Friday, November 28, 2014

Two new reviews of Sad Peninsula

So I thought I'd share a couple lovely reviews of Sad Peninsula that came over the Internet transom this week. The first is from blogger Steven Buechler on his site The Library of Pacific Tranquility. In his review, he writes:

This is a frank story told with vivid details. It deals with a lot of desire, hurt and shame. Sampson did a fantastic job with enlightening his readers not only with some of lesser know historical facts about Korea but also with some of the cultural ideals and prejudices that exist there. And in doing so, makes us look at our own failing norms here. A great piece literature that goes beyond what any historical essay or journalistic piece could do.

Meanwhile, over on the book's Goodreads page, author Maria Meindl posted this very touching and beautifully written review. In it, she says:

The book is also dense with issues. At first, the connection between the stories is not explicit, yet the juxtaposition tingles with irony. Michael, seeking to restore his lost pride in a foreign environment, is unaware of the violence unfolding in the rest of the story – and in his host country’s past. The result is a chilling meditation on sex and violence, oppression and love. When the characters finally meet, there are questions about the aftermath of trauma: when and how to talk about it – and ultimately who has the obligation, or right, to tell the story.

Anyway, great to see two more reviews out there in the world, and a big thanks to them both for their thoughts. I'll keep y'all posted if there are any more of these.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Reminder: Reading at Pivot at the Press Club on Wednesday

Hey Toronto readers,

Just a friendly note reminding y'all that I'll be on the bill, along with three other fabulous readers, at Pivot at the Press Club Reading Series this Wednesday as it wraps up its 2014 season. Here are the deets:

When: Wednesday, November 26, 2014
What time: 8 pm start.
Where: The Press Club - 850 Dundas Street West, Toronto
How much: Pwyc (suggested donation: $5)
Readers: Claire Caldwell, Kayla Czaga, Daniel Scott Tysdal and yours truly.
Hosted by: Jacob McArthur Mooney
See the Facebook invitation here.

If you're free Wednesday, come on out. I would love to see you there.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Review: All Saints, by K.D. Miller

The collection of loosely connected short stories remains a fascinating subgenre of literature, one that still feels ripe with possibilities and permutations. I was reminded of this while reading K.D. Miller’s All Saints this past week, a work of fiction that centres around a struggling Anglican Church in Toronto and the lives that intersect with it. Miller knows two things very well: the effort and precision it takes to make a short story both its own isolated world as well as part of a larger narrative; and the emotional landscape of the Anglican faith, with all its anxieties and contradictions. She weaves these two elements into a powerful whole, creating memorable tales populated by characters full of both doubt and certainty.

Indeed, “doubtful certainty” might be a good way to describe the heart of your average church-going Anglican. Miller’s characters spend much of the time battling competing forces in their lives and trying to reconcile what they want with who they think they are. We see numerous examples of this throughout the book. In the tale “Ecce Cor Meum” (a Latin phrase meaning “Behold My Heart”) a woman named Kelly is in the middle of a health scare at the same time that she’s realizes that she’s in love with the priest at All Saints, a man named Simon. The fear she feels over the small polyp growing on her cervix is pared with the intense confusion she has over her feelings for Simon, feelings that both excite her and make her uncomfortable at the idea of finding love at this advance stage of her life.

In the story “Kim’s Game,” Miller introduces us to a unpublished poet named Owen, who gets roped into going on an excursion to a cabin with some fellow writers after taking a creative writing class at All Saints, and who subsequently gets lost in the woods around the cabin while out for a walk. This is one the strongest pieces in the book: Miller gives us incredible insights into the contradictions of Owen’s inner world: he loves to write but does not publish; he lives alone but seeks companionship; and he is lost (both literally and metaphorically) and yet is hesitant to cry out for help. Miller handles well the central metaphor of this story: that of Kim’s game, a creative writing exercise in which you stare at a number of objects on a table and then turn your back while one is taken away, and then try to identify which one is missing. It’s a clever symbol for Owen himself, who feels unnoticed and discarded by his companions on this trip. Miller also shocks us with a completely unexpected – and rather scatological – ending to this tale that catches us off guard and yet fits so well with where the story was building to.

