Hello fair readers, writers, and others. Where the hell have I been and why haven’t I posted here in a while?
First. I’m not dead. This is not a bot I set up in case of, well, death. My life has never been in question. What I have been doing is writing. In late June, I secured a position with Mooney On Theatre reviewing plays for the Toronto Fringe Festival. This was a whirlwind week-and-a-half where I reviewed five Fringe shows in five days and wrote two features for the site as well. After Fringe concluded, I was asked if I would like to stay on as a regular contributor. Since then, I have reviewed more shows and also participated in reviewing five more shows for the SummerWorks festival. It has been a super fun experience and a welcome opportunity to write in a different style and have my words read by people who might not otherwise have read them. It’s also great exposure and great for my writing resume. I’m looking forward to continuing to hit theatres in Toronto and see some more of the city’s unsung and established talent. You can check out all of my reviews here, and also check out the site regularly (see link above) for reviews by my fellows writers.
Now for “the spree”:
I haven’t read as much as I would have liked. With running to shows, enjoying summer, and writing other projects, time has been sparse. In between I have managed to shove my face in a book and be mostly entertained. I am currently into James Salter’s short story collection, Last Night and I was going to review it “so far” but that’s like cutting sex off after the foreplay. It doesn’t and wouldn’t give you the full experience. I’ve also looked at The Secret Miracle – Daniel Alarcon’s edited interviews with writers about writing – as I do from time to time to get inspiration. All that being said, let’s finally look at what I finished for no other reason than the fact that I have nothing else to say.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I haven’t read Gone Girl, though I do know of the story and in reading the blurbs on the back of The Girl on the Train I was ready for something similar. What I got was a well-crafted novel that had me asking questions, and trying to guess endings until I did guess it 223 pages into the 316 page book. At the climax, I wanted more (insert jokes here). It seemed a bit too easy, with one of the characters ending up being an almost Ted Bundy trope. The conclusion did end with enough “reality” that I liked it, but it didn’t save the “um-okayness” of the showdown. I am glad I read it though as I was intrigued by everything I heard and I do love a good mystery every now and again. Still not going to read Gone Girl though.
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
Do you love Lucy? Barbara Parker, the protagonist of Funny Girl, loved Lucy and even gets to meet her. With any Hornby novel, I go in with a huge bias because he is my favourite writer so he would really have to shit the bed to disappoint me. That being said, I wasn’t entirely sure what this book was or where it was going until about a quarter of the way through. This was the point where he started playing with structure, but it was also the point where all of the characters were fleshed out and I was engrossed in their individual stories AND their collective web.
Set in the 1960’s and beyond, Funny Girl is a book about people of that generation struggling against the recent tight-lipped past, as well as, fighting with their own pasts and inclinations as they play their roles in producing a hit sitcom. The world was in the middle of a culture shift and so are the characters in their individual journeys.
As with all Hornby books, there is one gem that must be taken and shared: “Love meant being brave, otherwise you had already lost you own argument: the man who couldn’t tell a woman he loved her was, by definition, not worthy of her.” Beautiful and personally inspiring.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
Legendary short story writer Raymond Carver’s collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, is more about loss than love but then isn’t that what makes love the brave act that Mr. Hornby mentions?
I picked this up after I watched Birdman as it plays a prominent role in the film, and also because I have a bunch of short story ideas and plan to spend the rest of the year writing them. I figured, why not learn from one of the best?
Every story in the collection seems to echo Thoreau’s famous line from Walden, “(t)he mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It’s not just the men though. Women, children, and, seemingly, inanimate objects bleed wanting more or mourning the loss of it. There is an air of “what could have been” and this comes through in both action and dialogue. While that sounds depressing, it isn’t in the least. Carver captures moments in his characters lives and his straightforward prose leads to no other conclusion than truth.
Highlights include: “Why Don’t You Dance?”; “Gazebo”; “Sacks”; “The Bath”; “Tell The Women We’re Going”; and “A Serious Talk”, in addition to the title track.
Speaking With the Angel edited by Nick Hornby
I felt somewhat guilty buying a second hand copy of this book as for every new copy purchased £1 was automatically donated to TreeHouse, a small school dedicated to helping autistic children. Hornby’s son Danny attended the school at the time, though the book was published in 2000 so I am not sure if he is there any longer.
So what’s it like? It was great. I was exposed to some writers I have not yet read.
Robert Harris’ “PMQ” is a funny read and a great way to start things off. Melissa Bank’s “The Wonder Spot” and Giles Smith’s “Last Requests” follow up nicely, the former with another dose of humour and heart and the latter with an interesting look into one of the aspects of death row that many people might not think about. Patrick Marber’s “Peter Shelley” was also a great take on teenage lust and angst that didn’t cut corners with visuals, nor with language. I found things lagged a bit with Colin Firth’s – yes, the actor – “The Department of Nothing”, but Zadie Smith’s “Im the Only One”, and Hornby’s own “NippleJesus” picked up the tone and entertainment in a nice way. I was disappointed a bit with Dave Eggers’ “After I was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned.” Eggers’ A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius is one of my favourite novels, so maybe his other stuff will just never measure up. Once again, expectations playing their dual role of never being met as we would want, but I can only blame myself for having them.
Helen Fielding’s “Lucky Bitch” was good enough, but Roddy Doyle’s “The Slave”, Irvine Welsh’s “Catholic Guilt (You Know You Love It), and John O’Farrell’s “Walking Into the Wind” end the collection with the perfect balance of laughter, heart, and life contemplation.
Once again, Hornby didn’t let me down.