One Two Three by Laurie Frankel: Synopsis from Goodreads: In a town where nothing ever changes, suddenly everything does... Everyone knows everyone in the tiny town of Bourne, but the Mitchell triplets are especially beloved. Mirabel is the smartest person anyone knows, and no one doubts it just because she can’t speak. Monday is the town’s purveyor of books now that the library’s closed―tell her the book you think you want, and she’ll pull the one you actually do from the microwave or her sock drawer. Mab’s job is hardest of all: get good grades, get into college, get out of Bourne.For a few weeks seventeen years ago, Bourne was national news when its water turned green. The girls have come of age watching their mother’s endless fight for justice. But just when it seems life might go on the same forever, the first moving truck anyone’s seen in years pulls up and unloads new residents and old secrets. Soon, the Mitchell sisters are taking on a system stacked against them and uncovering mysteries buried longer than they’ve been alive. Because it's hard to let go of the past when the past won't let go of you. Three unforgettable narrators join together here to tell a spellbinding story with wit, wonder, and deep affection. As she did in This Is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel has written a laugh-out-loud-on-one-page-grab-a-tissue-the-next novel, as only she can, about how expanding our notions of normal makes the world a better place for everyone and how when days are darkest, it’s our daughters who will save us all.
For she is my mother. Of course she thinks the part of me that works best is beautiful.
And this is Nora’s permanent, impossible bind.
If her children are perfect just as they are, then why is she so angry at Belsum?
If they’ve caused such damage, where is her proof?
And if the proof is us, doesn’t that mean we are broken indeed?
She sees my skepticism, or maybe it’s my scorn. ‘It’s possible to want two things at once, you know.’
I do, of course.”
-”And Monday said, ‘On television, sex makes people happy, but you are still annoyed and annoying.’
And I tried to remind myself that if I killed them both I would never be able to use the toilet again when my mother was not home.”
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Synopsis from Goodreads: Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person—no mean feat for a black woman in the '30s. Janie's quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.
The morning road air was like a new dress. That made her feel the apron tied around her waist. She untied it and flung it on a low bush beside the road and walked on, picking flowers and making a bouquet. After that she came to where Joe Starks was waiting for her with a hired rig. He was very solemn and helped her to the seat beside him. With him on it, sat like some high, ruling chair. From now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything. A bee for her bloom. Her old thoughts were going to come in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them.”
I saw part of this movie once (with Halle Berry in it) and got the complete wrong idea about Tea Cake. I loved this, partly because Janie is such a powerful character, partly because it's an example of black people living their lives largely without the overt influence of white people - of course I understand that institutional racism was very much a presence, but these characters live their lives and the author writes them without dwelling on it - agh, I am finding it so frustrating trying to articulate that properly, but I did find in the afterword to this book that Hurston declared her first novel a "manifesto" against the "arrogance of whites who assumed that black lives were only defensive reactions to white actions." This book felt joyful and defiant. I've read a bit about Hurston in the past, how she had early success and then ended up dying penniless and virtually forgotten, and then was rediscovered. I think I need to read more.
Five Little Indians by Michelle Good: Synopsis from Goodreads: Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie are barely out of childhood when they are finally released after years of detention. Alone and without any skills, support or families, the teens find their way to the seedy and foreign world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, where they cling together, striving to find a place of safety and belonging in a world that doesn’t want them. The paths of the five friends cross and crisscross over the decades as they struggle to overcome, or at least forget, the trauma they endured during their years at the Mission. Fuelled by rage and furious with God, Clara finds her way into the dangerous, highly charged world of the American Indian Movement. Maisie internalizes her pain and continually places herself in dangerous situations. Famous for his daring escapes from the school, Kenny can’t stop running and moves restlessly from job to job—through fishing grounds, orchards and logging camps—trying to outrun his memories and his addiction. Lucy finds peace in motherhood and nurtures a secret compulsive disorder as she waits for Kenny to return to the life they once hoped to share together. After almost beating one of his tormentors to death, Howie serves time in prison, then tries once again to re-enter society and begin life anew. With compassion and insight, Five Little Indianschronicles the desperate quest of these residential school survivors to come to terms with their past and, ultimately, find a way forward.
-”She ran her hand over the silky tops of the prairie grasses as she approached the thicket, her Sunday school lessons fresh and at the forefront of her mind. Her mother walked ahead, close enough for Clara to feel safe, far enough for her to feel free. At six, she was old enough to join the rest of the kids at Sunday school in the basement of the church while her mother attended Mass.”
