Saturday, July 27, 2019

#CBR11 Review #28: By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

CBR11 Bingo Square: Rainbow Flag

Truth be told, for the Rainbow Flag square I was hoping to read Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham (is the movie adaptation with Colin Farrell worth watching? I didn’t know this existed and well, Mr. Farrell is a big draw for me, I must admit), but sadly our local library didn’t have that novel. However, they DID have By Nightfall, and no matter the subject, Michael Cunningham is still LGBT+, and I DO have a strange thing for stories about a long-established relationship dynamic being shifted by the introduction of someone new(ish?) to the mix, which is what the synopsis hinted at here. So why not?

The focus of this story is on Peter, a mid-forties art dealer who lives a comfortable (if slightly detached) life with his wife Rebecca in New York, and with a somewhat estranged daughter across the country. However, when Rebecca’s younger brother, Ethan (called “Mizzy” as a nickname meaning Mistake, as he was born almost 20 years after the rest of the children in the family) comes to stay with the couple, claiming to be clean of drugs for the first time in a long while, things get thrown for a loop: Peter can’t help but feel a change in how he views his life and relationships.

Now, normally, as I said, I love stories where a routine gets completely demolished by the introduction of someone (or something) new, because I love the potential drama of it all.  However, despite the short length of this novel (238 pages), it felt like it slogged along extremely slowly. It honestly felt like a little but of a chore to get through big sections of it. I found the protagonist to be largely unsympathetic in how he viewed others (and maybe that’s the point?) for so much of it until the very last fifth or so of the novel, and by then I didn’t feel enough time for my feelings to really change with him, or feel a sense of journey with him. There was also a lot of information regarding Peter’s job that I just found to be so boring (and I’m an artist myself, so you’d think I would be interested in the inner-workings of the art world a little more, right?). I was just extremely uninterested in what was being given to me the whole time.

However, I can’t give this a terrible one-star review (okay, we will leave it at two) because there were some interesting subjects touched on; in particular, right near the end there is the introduction of the idea that while Peter has been so self-focused, he has missed the issues and struggles of those around him, which he would have noticed if only he wasn’t so caught up in his own drama. But unfortunately, nothing really stuck for me, and I can see myself forgetting this book soon.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Monday, July 22, 2019

#CBR11 Review #27: Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

CBR11 Bingo: Own Voices

Written by Eden Robinson, an Aboriginal Canadian Author of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations, I though Son of a Trickster would definitely fit the Own Voices Bingo square as it is a coming-of-age novel centered on an Aboriginal teenager in Kitimat, British Columbia, which leans solidly into some of the Haisla culture and beliefs, particularly those surrounding the trickster figure, Wee’jit.

Our focus in this novel is a teenager Jared as he navigates the usual teenage social scene and dramas, but with a whole load of other baggage as well: this comes in the form of a broken home and living with an unstable mother and her boyfriend in poverty, selling pot cookies on the side to help out a semi-estranged father and his new step-daughter, drug use and alcoholism, and the violence that can come with a whole storm of problems. Oh, and that’s not to mention that his one grandmother thinks he is a trickster spirit, and she may in fact be right, as Jared slowly starts to experience more sightings of monsters or metaphysical beings in his life that he can’t quite understand.

My first impression of this novel was that the characters and situations within it were a little abrasive, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get into something so gritty. But ultimately,  it was worth it to stick with it, because really it’s just an unfortunate reality for a lot of people. Jared’s experiences are not enviable, but all of the decisions he makes (whether what one would consider to be “right” or not) are totally understandable in the context of his life. Also, it would be so easy for a story with this kind of situational setting to lean too heavily into misery, but a lightness remains to the novel in the humor sprinkled throughout, as well as the moments of hope and progress we see in Jared as the protagonist; he’s the kind of kid who may not seem great at first glance, but ultimately you see the good that somehow remains in him despite his circumstances, and you really root for him.

Knowing that Son of a Trickster is the first novel in a trilogy, I would guess that the next two novels get into the magical elements a bit more, though as it is now, the little explanation we get fits with the story being told (and how the characters themselves would realistically approach it) and the resolution of the novel in itself worked for me as a finished piece. That being said, I would be interested in continuing the series should the library make the next instalments available.

One thing, however, that didn’t entirely work for me was the side characters. I didn’t quite understand some of them and their motivations, or rather, how their minds and actions would change from one point to the next. Maybe I wasn’t reading enough between the lines.

However, overall, Son of a Trickster is a solid novel that is both serious in it subjects but not without some light-heartedness and humor. Eden Robinson’s writing style is also clear and smooth, so I certainly would not be opposed to picking up more of her work in the future.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Friday, July 12, 2019

#CBR11 Review #26: Mercury by Hope Larson

CBR11 Bingo: Illustrated

Picked up on a whim, this graphic novel features all black-and-white illustrations, which are simple but expressive, but the story itself was a bit fleeting to me. Split between the past and present, Mercury follows the journey of a teenage girl in Nova Scotia named Tara. She is currently living with her aunt, uncle, and cousin in her home town, after her mother is working in another province. After Tara and her mother’s house burned down a few years ago, she has been homeschooled, and now is the time that she finally returns and is wondering how she can fit in while also be true to herself and her roots. This story is however peppered with blasts to the past, with Tara’s ancestors living on a farm that is now being coveted by a seedy prospector, as it appears it may be a suitable place for a gold mine. This prospector also, of course, catches the eye of the family daughter Josey, who is the main character in these past sections. But as we progress with this story, there is a touch of magic and secrets involved in the past lives of Tara’s family.

At the beginning of this graphic novel I was incredibly intrigued, and felt like the secrets and mystery of the past and how it influences the future would be incredibly juicy. Unfortunately, by the end it all seemed to unfold without much punch at all. The inclusion of some magical elements is also very fun, but again it seems like it the landing doesn’t quite stick. Tara and her growth in confidence and taking charge of her life is great to see as it progresses, but I really couldn’t get a read on Josey. She seemed a bit too simple in some ways?

In any case, the artwork in Mercury is done in a clean style that I didn’t find hard to get into, and the story itself breezes right along. I just wish it could have held a little more weight for me in the end.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]