Tag Archives: Canadian literature

Katherine Govier – The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel.

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The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel – Katherine Govier (2016, HarperAvenue, Toronto)

I admit the only reason I picked up Katherine Govier’s book The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel was because it is set in the Rocky Mountains, in a town called Canmore (called Gateway in the novel) – I live very close to the area and have always been fascinated with the history of it.  Did I make the right choice? I sure did!

This is a long book, a heavyweight that unspools at just the right pace right up until just before the ending.  The story pivots on the mystery of the disappearance, in 1911, of the Hodgson expedition while hunting for fossils in the mountains. Every event that takes place over the next several decades, over more than one generation, is influenced by this significant loss.  I loved the journeys of the characters involved: Herbie Wishart, the former poacher turned mountain guide, a man with dark secrets and obsessed with the truth; Gwen Hodgson, orphaned by the tragedy and burdened with questions about her family and her place in the world; Helen Wagg, the writer and representative of the newly-formed Parks Canada, tasked with spinning the mystique of the Rocky Mountains for the world; and Iona, the rebellious daughter of her Quaker mother and wandering father, offering up secrets of her own to her family in her old age.

Of course, Govier’s book is a work of fiction, but it was sometimes hard to separate story from fact – a testament to her skill at making the reader believe in her characters, their motivations, and the way time unfolds over the span of many decades. There are so many wonderful details in the book that make it as authentic as possible – there is no doubt Govier spent countless hours doing research (it surely helps that she lives in Canmore part time).

For some reason, however, the ending felt rushed to me – even the sentences reflected this, with many turning into choppy phrases.  I suspect this was an intentional stylistic move – after all, time seems to fly as one advances into old age, as Iona does.  It could also express the way modern living is characterized by fast-paced busyness.  Still, it appears an interesting choice to shutter the entirety of the book’s mysteries in a few brief paragraphs, when the book itself is over 400 pages long. (I’m not sure what the alternative could have been; the story couldn’t go on forever, even if I wanted it to).

Beautifully told and highly recommended.

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Russell Wangersky – Whirl Away.

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Whirl Away: Stories – Russell Wangersky (2012, Thomas Allen Publishers, Toronto)

According to the dust jacket, this masterful collection of 12 short stories examines “what happens when people’s personal coping skills go awry.” I’m not sure “awry” is a strong enough descriptor – most of the main characters in these stories are pretty much totally unhinged. From the fairground and hopeless longing that traps a lonely handyman on the Prairies, to the delusions of an elderly lady living by Placentia Bay, the horrifying fantasies of a travelling salesman and the perversions of a man living near a dangerous road, these are sharp slices in the curtain of reality. Wangersky’s work is dark, twisted, more than a little bit frightening (I can’t get the little boy and his violently feuding parents in “Echo” out of my head, and the drunken abuser in “Look Away” leaves a disturbing imprint) – and entertaining as hell. The storycrafting is impeccable and a delight to be savoured.

Restlessness.

Restlessness – Aritha Van Herk (1998, Red Deer College Press, Red Deer)

Can you equate death and love?

In Aritha Van Herk’s Restlessness, we meet Dorcas, a professional traveller (she works as a courier), a woman who has been everywhere in the world, a woman who has no home.  Sure, she makes her base in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but she is not at home there – despite her love for the city, and for the Chinooks and the landmarks that define it.  (Van Herk is interested in Calgary’s past; her book Mavericks:  An Incorrigible History of Alberta is a good tie-in).  Exhausted by the constant movement, desperate for solace, the courier holes herself up in the Palliser Hotel (our grand old dame of hotels here in Cowtown) and awaits a hired assassin to kill/love? her. Continue reading

The Traz.

The Traz (Book One of The BackTracker Series):  School Edition – Eileen Schuh  – (2012, Imajin Books, Canada)

Hard-hitting and gritty, Eileen Schuh’s pull-no-punches novel The Traz is certain to elicit a deep emotional response – and, hopefully, inspire some critical thought and discussion about serious issues such as depression, suicide, gangs, drugs, violence, and crime. Continue reading

If I knew, don’t you think I’d tell you?

If I Knew, Don’t You Think I’d Tell You?  Selected Journals of Jann Arden – Jann Arden (2002, Insomniac Press, Toronto)

Although she’s now one of my favourite people to follow on Twitter (@jannarden), Calgary singer-songwriter-artist-actress-activist Jann Arden once upon a time kept a running online journal (she still blogs at www.jannarden.com).  If I Knew… is a print compilation of some of her journal entries circa 2000-2002, a chronological mash-up of musings and deeply personal thoughts.  It’s a trite, clichéd expression, but Arden really does wear her heart on her sleeve: Continue reading

A gardener on the moon.

A Gardener on the Moon – Carole Giangrande – 2010, Quattro Books, Ontario (co-winner of the 2010 Ken Klonsky novella contest)

Traumatized and grieving, Pete LeBlanc returns to his family home and his girlfriend Lorraine in Massachusetts after fighting in World War II, only to find that he cannot stay:  he packs up everything and moves to Quebec, Canada, leaving it all behind.  He spends the next few decades erasing his former life Continue reading

Seed catalogue.

Seed Catalogue – Robert Kroetsch – 1986, Turnstone Press, Winnipeg

I first read some of Robert Kroetsch’s short poems in a Canlit class way back in university, and I remember being so impressed with his voice that I made the note to “read more, soon.”  But other books and poems have occupied my time since then, and Kroetsch’s work has been on the backburner of my to-read list, until now.  Continue reading