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2014: So Many Good Books So Little Time

Photo credit: ProfDEH Wikimedia Commons
I felt a little overwhelmed when I read the National Post's 25 of the most anticipated books of 2014. Not only did it list the Literary Editor's picks, it also listed many other books that would be released this year. And truth be told, it is going to be a stellar year for books, even better than last year. I immediately spotted five that I was dying to get my hands on. Here they are:

Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood, publisher and release date to be announced
Last year was a great year for short fiction with Alice Munro's Nobel Prize. As a lover of short fiction, I'm looking forward to Margaret Atwood's Stone Mattress collection. After seeing her and Sheila Heti at the Drawn and Quarterly-sponsored event in early December, I remembered how much I enjoyed Surfacing in my final year of high school. I went on to read everything available by Atwood at the time, but I haven't read anything by her recently. Seeing the witty literary giant on stage reignited my interest in her work. What will a master storyteller's short fiction be like? I can't wait to see.

Ellen in Pieces, by Caroline Adderson, HarperCollins, September
Canadian novelist and short story writer, Caroline Adderson is a gifted writer. Although well-known among avid readers and Canadian literary circles, she has not yet made that break into the mainstream. Ellen in Pieces is a collection of connected short stories that centers around the life of Ellen, a young Vancouver woman stricken with cancer but who still has a healthy sexual appetite. It contains a story entitled "Erection Man," which was long-listed for the world's richest (£30,000) short story prize, Britain's Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. Let's hope this book brings Adderson the recognition she deserves.

Margaret Atwood and Sheila Heti at D&Q event
Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi, Penguin Canada, March  
Boy, Snow, Bird is Oyeyemi's fifth novel, the first of which she wrote while writing her final high school exams. The Cambridge graduate has also published two plays. Not bad for someone who is not yet 30. In 1953, Boy Novak, a woman obsessed with beauty, leaves New York to live in a small Massachusetts town where she marries a widower and becomes the stepmother to the gorgeous Snow Whitman. When Boy gives birth to dark-skinned child, she discovers that the Whitmans are light-skinned African Americans passing for white. It will be interesting to see how Oyeyemi treats the cultural constructs of race and beauty in the Pre-Civil Rights era New England, more than 30 years before the Nigerian-born, London-based author was born.

The Girl That Was Saturday Night, by Heather O'Neill, HarperCollins, May
Here is the long-awaited follow-up to O'Neill's 2007 international bestseller Lullabies for Little Criminals. This time, O'Neill tackles celebrity. Noushcka and Nicolas Tremblay are beautiful twins who live in a sordid apartment on St-Laurent Boulevard with their grandfather. As the offspring of famous bon vivant folksinger Étienne Tremblay, the inseparable twins are media darlings as children. However, their self-destructive behaviour on the eve of their 20th birthday attracts the attention of a journalist who unearths some disquieting secrets. It has been said that this book is classic, unforgettable Heather O'Neill.

The Fledglings, by David Homel, Cormorant Books, April
The Fledglings is award-winning translator David Homel's seventh novel. It is about the daughter of a Jewish bootlegger in Prohibition-era Chicago. What could be more interesting than a tale set in the days of Al Capone, particularly when it is written by a native Chicagoan? What might be even more interesting is to see how convincingly Homel writes from the point of view of a woman protagonist.

Other book-related reviews
Lily and Taylor by Elise Moser
World of Glass by Jocelyne Dubois
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Letting It Go by Miriam Katin
My Mother, the Nazi Midwife and Me by Gina Roitman
Stony River by Tricia Dower
Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée
Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado
Bombay Wali and other stories by Veena Gokhale
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Gay Dwarves of America by Anne Fleming





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My Prairie Home by Chelsea McMullan

The only Canadian feature film in the official selection of this year's Sundance Film Festival, My Prairie Home was enthusiastically received in Park City, Utah. In the 77-minute NFB documentary, filmmaker Chelsea McMullan follows Montreal-based indie singer Rae Spoon across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in a Greyhound bus. But this is not your standard music documentary of a road trip. As we travel the highway across the endless prairie, we learn about the hills and valleys of Rae Spoon's early life.

The indie singer was raised in an evangelical Christian family under a tyrannical father, a church deacon of questionable mental health. Early on Spoon sought refuge in music to avoid her parents' continual sightings of signs of the Rapture. Life was already difficult enough for Spoon who couldn't see herself as a wife and mother, answering to a husband. In fact, a husband was almost unfathomable. Spoon is gay and describes herself as gender neutral, using the personal pronoun "they" in self-reference. As can be expected, high school was not easy, nor was coming out. In a soft-spoken manner, Spoon relates standing up to family, community and high school bullies, but the prairies remain an integral part of Spoon's identity and the place the singer still calls home.

