Thursday, April 30, 2015

Details: Toronto launch of The Secrets Men Keep

Okay folks, the details are confirmed! Poet Liz Ross and I will be co-launching our new books together on May 28th at Another Story Book Shop in Toronto. The Facebook event page is up and live, so please visit it to see all the details and let us know you're coming. It's going to be a great night, with guest speakers, a reading by both Liz and me, and what I'm sure will be some lively conversation. See you there!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Upcoming event: The Kingston Writers Festival

Hold on to your hats, Kingston. I'm so happy to announce that I'm heading your way this fall for the 2015 Kingston WritersFest, slated for September 23-27, 2015. Although the exact date and details of my appearance have yet to be confirmed, I'm stoked to be on the bill for this wonderful event in the wonderful city of Kingston. (True story: it was the first place my wife and I ever traveled together to, back in 2009.)

I'm also really chuffed and flattered by this delightful profile of me that the organizers put on the website. I hadn't actually known about the piece until I stumbled upon it this weekend via my obsessive self-Googling, and it causes all manner of blushing at my desk. Anyway, if you're in the Kingston area (or even if you're not!) I hope you can make it out and say hi.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Review: YAW, by Dani Couture

Disaster can come on sudden as the weather. This is the overarching theme in Dani Couture’s dark, compelling third collection of poetry, YAW, a book that feels at once deeply personal and wide open to the unsettling fears that can reside in us all. Catastrophe looms in both the large and the small in this tight, terse book as we move from abrupt highway crashes and descending tornadoes to the loss of friends and brief but unforgettable moments of abject aloneness.

Much of this collection pivots on grief and its often baffling aftermaths – captured in the book’s strongest and most telling poem, “Fact Check.” Told as if via a magazine editor’s disinterested attempts to verify details in a feature article, it instead reveals a torturous story of a stalker’s suicide and the complex emotions that unfurl for his victim in its wake. Can we have anything other than a litany of questions after such an event? The poem reveals that some of these queries come couched in the very specific:

did your friend sweep your vibrating cellphone into her purse?
did you leave the stove on, a candle lit, the iron plugged in?
did you take the bus home to check?
did you check again?
did he call from a pay phone in London?

while others reveal more generalized – and perhaps more permanent – terrors, questions that one cannot shake no matter how much time has passed:

did you lose the taste for sleep?
do the dead walk in your dreams?
do they still call you?
do the dead still call you?

One thing that YAW reminds us of over and over again is how thin the membrane of normality can be, and how easily disaster can puncture it, can let in a darker, more sinister reality. “Interview with a County Reporter” describes in horrifying detail a car crash that brings destruction even as it imbues a sense of forward momentum: “A body propelled/ through molared window./ We all have places to be.” The poem “F-Scale, Ohio” carries the same abrupt jolt, showing how a tornado can touch down on an unsuspecting populace and blow a whole town “out like a wish.”

Yet, despite these jarring catastrophes, there is much hope available to us in YAW if we go hunting for it. It’s there in the closing lines of “Carp,” where, despite the obvious arrival of cancer, “we can see how good we are/ how we always knew/ what was best, what, in the end, could be saved.” We can spot it in a poem like “Corrections,” one that reminds us – almost scolds us – that we get things wrong, horribly wrong, and yet can still touch a little bit of the truth if we try hard. In its closing piece, YAW lets us know that, for all the banal horror and abrupt changes of life, we do have blank walls to write on, that we can reclaim our stories and make them ours to tell again, to repopulate ourselves with the stories we wish to share with others.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review: The Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov

I had scant experience with the short stories of Anton Chekhov prior to tackling this lengthy collection translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I had read one much-slimmer collection more than a decade ago, but comparing the tables of contents between it and this new purchase (as well as another volume that belongs to my wife) I saw virtually no overlap in terms of the stories included. In other words, I was long overdue to correct this oversight in my reading history.

Pevear does a great job in his thorough introduction of putting Chekhov’s work into both the broader context of Russian history at the time he was writing and the enduring influence of his work on the short story form throughout the 20th and, now, 21st centuries. Russian literature in the 1800s reflected a lot of the social and political upheaval occurring at the time, and authors were often expected to be (as it sometimes feels now, too) didactic, moralizing, and politically engaged via their fiction. As Pevear puts it, “The writer was seen first of all as a pointer of the way, a leader in the struggle of social justice; his works were expected to be ‘true to life’ and to carry a clear moral value.’” Chekhov wrote against this tradition, embracing what Pevear refers to as a kind of literary impressionism:

In fact, just as Chekhov created a new kind of story, he also created a new image of the writer: the writer as detached observer, sober, restrained, modest, a craftsman shaping the material of prose under the demands of authenticity and precision, avoiding ideological excesses, the temptations of moral judgment, and the vainglory of great ideas.

