Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Reminder: Maritime reading tour

Okay, with less than a week to go I thought I'd send out a reminder about the reading tour in the Maritimes. If if you're in one of these three cities and are free on the respective nights mentioned below, please come on out. I would love to see you.

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: Folio Books - 110 St. George St.
What time: 7 pm. See the Facebook invitation.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Upcoming: Twitter chat #CanLitQA

UPDATED: Event takes place Friday, not Thursday. So I'm very excited to announce that I'll be taking part in a live Tweet chat this Friday over the lunch hour as part of a discussion on literary journals with Magazines Canada. This is the first time I've ever done this in my capacity as an author, so I'm very much looking forward to it. If you're on Twitter and would like to follow along, here are the details:

When: Friday, December 12
What time: 12:30 to 1:00 pm, Eastern.
Hashtag to follow: #CanLitQA
Moderated by: @MyCdnMags

And for those of you who don't know, you can always find me on Twitter at @freerangesamp.

Anyway, special thanks to Natasha Malloch at Magazines Canada for inviting me, and publisher Chris Needham at Now or Never Publishing for setting this up as a bit of promotion for my forthcoming short story collection, The Secrets Men Keep.

Hope to see you all (virtually at least) on Thursday!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Review: The Betrayers, by David Bezmozgis

I read David Bezmozgis’ new novel right on the heels of finishing The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill as part of my Co-habitational Reading Challenge with my wife, which I blogged about here. Both books were shortlisted for this year’s Giller, but a person would be hard-pressed to find two contemporary novels that were more different. Whereas O’Neill is a master of whimsy, of flakiness and of small, quotidian details, Bezmozgis’ book navigates the grimly serious terrain of geopolitics and its influence on individuals trying to do the right thing. Both novels are brilliant in their own ways, and I actually valued the jarring impact of immediately going from one to the other.

The Betrayers tells the story of Baruch Kotler, a former Soviet dissident turned Israeli politician. In a flight of conscience, Kotler turns on his own political party and speaks out against the dismantling of an Israeli settlement in Palestinian territory. As revenge, his former allies expose an affair Kotler is having with a much younger woman named Leora. The two lovers flee together to Crimea, where Kotler encounters a man he knew decades ago named Tankilevich, who was responsible for exposing Kotler as a Soviet dissident in Russia in the 1970s and getting him sent to the Gulag for 13 years. Meanwhile, back home, Kotler’s son Benzion, who is serving with the Israeli army, is about to go against orders in the tearing down of the Israeli settlement. He reaches out to his father for wisdom, but Kotler’s own predicament interferes with him giving his son good counsel.

The themes here are, obviously enough, issues of loyalty versus betrayal, and each character grapples with the double side of this coin. Some readers may find this thematic thread a bit too obvious, but Bezmozgis counteracts a lot of that by working hard to build the emotional tension between his characters. As a writer, he is very good at using a wide lens to show how larger forces and personal history can rewrite a character’s morality. The compelling interactions between Kotler and Tankilevich transcend the basic themes in the novel and leave us shaken by the damage both men have done to each other.

The Betrayers, while dismal in its set up, is strangely uplifting in its conclusion. Bezmozgis leaves us with a sense that hope is possible, that loyalty can withstand betrayal, and that good choices can follow bad ones and still do good.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Secrets Men Keep available for pre-order!

So I discovered over the course of my daily (yes daily, sigh) Internet snooping that my short story collection, The Secrets Men Keep, forthcoming in April from Now or Never Publishing in Vancouver, is now available for pre-order from a major online retailer. I do realize that this sort of thing is driven mostly by metadata in a database feed somewhere, and I also realize that we're still four months out from the launch date (April 15, 2015, to be exact), but it's still fun to see the book up on its legs and walking around. Anyway, if you're one of those obsessive types who loves to order books far in advance of their release, well, you know what to do.


Monday, December 1, 2014

This year’s Co-habitational Reading Challenge: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, by Heather O’Neill

So RR and I decided to do another of our Co-habitational Reading Challenges. If you’ve followed along in previous years, you know this is where she and I read the same book at the same time and then blog about the experience. This time round, we wanted to choose one of the books on this year’s Giller short list. Happenstance found me purchasing a copy of Heather O’Neill’s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (her follow-up to Lullabies for Little Criminals) at the same time that RR was taking it out of the library. So that sealed the deal on which book we’d pick.

Unlike in previous editions of the Co-habitational Reading Challenge, we completely failed to blog about the reading experience in real time. Our lives have just been too dang busy this fall – what with me doing a variety of promotion for Sad Peninsula at the same time that I’m working a busy day job AND writing a new novel, and her working a busy day job and doing hefty rewrites on the novel-in-stories she is slated to publish in 2016.  ALRIGHT THEN – shameless self promotion out of the way. We more or less finished the book at the same time last week (I was about a day and a half behind her) and shared our thoughts with each other along the way, even if we failed to share all those thoughts with you.

Anyway, we both liked the book a lot, though found it flawed it all kinds of slight but obvious ways. With the creation of Nouschka Tremblay, O’Neill proves beyond a doubt that she is a master of the flakier-than-thou narrator. Nouschka, positioned in some unmentioned period in the future, is relaying the story of her and her twin brother Nicholas being 20 years old and living in Montreal around the time of the Quebec referendum in 1995. The two of them, inseparable for the first chunk of the novel, are celebrities by default: their father is a famous folk singer named Etienne Tremblay (completely unknown in English-speaking Canada) who used to bring his children on shows only to abandon them to pursue his career, but still pays intermittent visits to their lives when he’s in between gigs.

Young Nouschka pursues (or is pursued by) a number of men in her rundown neighbourhood in Montreal, but ends up marrying a handsome, alluring ne’er-do-well named Raphael. Meanwhile, Nicholas falls in with some rather nasty characters and eventually plans a bank heist. Along the way, Nouschka falls pregnant, finishes her long-delayed high school diploma, finds her true calling in life, and learns more than a thing or two about familial love.

With its cast of quirky, off-kilter characters, this novel aims to charm, and for the most part it succeeds. There is a certain narrative energy to seeing the world through Nouschka’s perspective. Even the most mundane interactions become charged with a kind of mythic quality: the visiting of a strip club, the taking of night courses, a stroll down a Montreal street in blistering winter. Nouschka lends a certain magical quality to it all. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is about a young woman who is aware of her flaws and the flaws of her family but still aims to hold things together while trying to carve a place out for herself in the world – that evergreen theme of finding individual agency while at the same time recognizing collective obligation.

For all its compelling ups and downs, this novel did leave us scratching our heads at times. There were the repetitive appearances of cats throughout the first part of the book that didn’t really amount to much. The opening section is pretty slow: the real “plot” doesn’t start to unfold until the last third of the book. We’re never sure from which period Nouschka is telling her story, as the whole narrative is framed like one giant flashback. And we’re still not entirely sure what the title of the book means either.

But overall we enjoyed The Girl Who Was Saturday Night well enough and were glad we picked it for the Challenge. It was fun discussing what we thought of Nouschka’s various choices through the story and how she kept things moving along. This won’t be the last time RR take this Challenge, so stay tuned to our blogs to find out which book we’ll do next.

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.