Saturday, August 6, 2016

Review of Weathervane in The Winnipeg Free Press

Well, Google Alerts has once again failed me, as there was a really great capsule review of Weathervane in The Winnipeg Free Press a couple of weeks ago, which I totally missed. The review is written by the omnivorous Jonathan Ball (you may recall he also wrote the paper's review of Sad Peninsula back in 2014) and is included in a packet of pieces looking at books by fellow poets Kim Fu, Stephen Heighton, and Susan Holbrook. The review calls Weathervane "a taut, confident debut from an already accomplished author" and has other nice things to say about it. As always, I'm very grateful for the ink and the publicity.

I also want to apologize for radio silence here on the blog over the last little while. I realize that I posted exactly nothing in the month of July, and didn't do a ton of entries in June, either. I have multiple excuses: a European vacation, edits on my latest novel, The Slip, due to Dundurn, and another writing project outside of fiction and poetry that is eating up the time I usually devote to blogging. Anyway, please know I am alive and well, and will try to post more often when I can.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Major new academic essay, in which Sad Peninsula features prominently

Let's call it the "snooping self on the Web" discovery of the year. I was checking out Sad Peninsula’s holdings on yesterday when I found that someone has published a major new piece of scholarship on comfort women novels, in which my book features prominently. Professor Jeongyun Ko of Dong-A University has written “‘Good’ Comfort Women Novel? Ethics and Representational Tactics of Korean Comfort Women Novels in English” for the academic journal Korean Association for Feminist Studies in English Literature. Professor Ko’s essay touches on the various themes and tropes found throughout the corpus of comfort women fiction, but she focuses her analysis on two recent novels to join the genre – mine and Kalliope Lee’s Sunday Girl (Psychopomp Press, 2013).

I know by now that one must take all literary “accomplishments” with a certain grain of salt, but I find myself especially chuffed by this delightful news. While academic journals don’t typically have a broad audience, I have to believe that a large scholarly essay such as this one is less ephemeral than your average work-a-day book review. This paper may well be read, discussed and cited by like-minded academics over the years, and hopefully lead some of them to Sad Peninsula. What’s more, many authors have to wait until they’re dead before they have any scholarship written about them, so I’m grateful that this work of mine has gotten some academic love less than two years out of the gate.

As well, Professor Ko has many flattering things to say about Sad Peninsula. In comparing its narrative approach to other comfort women fiction, she writes:

Sad Peninsula concedes two new important thematic focuses that have not been fully explored in other comfort women novels in English. First, the question of ethics and representation of comfort women is scrutinized within the text through the depiction of “foreigner” Michael’s fascination with Eun-young’s past as a comfort woman. Second, Eun-young’s narrative, which unfolds her life back in Korea, not just the enslavement experiences, presents a powerful voice of a Korean female heroine who is more than just a comfort woman trapped in a victim trope.

To read the essay in full, go to the journal issue’s landing page and then click on the “4.Ko.pdf” link (you may have to hunt for it – it’s tiny!) to download the file.

Monday, June 13, 2016

My Numero Cinq review of Benjamin Hale's The Fat Artist and Other Stories

Yes, yes, a book reviewer's work is never done. While I wasn't expecting to see this piece published until later this summer, it was great to see Numero Cinq post my review of Benjamin Hale's masterful new short story collection, The Fat Artist earlier today. Since submitting my review, I've been singing this book's praises to anyone who will listen - my wife, coworkers, strangers at the bank. I think what I appreciate most about it is how Hale is able to write in several different registers and adopt so many different perspectives in these stories. His is a massive talent and I am a proud convert. Go put this book on your summer reading list. You won't regret it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Speaking of Quill and Quire ...

... my Q&Q review of Torp, by Michael Mirolla, is now online. Rereading the review, I now wonder if readers may think that I have direct experience of being in Vancouver during the FLQ crisis in 1970. I don't. I wasn't born until 1975. Which I guess just means Mirolla did a great job of creating a believable zeitgeist in his novel. Anyway, an interesting book with interesting things happening in it. Go check it out!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Quill and Quire review of Rich and Poor, by Jacob Wren ...

... is now online at Q&Q's website. You, like me, may find this novel by Jacob Wren somewhat apropos, what with the catastrophe that is Donald Trump's presidential run unfolding down south. Wren's narrative plants us firmly inside the dynamic between a callous billionaire and the impoverished, failed musician who wants to murder him. While my review points out that this book could have benefited from a bit more realism on the billionaire's side of the coin, overall Rich and Poor is very readable, occasionally funny, and generous in the sense that it provides some interesting food for thought. Anyway, read the full review here.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Review: Prairie Harbour, by Garry Thomas Morse

I first encountered Garry Thomas Morse’s poetry in one of the best ways that any small-press author can discover another small-press author: we both had work in the same literary journal. In this instance, it was in the September 2010 issue of The Quint, a small online periodical out of a university in The Pas, Manitoba. Upon reading the issue, I was immediately struck by the musicality of Morse’s verse, the way he manipulates line breaks and spacing to create a fiery momentum on the page, one that both subverts and satisfies the expectations of our readerly eye.