Speaking of shocking, there is nothing that can quite prepare readers for meeting Miss Alice Vipond, the protagonist of “October Song.” Alice, a former school teacher, is exchanging letters with Simon, the priest at All Saints, where she had attended decades ago as a young girl. We soon learn that Alice is writing these letters from an insane asylum, where she has been incarcerated for most of her life after murdering her entire grade-two class with poisoned juice back in 1957. We only get her side of the letter exchange, but we slowly learn just how deeply complex this woman and her motivations are. “Vipond” as a name may conjure images of a viper, but there is more to Alice than meets the eye. Her murder of these children reminds one of that great quote from science fiction writer J.G. Ballard, “In a completely sane world, madness is the only freedom,” and Miller hints that she may be just as much a victim as anyone. Yet we can also tell that Alice unnerves Simon with questions about his love life, which involves the situation with Kelly touched upon in “Ecce Cor Meum.” The message we’re left with as Alice and Simon’s correspondence peters out is that both acts of love and acts violence are not simple, and sometimes we can put into words the emotions that move or motivate us.

There are similar themes spread throughout All Saints, and it makes for a powerful collection of interlaced stories. Miller writes with quiet grace, and her strong voice leads us through the careful layering of these tales. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Interview with me on the Jane Day Reader blog

So I thought I'd share this interview with me that was posted earlier today on the Jane Day Reader blog, hosted by the inimitable Ariel Gordon. In this piece, I talk about Sad Peninsula, my days in Korea, my days in Winnipeg, and what I'm working on right now. Thanks for Ariel for conducting the interview. Go check it out! 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Publication: The Fiddlehead

So I was very happy to open my mailbox last night and find  my contributor's copy of the Autumn 2014 issue of The Fiddlehead, which contains a book review from me of The Strangers' Gallery by Paul Bowdring. This huge, expansive and very digressive novel, set in the mid 1990s, is about an archivist living in St. John's who discovers that an old acquaintance he knew fifteen years earlier as a student in Europe has shown up suddenly on his doorstep. The book is full of wonderful writing and lots of beautifully crafted scenes; and while I did find it a bit too digressive at times (the novel is chalk-a-block with tangential asides that take us away from the main narrative), there's no doubt that The Strangers' Gallery is a huge accomplishment. You should go check it out.

I was also pleased to see many familiar names in the Table of Contents: this issue boasts works by Brian Bartlett, Catherine Graham, John Wall Barger, Kerry-Lee Powell and other writers I admire. It also, as you can see, has the recently deceased Alistair MacLeod on the cover, with a number of tributes inside. Anyway, this issue should be on news stands shortly, so you should pick up a copy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Maritime tour update!

Okay boys and girls, I just wanted to provide you with an update on the book tour I am taking in the Maritimes next month for Sad Peninsula. Some places and times have been confirmed. Here we go:

When: Tuesday, December 16, 2014.
Where: Peter Wilson Common Room, the University of King's College, 6350 Coburg Rd.
What time: 7 pm.
Sales by the King's Bookstore.
Come one come all. See the Facebook invitation.

When: Wednesday, December 17, 2014.
Where: The Confederation Library, 145 Richmond St.
What time: 7 pm.
Sales by the Bookmark.
Come one come all. See the Facebook invitation.

When: Thursday, December 18, 2014.
Where: We are still TBD on this one. The Attic Owl Reading Series, which is hosting the event, recently lost its regular venue and is now searching for a new home. I will post an update as soon as I learn where it will be, as well as who I will be reading with.
What time: 7 pm.
See the Attic Owl Reading Series Facebook page for more details.

That is it for now. So if you are in one of these three cities, please come on out. I would love to see you!


Friday, November 7, 2014

Sad Peninsula review in the Literary Review of Canada

So I'm very excited to report that there is a lengthy review of Sad Peninsula printed in the November issue of the Literary Review of Canada. The review, written by Laurentian University's Tomasz Mrozewski, is not online unfortunately, but here is a sample of what it has to say:

Sad Peninsula, Sampson's second novel, after Off Book, draws on the author's three years in Seoul to paint a fabulously rich picture of expat life revealing what Facebook posts and email from your sons and daughters abroad might not. Sampson's Seoul will be instantly recognizable to many expats, whether they had participated in the hedonistic throb of Itaewon, Hongdae or any one of a dozen bar districts across the country, or just saw their colleagues limp into work after nights filled with cheap drinks and drama.

Mrozewski, who taught in Korea in 2007/08, goes on to praise my characterizations and several of the themes weaving their way through Michael's section of the novel.

The review isn't all positive. In the last quarter or so, it criticizes Eun-young's entire thread of the novel, calling it "dry and didactic" and lacking in the rich nuance of Michael's section. It's interesting to hear a reviewer say this, as the exact opposite critique has been levied against the book from some commenters on Goodreads and Library Thing. It just goes to show that different readers can come at material from different - or, in this case, completely opposite - angles and with different expectations. At any rate, I'm grateful for Mrozewski's honest appraisal of the novel, even the parts he didn't like.

Anyway, the issue of LRC is on news stands now, so go check it out for yourself!