Besides the stunning shots of the Canadian prairie, the viewer is treated to Spoon's hauntingly beautiful singing voice. For anyone who has driven across Canada, the prairie provinces seem endless. But there is a magical beauty to the golden velour-textured wheat fields and that great big prairie sky. My Prairie Home is a moving coming-of-age film that may be instrumental in challenging many preconceived notions about the transgendered.

If you missed the film at the Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal the NFB is screening it free online for 48 hours (January 26 and 27). To view the film on the NFB site click here.

Other film reviews
The Missing Picture by Rithy Panh
Detropia by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
Finding Dawn by Christine Welch
The Fruit Hunters by Yung Chang


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To Patch or Not To Patch

Amid frigid temperatures last week, I found myself on St-Hubert Street, north of Jean-Talon, trying to find of all things, iron on-patches. And with all the fabric stores and sewing accessory shops you'd think that it would have been easy. But I was directed and redirected to a number of stores before I finally found what I was looking for. It would appear that people don't patch anymore.

My son, Sacha, now six years old won't stop growing. I bought him two pairs of jeans in September, and they're already too small. This winter, he's been wearing navy blue hand-me-down snow pants, the ones his sister wore 5 years ago. But because he likes to rough-house, there are holes in the knees. I could go out and buy him a new pair, but these snow pants still fit him.

To patch or not to patch? This is a makeshift solution, not altogether aesthetically pleasing, but an attempt to salvage rather than discard. This wasn't a protest against the flood of cheap Chinese imports as some of you might imagine. Instead, this was brought about by pure nostalgia. I wanted to see the steps my mom, a single mother, had gone through to patch clothes.

When I found the patches I was looking for, "Made in Canada" was printed on the label, something I have not seen in years. Factoring in the dust and the metal hook I found the patches on, I guessed that they might be decades old, possibly hanging in that exact same place.

Now some of you will smile at my attempt to iron patches on snow pants because, as I soon discovered after reading the patch instructions, you can't iron rayon. It melts. But now I was determined to find a way to do it.

While in Accessoires de Couture St-Hubert, I was also relieved to find "Made in Canada" cotton socks. Although much more expensive than their "Made in China" counterparts, they come with the added bonus that they don't strangle your ankles. But don`t talk to me about the Chinese-sizing conundrum. In November, I spent an hour in a department store trying to find winter boots for my daughter, but nothing fit her size-5 foot, except a size-7 boot. But I digress...

The new cotton socks were placed around the edges of the patch so the hot iron would not come into contact with the rayon snow pants. The sock solution was my contribution to the iron-on patch effort. My more patient husband volunteered to do the ironing portion. To some, it would appear that he had hijacked my pious effort to revisit my late mother's memory, but in fact his help was greatly appreciated. We could share the blame if it all went south.

I was able to revisit my late-mother's memory vicariously through my husband's ironing. It all came rushing back to me, leaving me to wonder why I'd wanted to stroll down memory lane in the first place.

I suddenly remembered her saying "Shit!" as she ironed on patches because there was never enough glue on the edges for them to stick properly. But my more virtuous husband just pressed his lips together and then calmly said, "The patch edges aren't sticking." Then I remember my mother grumbling, "God damn it! Now I'm going to have to stitch around those useless patches!" This involved more work and created another problem. My mother was a perfectionist, particularly when it came to sewing, and the strongest hand-sewn stitches would show, a major sewing faux pas, the mark of an amateur.

My husband did suggest using the sewing machine to sew down the edges, but I told him that the pants were too thick for a sewing machine needle. "I'll sew around the edges," he offered. I cringed. I watched him do a whip stitch around the edges, the weakest and most obvious stitch, but at least he tried to match the colour of the thread.

In the end, my son's snow pants looked only marginally better than when they were ripped. As can be expected, after a few falls, the whip stitch came apart. But overall the patches are still intact, and the pants should last the entire winter. Every time I see his snow pants I laugh, and I'm sure my mother would have laughed too.


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The Other Side of Youth by Kelli Deeth

This is one of four reviews that I wrote for the Globe and Mail this year. It was a big step up from being a book blogger, and more than once, I wondered if I was up to the challenge.