This prowess is very much animated in Morse’s latest collection, Prairie Harbour. The book could be read as either a singular long poem or a collage of shorter(ish) pieces that possess similar sequences of images, tropes or preoccupations. The defining feature of Prairie Harbour can be found in its title: this is a poetry collection about juxtaposition, about placing widely divergent concepts in close proximity to each other to cut new paths of understanding in our minds. Morse weaves a great tapestry of opposites as he explores his own First Nations identity and its relationship with other fraught aspects of Canadian, prairie, and, indeed, global existence.

These kinds of juxtapositions leap from nearly every page. Morse writes in the dense, trickster-like tradition of the so-called Prairie long poem (see Kroetsch, Cooley, Arnason, Dueck, Marvin Francis, etc.), and to recreate his line breaks on a blog platform would risk offending the sophisticated arrangements he has created. But here is a small taste, from early in Prairie Harbour, of what I’m talking about:

Speak to me then

of trees on your farm
of succulent saskatoons
of visions in perfect colour
of music in crystalline

speak through the flame
& I will forgo
plaguing Europe
& shadows cast
across “primitive” minds

You can see how Morse loads together a series of disparate images or tropes – Canada and Europe; rural reality and the liveliness of music; clear-headed (“crystalline”) perspectives versus “primitive” minds – and finds a way to make them sing together.

There may be a certain amount of futility to parsing exactly what this rich experimental text is “about” in the traditional sense, but the reader willing to pay close attention will spot a series of unifying ideas. Prairie Harbour is, at its core, about the long and continuous attempts at erasure of aboriginal identity, and how the First Nations voice literally needs to fight against the margins, against the very idea of margin, to make itself heard. Morse lays out many aspects of his own heritage in doing this, but what he creates never feels forced or didactic.

What’s more, there are great flurries of other tropes that readers can latch onto. Music plays a huge role in this book: I caught references to the great folk tune from my own neck of the woods, “Farewell to Nova Scotia”, as well as countless allusions to classical music and classical literature from Europe. In this sense, Morse is steeped in several artistic traditions and can write from multiple points of reference.

Still, there is a darkness that underlines this collection. It is a shadow embodied in “the Company”, a reoccurring motif in Prairie Harbour that may represent a specific corporate entity (perhaps the Hudson’s Bay Company), or, more likely, a generalized concept of the marauding, colonizing force that has threatened native identity and existence for centuries. Yet, through the sheer musicality of his verse, Morse forces us to welcome this bleak underscore to our minds. His poetry energizes us to the threat of colonial erasure, hinting at the great spectrums of light that await us if we can move beyond the harm it brings.

In the end, this is a book committed to the reformative power of art, to the ability of poetry to slip gleefully out from between the fingers of “the Company” even as it tightens its grip. This is a book that does not hold back its sense of hope.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Announcement: My next novel, The Slip, forthcoming from Dundurn

A not-atypical page from The Slip's
first draft. (My markups, natch.)
Well, this news found its way into Quill and Quire recently so I thought I should also announce it here on the blog. Yes, I will have a new novel out next year. The lovely people at Dundurn Press, who published my last novel, Sad Peninsula, will release The Slip in the spring of 2017. This will mark – good gravy – four books in four years for me, which is a fact I still haven’t wrapped my mind around yet.

Anyway, here is the back-cover copy for The Slip to give you a sense of what the new book is about:

Philip Sharpe is one bad morning and two regrettable comments away from going viral for all the worst reasons. 
In his wickedly funny new novel, Mark Sampson introduces us to the ultimate absent-minded professor, Dr. Philip Sharpe, who teaches philosophy at the University of Toronto and is one of Canada’s most combative public intellectuals. But when a live TV debate with his fiercest rival goes horribly off the rails, an oblivious Philip says some things to her — some heinous and wildly inappropriate things — that he really shouldn’t have. 
As a clip of Philip’s “slip” goes viral, it soon reveals all the cracks and fissures in his marriage with his young, stay-at-home wife, Grace. While the two of them try to get on the same side of the situation, things quickly spiral out of control. 
Can Philip make amends and save his marriage? To do so, he’ll need to realize the true nature of his on-air comments, and to conscript a band of misfits in a scheme to set things right.

Me, signing the contract for The Slip last July.
Like most of the literary news I announce here, I’ve known about this forthcoming publication for a while. I signed the contract for The Slip last July after Dundurn accepted the book on the strength of a proposal and three chapters. While I’ve had the idea of this novel and its characters since at least 2007 or 2008, I began working on manuscript in earnest in the fall of 2013, and submitted the full manuscript last February. I’ve been telling people who’ve asked that this book is in many ways the polar opposite of Sad Peninsula. That last novel was a deeply dramatic narrative about an uncomfortable part of twentieth century history, set over decades and told from two alternating perspectives. This new book is, by contrast, a wildly comic novel told from just one point of view and – with the exception of flashback chapters – set over just nine days in November of 2015.

The announcement in Quill and Quire.
The Slip is already available for pre-order (and has been since before I submitted the full ms, which was weird!) from the usual suspects, including Amazon, Chapters-Indigo, McNally Robinson and, of course, Dundurn’s own website. Naturally, I will keep you all posted on other developments – including cover design, launch dates and such – as they arise over the coming months.

Finally, a big thanks to Dundurn, and especially editor Shannon Whibbs, for taking another chance on me. I’m very excited that this book is coming out and can’t wait until you all get to meet Philip Sharpe for yourselves.