This is a beautiful, staggering cry of rage that was both hard to read and hard to look away from.
Avenue of Champions by Conor Kerr: Synopsis from Goodreads: Daniel is a young Métis man searching for a way to exist in a world of lateral violence, intergenerational trauma and systemic racism. Facing obstacles of his own at every turn, he observes and learns from the lived realities of his family members, friends, teachers and lovers. He finds hope in the inherent connection of Indigenous Peopls to the land, and the permanence of culture, language and ceremony in the face of displacement. Set in Edmonton, this story considers Indigenous youth in relation to the urban constructs and colonial spaces in which they survive—from violence, whitewashing, trauma and racism to language revitalization, relationships with Elders, restaking land claims and ultimately, triumph. Based on Papaschase and Métis oral histories and lived experience, Conor Kerr’s debut novel will not soon be forgotten. Prize(s): Short-listed Amazon Canada First Novel Award (2022), Short-listed ReLit Award (Novel) (2022), Winner ReLit Award (Novel) (2022)
-”I grab my backpack and the crate and start walking out of the library. There are still a few students at the twenty-four-hour computers. They’ve all turned to look at me. The old dude and his porn are long gone. I should have just fucking sat at one of those computers, I think to myself. A couple of students are sleeping on couches by the entrance.
‘What about those guys?’ I ask security.‘They’re studying.’
Security walks me off campus.”
Another from the Giller longlist. This one is no less scathing in its depictions of structural and individual racism than Five Little Indians, even as the main character eventually finds some hope and success. The way this fucking country ripped children away from their families and placed them in abusive situations is unforgivable. The descriptions of foster care are heartwrenching. But there's also a weed-brownie-selling granny and an unbreakable bond between brothers. I don't know - of course I'm glad that a book like this is getting accolades from a prize committee that recognizes excellence, but in some ways it seems patronizing and inadequate. We have so much to answer for.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart: Synopsis from Goodreads: Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of young Hugh "Shuggie" Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher's policies have put husbands and sons out of work, and the city's notorious drugs epidemic is waiting in the wings. Shuggie's mother Agnes walks a wayward path: she is Shuggie's guiding light but a burden for him and his siblings. She dreams of a house with its own front door while she flicks through the pages of the Freemans catalogue, ordering a little happiness on credit, anything to brighten up her grey life. Married to a philandering taxi-driver husband, Agnes keeps her pride by looking good--her beehive, make-up, and pearly-white false teeth offer a glamourous image of a Glaswegian Elizabeth Taylor. But under the surface, Agnes finds increasing solace in drink, and she drains away the lion's share of each week's benefits--all the family has to live on--on cans of extra-strong lager hidden in handbags and poured into tea mugs. Agnes's older children find their own ways to get a safe distance from their mother, abandoning Shuggie to care for her as she swings between alcoholic binges and sobriety. Shuggie is meanwhile struggling to somehow become the normal boy he desperately longs to be, but everyone has realized that he is "no right," a boy with a secret that all but him can see. Agnes is supportive of her son, but her addiction has the power to eclipse everyone close to her--even her beloved Shuggie. A heartbreaking story of addiction, sexuality, and love, Shuggie Bain is an epic portrayal of a working-class family that is rarely seen in fiction. Recalling the work of Edouard Louis, Alan Hollinghurst, Frank McCourt, and Hanya Yanagihara, it is a blistering debut by a brilliant novelist who has a powerful and important story to tell.
-"Shug picked up his money belt and kissed her with a forceful tongue. He had to squeeze all the small bones in her hands to get her to release him. She had loved him, and he had needed to break her completely to leave her for good. Agnes Bain was too rare a thing to let someone else love. It wouldn't do to leave pieces of her for another man to collect and repair later."
FIRST novel? Get the fuck out of here. This book will be lodged like a thorn in my heart forever. The poverty, the casual violence, the terrible shame and ache of addiction. The people with seeds of talent, drive, tenacity and wit, trapped in impossible circumstances that grind all the hope and beauty out of them. There is so much malicious, ugly behaviour displayed by people that seems less a function of their true nature than an expression of their desperation and hopelessness. And there's the fact that poor Shuggie doesn't fit the masculine ideal, which makes him a target. It's a terribly, terribly sad book, focusing on these characters in such cruel and unfair conditions; the thing that saves it from being hardship porn is the gentleness of the author's gaze, which is unflinching, but not pitiless.