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A Tourist's Guide to Glengarry

by Ian McGillis
185 pages,
ISBN: 0889842469

Some Girls Do

by Teresa McWhirter
148 pages,
ISBN: 1551924595

Stay

by Aislinn Hunter
269 pages,
ISBN: 1551925680

Tiger Dreams

by Almeda Glenn Miller
363 pages,
ISBN: 1551925729

How the Blessed Live

by Susannah M. Smith
168 pages,
ISBN: 1552451003

An Expectation of Home

by Larry Lynch
301 pages,
ISBN: 189403161X


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First Novels by W.P Kinsella
by W. P. Kinsella

How the Blessed Live by Susannah M. Smith (Coach House Books, $18.95, 168 pages, ISBN: 1552451003). With beautiful language and the lyrical voice of a poet Smith carries off this retelling of the Isis/Osiris myth. What makes the novel work is that the reader does not need to know the myth to enjoy the story. When the twins Lucy and Levi are born their mother, Wren, dies. They are raised by their grief-stricken father in an idyllic setting on an island on Lake Ontario. As they reach early adulthood, a crisis ensues. Lucy leaves for Vancouver, and Levi for Montreal, while the father stays on and continues writing letters to his long-dead wife. Lucy is the most developed character. We follow her story as she settles in Vancouver and becomes involved with Phineas Drake the proprietor of a sinister underground circus.
In Montreal Levi studies art and produces modern sculptures and takes up with an Asian art student. There is another crisis and the reader is left with a feeling of hope that the twins will sort out their lives. There are weaknesses: Levi is less developed than Lucy, and Phineas Drake remains mysterious. It is unclear what Lucy sees in him. Lucy has a budding lesbian relationship with an interesting woman, Cassy, whom she meets in an art gallery, but just as suddenly as she appeared Cassy disappears forever. The story is hauntingly beautiful and holds the reader's interest from start to finish.

An Expectation of Home, by Larry Lynch (Gasperau Press, $21.95, 301 pages, ISBN: 189403161X). The main character is Bern, a doctor's son from NB now living in Toronto and working as a sales representative. He is attracted to a girl in his office, Leslie, who though he doesn't recognize her, used to ride the school bus with him back in NB. She is one of many children of a low-class family. They become a couple and when she becomes pregnant she turns domestic. Things look good until the baby arrives and she becomes a demanding harridan, more interested in partying than being a mother. This change is not explained. The reader is left to surmise that she's reverting to the kind of behaviour she observed in her own family. The story also follows one of Leslie's brothers who stays behind in NB. He is mentally deficient and it is obvious from the start that he will meet a bad end. He does. Bern brings his son home for a visit. Leslie rightly wants no part of her dismal past and stays in Toronto, which drives them further apart. They separate and she takes the child and heads west to Calgary in the company of a drug dealer. Bern quits his job and returns to NB and home. But home is pretty dismal. Ultimately, Bern's son is returned to him, but Bern is living in Nowhere, NB, in a filthy trailer with his puking, alcoholic uncle, and no job prospects. The structure is awkward and hops about trying to tell us too much about too many characters, some introduced just a few pages from the end.
What first appears to be a beautifully designed jacket and cover turns out to have problems: when the jacket is discarded, as most jackets are, we are left with a book with a blank spine and no author's name.
Tiger Dreams by Almeda Glenn Miller (Polestar, $21.95, 363 pages, ISBN: 1551925729) is a very ambitious novel, probably too ambitious for a debut. It is the story of a Canadian woman, Claire, a documentary film maker mourning the loss of her Anglo-Indian father, who travels to India and meets her only surviving relative, a cousin of her grandmother's. She begins researching the life and death of her grandmother, the wife of Gandhi's jailer during the 1930's, and finds a lot more than she bargained for. The structure is quite awkward, with each chapter set up as a potential part of a film. This is such a fine story that it does not need pretentious gimmicks. The chapters jump back and forth in time and are sometimes hard to keep track of. The writing, however, is exceptional. Miller has the soul of a poet and some of the language is both surprising and moving. The novel is much too long, and the tiger symbolism is heavy handed, very Creative writing Class 101. Claire suffers from a hereditary heart problem. One universal truth about fiction and life is that everyone wants to talk about their physical ailments, while no one wants to listen. Another is that family histories are only interesting to the family and sometimes not even to them. The atmosphere of India is well captured¨the influence of A Passage to India is obvious: there is a lot of Miss Quested and Mrs. Moore here. Miller shows extraordinary promise, and my feeling is that it is too bad this isn't her third novel, for with a little more experience Tiger Dreams might have been something marvelous.