The results took the Russian reading world by storm, and also created the template for what we now refer to as psychological realism. This collection lays out Chekhov’s groundbreaking work in strict chronological order, beginning with pieces he published while barely in his twenties. These early stories, like “Death of a Clerk” and “Small Fry,” do seem very much in the vein of juvenilia, and deal with the theme of a young person struggling against the power or presence of someone older and from a higher social rank. But even these early sketches reveal a writer consumed with capturing the inner world of his characters with succinct exactness, and we can see flashes of the genius that was to come.

The collection moves through the short decades of Chekhov’s oeuvre, republishing such classics “Peasant Women,” “Gooseberries,” “The Lady with the Little Dog,” and “In the Ravine.” It’s interesting to watch the darker side of Chekhov’s astute eye come out in this later stories. He was obsessed with capturing small, telling moments, the keen revelations in the lives of the people around him, whom he knew intimately. Each piece creates its own inner world, as detailed and harrowing in 20 pages as anything you would find in a long Russian novel.

My favourite pieces here include the ironically titled “A Boring Story,” which tells the tale of a middling medical academic who navigates the irksome, mediocre relationships in his life and his own disappointments. I also loved “Ward No. 6,” set in a Russian mental asylum, in which it’s the crazies incarcerated within, and not the doctors who treat them, who tell the greatest truths. And finally, there is “The Bishop,” about a clergyman who reunites with his estranged mother and the psychological tests that the experience puts him through. In each of these pieces, I found men who were thwarted by life and yet keenly aware of what redemption might look like should it land on their doorstep.

A collection like this can help to remind us of the masterful power of such canonical writers like Chekhov, and take us on a tour of their developing art. There is no mystery after this long, detail collection as to why this man’s work endures.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Publication Day: The Secrets Men Keep!

Well, it's finally here. Today is the official publication date for my new short story collection, The Secrets Men Keep, released by Now or Never Publishing of Vancouver. I'm incredibly stoked to have this little red menace out in the world, riffing on thwarted manhood, eerie rock gardens, disgraced athletes, taxidermied hawks, and preprandial olives. It was a lot of fun to write, and I hope it's a lot of fun to read.

So if you're interested in getting a copy, visit its page on Amazon or on Chapters-Indigo, or patron your local independent bookseller and ask for it by name. You can visit the book's page on Goodreads, or check out its library holdings on Worldcat. And if you do read it, come on back here to the blog and share your thoughts with me.

Also: if you're in the Toronto area, just a reminder that the launch is on May 28. See my previous post about it here.



Friday, April 10, 2015

Save the Date: Toronto Launch of The Secrets Men Keep

Okay everyone, I'm very excited to announce that I've got a launch date confirmed in Toronto for this spring's release of The Secrets Men Keep. I'll be launching the book alongside my friend Elizabeth Ross, who is publishing her debut poetry collection, Kingdom (Palimpsest Press). I've known Liz for a few years now and am honoured and pumped to be sharing a stage with her as she launches her very fine poetry into the world.

The exact details for the event are still being hammered out, but here's what we've got so far:

When: May 28, 2015
What time: 7:00 pm
Where: Another Story Bookshop - 315 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto

So please mark your calendars!

I'll also be posting some other news shortly, including details on my very first appearance at a literary festival, happening this fall. So stay tuned!


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A review of Sad Peninsula in The Winnipeg Review

So I was happy to receive a Google Alert yesterday notifying me of a review of Sad Peninsula that appeared yesterday on the Winnipeg Review website. Reviewer David Burgess McGregor has mostly positive things to say about the novel and its balancing act between the two points of view - Michael's and Eun-young's. Here's an excerpt from his evaluation:

"Michael’s narrative is about finding a story – Eun-young’s is about sharing hers. Both the search and what is sought are alternately displayed, allowing the reader to find similarities and comparisons that enhance the meaning of each narrative strand. Ultimately, Sad Peninsula is an intelligent novel that embraces complexity as it weaves together divergent times and cultures in challenging and surprising ways."

Read the full review here.