Some of you may also know that I am now the Books Editor at Montreal's Rover Arts, an online arts review. This is a volunteer position for a few hours a week to hone my editing skills. I also have a day job. I'm a language professional, which is both demanding and rewarding, yet my blog is still my first love. 

I'd like to thank you, my readers, for your support. I've just completed my fifth year of blogging.

Happy New Year!

The Other Side of Youth, by Kelli Deeth, Arsenal Pulp Press, appearing in the Globe and Mail on November 29.

More than a decade has passed since the release of Kelli Deeth’s critically acclaimed The Girl Without Anyone. Set in a middle-class Toronto suburb, the collectio n of connected stories followed Leah, a young teen of recently divorced parents who are too self-involved to notice their daughter’s need for attention. After dropping out of school, Leah engages in high-risk behaviour, seeking love in all the wrong places. This highly realistic collection showcased Deeth’s ability to write taut, compelling fiction about someone as familiar as the girl at the mall, or the girl next door.

Deeth’s latest collection of short stories, The Other Side of Youth, is far more ambitious and even more intense. Set entirely in and around Toronto, the stories focus on life-changing events, serving up highly plausible yet often unsettling outcomes–the other side of personal issues that often go unseen. The female protagonists in the 11 tales range in age from their early teens to their late thirties. Each struggles with the life-choices she has made and their inherent consequences.

Picking up a theme from The Girl Without Anyone, Deeth writes convincingly about the vagaries of adolescent longing. Using simple prose, the Toronto-based writer delivers powerful narratives that are both alarming and realistic. In “End of Summer,” 13-year-old Sandra, grieving the loss of her brother, is repeatedly drawn to a field where girls are rumoured to be assaulted. In “Correct Caller,” one of several exceptional tales in this collection, 16-year-old Michelle sets out to distance herself from her embittered mother and prove that she can take care of herself. Landing a job over the phone, the 16-year-old is unfortunately hired by exactly the type of man her mother has warned her about, inadvertently putting herself in harm’s way. In “A Boy’s Hand,” adolescent Tanya seeks affection from an unstable boy, even after he is openly hostile towards her.  In the end, he threatens her with his father’s hunting rifle. In the conclusion of this disquieting tale, Deeth brilliantly taps into the traumatized girl’s mind: “…because it was a gun and it was pointed at me, it had gotten inside. Things that were on the inside never got out. They found a place to live, and when you closed your eyes, they showed themselves.”

Many of the exceptional stories in this collection deal with difficult choices related to motherhood. In “The Things They Said,” Courtney is reaching the end of her child-bearing years, and although she and Michael have decided not to have children because of their own dysfunctional childhoods, Courtney still feels that something is not right, regardless of what they tell each other. In “Ari,” Jana is unable to carry a child to term, and her otherwise loving relationship with Peter begins to disintegrate. Peter longs for a daughter like his niece Ari. The centerpiece, however, is the very moving “Vera’s Room.” The narrator and her husband Andrew adopt seven-year-old Vera, a foster child. Despite the couple’s decision, the narrator’s mothering instinct does not kick in. Vera senses this and rebels against her new mother. For the narrator, Vera is not the child she thought they would have. To make matters worse, Andrew is a natural father who reminds his wife that “it’s not all about her.”

The Other Side of Youth
is a series of finely honed short stories, the kind that linger in the mind well after the book is finished. The extremely rich subject-matter and the author’s ability to write satisfying endings could well be the reasons for this. Deeth is a great writer of short fiction, and The Other Side of Youth is the best collection of short stories I have read in recent memory. It was well worth the 12-year wait.

My other reviews in the Globe and Mail.
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz
Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado


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A Moment in Villeray

The beginning of December is a busy time, and one of the hardest things is to muster enough energy on these short days to get everything done. December is also the month when I, like everyone else, take stock of the year passing. My family and I went through a lot this year, but the tragic events were offset by many positive moments.

I fell and injured my knee last year, and it stopped me from doing a lot of blogging this year. I just can't sit for extended periods of time anymore without some degree of pain, and because I work seated for 7.5 hours a day, something had to give.

But as luck would have it, the injury pushed me to spend a lot more time walking year-round in Jarry Park. There is nothing more beautiful than the intense blue of a winter sky, something I can't remember enjoying since I was a kid. And I know that this will annoy the s**t out of some people, but winter can be enjoyed with the right clothing.

Because of my injury I also carved out some time to go to yoga and pilates, which have been beneficial in more ways than one. Not only am I doing something I enjoy, but it also gives me a chance to socialize with people in my neighbourhood. Social opportunities are sorrily missed for people who work from home. But while regular exercise has helped, it has not cured my knee problems or the pain from sitting for long periods of time.