A Tourist's Guide to Glengarry by Ian McGillis (Porcupine's Quill, $19.95, 185 pages, ISBN: 0889842469),
is an innocuous little piece of fluff. It catalogues a day in the life of 9-year-old Neil McDonald in the Edmonton suburb of Glengarry in 1971. Nine-year-olds do not have enough life experience to write about anything, and therefore the nine-year-old must be surrounded by wonderful, exciting, eccentric characters whose exploits he reports on. As someone who lived in Edmonton for 22 years I read this book as soon as it arrived, moving it ahead of about ten others. Unhappily, there is absolutely no sense of place; the story could have happened in Halifax or Yellowknife and no one would know the difference. The narrator is too precocious for nine but even that can't save the book because nothing happens.
He comes from a large happy home. His teachers and school mates are unexceptional as is Neil McDonald himself. The only thing mildly interesting is that he is so self-absorbed he doesn't realize his family is moving until he comes home from school and discovers everything packed up, even though house-hunting and moving have been the focus of the family's activities for several weeks.

Some Girls Do by Teresa McWhirter (Polestar, $21.95, 148 pages, ISBN: 1551924595). Before approaching this book you have to decide if you are interested in reading about people who are pimples on the ass of society. All the main characters are young alcoholics and druggies. If the book makes any statement it is that even low-lifes get lonely. Hannah a, 27-year-old alcoholic and druggie, actually holds a job while the rest of her friends are on welfare. She falls for Gritboy, a skateboarder, whose name tells everything you need to know about him. He is an alcoholic and addict, a leech on society, and on Hannah, with absolutely no redeeming qualities. These interchangeable losers who drink their welfare cheques in a matter of hours and bring on their own unhappiness, go to underground clubs, night after night, where they drink and do drugs until they puke. They wake mid-afternoon, wonder why they are depressed and hungover, then start all over again. This is about the 15th girl-low-life novel in the last two years and ranks close to the bottom of the pile. I'll repeat myself here since reading pointless stories about terminal losers becomes terribly frustrating¨when are writers and publishers going to wake up? Twenty-something alcoholics and druggies do not or cannot read, and people who can afford books do not want to read about them. While the writing is sometimes powerful, even poetic, the story (it really isn't a novel, just a lot of loose ends thrown together with an epilogue that someone should have been smart enough to cut) is simply so derivative that it blends together with all the other bad low-life novels that will be quickly forgotten.

Stay by Aislinn Hunter (Polestar, $21.95, 269 pages, ISBN:1551925680), has an exceptional sense of place. With wonderful examples of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell, Hunter captures rural Ireland, all the damp cold, the fog, the eccentric people, the humor that seeps into even the most sepulchral of scenes. This is a story of complicated relationships, of love, loss, abandonment, failure, hope, all skillfully twined together. The ultimate statement of the novel comes near the end, "...we have no choice in it...we are surrounded in the muck of our history whether we like it or not."
Abby is a Canadian girl traveling to exorcise the grief of father's recent death and her abandonment by her mother when she was a little girl. She become involved with a much older Irishman, Dermot, a disgraced former professor at trinity College, Dublin. Dermot is terribly insecure, the victim of a number of unsatisfactory relationships with women. He feels certain each time Abby goes to Dublin for a day or two that she will never return, which does nothing for their relationship. The third main character is Dermot's friend, Michael, an anthropologist. The only weakness is that it take a long time for the reader to understand why Michael is necessary to the story. There are a number of well-drawn peripheral characters whose lives touch those of the three main protagonists. The stunning climax involves Michael finding an ancient body in the nearby bog. The discovery affects everyone, opening the doors to a large number of possibilities. This is a gentle, sweet-natured novel that is masterfully written and full of memorable people.

W. P. Kinsella reads first novels and plays in Scrabble tournaments.
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