On Friday, I started physiotherapy. I checked on the Internet to find a physiotherapist within walking distance. The address was curiously on Rue Gary Carter, formerly known as Faillon Ouest. Everyone who is at least 40 will remember Gary Carter, the Expos golden-boy catcher, back when we had three TV stations, and if the Expos were playing that's what you were watching, whether you liked it or not. When I saw the sign, it was a happy nostalgic moment.

The physiotherapy session was less cheery. Plenty of prodding later, I discovered that I will need more than a few sessions of physio to correct the muscle imbalance caused by my fall. The problem with uncorrected damage is that our bodies compensate in different ways, which can cause subsequent injuries, namely in the back, neck or ankle.

With my list of exercises in hand, I walked home through the park by the pond. I thought about all the writing I had wanted to do this year but wasn't able to. Nevertheless, the quality of my life definitely improved with regular exercise and fresh air. Below is part of the beautiful silver lining of my injury.

The Pond at Jarry Park in Early December



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The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

At 6:00 pm this evening, the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, will be presenting 14 winners with literary awards. Eleanor Catton will be among the recipients of Canada’s highest literary honour for her historical suspense novel The Luminaries. The 28-year-old author has been making headlines around the world, but not just for her GG win. Six weeks ago, Catton won the much-coveted Man Booker Prize. She was the youngest winner for the longest novel (832 pages) in its history.

Catton was born in London, Ontario, where she lived until she was six while her father completed his PhD at the University of Western Ontario, but she grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand. Writing fiction is a lifelong endeavour, and the world is anxious to know how Catton managed to become such an exemplary writer at such a young age. She has said on repeated occasions that she has been writing for as long as she can remember and credits her mother, a librarian, for always keeping her with a fresh supply of books. Four years ago, Catton penned her debut novel The Rehearsal, which was also her Master’s thesis. A sex scandal at a high school formed the basis of the story, which received a number of awards, including the Amazon.ca First Novel Award.

A departure from her previous novel, The Luminaries takes place in Hokitika, a gold-rush town on the west coast of New Zealand’s south island in the 1860s. On a dark and stormy January evening, Walter Moody steps off a shipwreck and walks into the first Hokitika hotel he finds. He has come, like other European prospectors and Chinese labourers, to start afresh and seek his fortune in the New Zealand goldfields. Moody has had a deeply unsettling experience aboard the barque Godspeed, and is still shaken when he enters the hotel. There, he finds himself in the midst of 12 men who are holding an informal meeting about a series of unexplained events that involve a drugged prostitute found unconscious in the street, a wealthy young man who has disappeared and a fortune in gold found in the home of a  hermit who has died under suspicious circumstances.

The reader must comb through multiple layers of speculation, contradiction and fact to uncover the reasons for these three events and the connection between them. In the course of this highly complex novel, the reader meets 20 characters that include a whoremonger, a chaplain, a greenstone hunter (the sole Maori character), an opium addict, a fortune-teller, a jailer, a politician and a former convict. Every character is privy to a piece of information that no one else knows. Gold is concealed in the seams of gowns, identities are stolen and fortunes are lost. Then, there is the astrology-based structure with charts at the start of each of the book’s sections. Catton has assigned personality traits that are stereotypical of one zodiac to each of the 12 men, while 7 other characters are said to have planetary influences.

The Luminaries reads like a Victorian novel, reminiscent of Dickens or Collins. The writing is beautiful, compelling and detailed, with so much keen insight that it is hard to imagine that the author is under the age of 30. There are multiple narrative threads, but the story under Catton’s deft hand never becomes unwieldy. At times, however, the many details are hard to keep straight. Fortunately each chapter starts with an epigraph with the names of characters who are to appear, making it easier to go back and check details. This is not a book to read on your commute to work. Instead, it is best enjoyed when you can read for hours at a time.

The narrative threads may not always be tied up perfectly, but there are plenty of wonderfully written distractions to make you quickly forget. Towards the end of the book, the epigraphs may tell too much of the story, but the author nevertheless serves up a highly satisfying ending. The Luminaries is a booklover`s novel.

Eleanor Catton’s abilities as a writer are astounding. If this is what she produces at age 28 then I look forward to what she will write at 50, when most writers are just hitting their stride. She is a shooting star in the literary firmament and a more than worthy recipient of the Governor General’s Award for fiction.

Other reviews
Lily and Taylor by Elise Moser
World of Glass by Jocelyne Dubois
5 Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
Detropia by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
Finding Dawn by Christine Welch
The Fruit Hunters by Yung Chang

This has been cross-posted at Rover Arts.




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The Missing Picture by Rithy Panh

Rithy Panh has made many films about his native Cambodia, but none as personal as The Missing Picture, awarded the Grand Prix (Un Certain Regard) at the 2013 Cannes International Film Festival. Now almost age 50, Panh states in the film's opening that he often finds himself revisiting memories of his childhood, that he seeks his childhood like a missing picture.

But because all of his family's photos and keepsakes were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge after it evacuated Phnom Penh in 1975, Panh has reconstructed his childhood from clay, creating intricate sets and colourful figurines of himself and each of his family members in order to tell his story. Images of the clay figurines are combined with and superimposed on footage from the regime's meticulously kept archives. The figurines take the edge off the many atrocities detailed in The Missing Picture, adding a warm childlike touch to an otherwise dark and chilling story.

As we see in the film, the director's childhood was happy and peaceful before the bombs began to fall in Cambodia. After the evacuation in 1975, Panh and his family were transported in a cattle car to a labour camp, where they were forced into re-education. As part of the Year Zero policy of the Khmer Rouge, families were separated and assigned numbers in lieu of names. Their clothes were dyed black, and their possessions destroyed, all in an attempt to erase their identities. Panh miraculously survives years of hardship and later seeks refuge in Thailand.

The Missing Picture is an extremely moving film. Although the atrocities of Pol Pot's killing fields are now well documented, this film's significant force comes from the fact that it is a first-person account of life in a Khmer Rouge labour camp and that no detail is spared. The regime's grainy black and white footage will also remind many people of US war coverage seen on the nightly news in the late 1960s and early 70s. TV images of US soldiers and terrified children in Indochina are perhaps some of the most powerful images of my own childhood. The Missing Picture reminded me of all the questions I had about war and bombs but that no adult could ever answer. 

The Missing Picture is poignant and more than deserving of its accolades. Rithy Panh has not only reconstructed the missing picture of his childhood, but he has also created an enduring record of what transpired in Cambodia where 2.5 million people lost their lives.

The Missing Picture is playing tonight at Cinéma du Parc 1 as part of the Rencontre internationale du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM).


Other related posts:
Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien
Detropia by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
Finding Dawn by Christine Welch
The Fruit Hunters by Yung Chang
Review of the Juliet Stories by Carrie Snyder
The Day of the Crows directed by Jean-Christophe Dessaint
M60: Faux Pas











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Zines, Zines, Zines

Montreal's small press, comic and zine fair, Expozine, is happening this weekend at the St-Enfant Jésus Church on St-Dominque Street in the Mile End. Expozine started in 2002 in order showcase the multitude of publications that fall outside the mainstream. Since then, it has become one of the centrepieces of alternative publishing in North America. It is also one of my favourite events.

As I walked up to the entrance of the long hallway leading to Little Burgundy Room, formerly known as the church basement, I couldn't help but notice all the people congregated outside on this uncharacteristically sunny November afternoon. Then I recalled how hot the basement was in previous years and quickly took off my coat.

This year there are more than 270 exhibitors, and at 4:00 yesterday, the room was jammed full of people. This is an over-the-top fun event that is best enjoyed earlier in the afternoon when there is plenty of infectious enthusiasm among the creative people anxious to show off their latest work. By late afternoon, the heat hampers some of that exuberance.

The collection of handmade zines, buttons and T-shirts was as deliciously eclectic as ever, but there's quite a bit more polish to the work now than in previous years. Word is evidently out that internationally renowned comic publishers scout new talent at this event. Last June, Drawn and Quarterly Associate Publisher Peggy Burns told CBC radio that Montreal's Expozine was one of three fairs in North America where the publisher looked for new artists with new mini comics. Yesterday,  Publisher Andy Brown of Conundrum Press told me that he, too, shopped for new talent at Expozine.

Every year, I track down a few artists I have been watching over the years, wondering if this will be the year of their big break. I spotted the dark yet hilarious Richard Suicide and the charming Hasemeister, but did not find Iris, a young comic artist originally from Gatineau who creates intriguing and highly believable female characters. Visitors will inevitably find some of their own favourites.

If you're looking for some artistic inspiration drop by the Expozine, Canada's largest zine fair. To really enjoy the event, you might want to wear a short-sleeved shirt. If not, they serve beer.

This has been cross-posted at Rover Arts.

My previous trips to Expozine:
Montreal's 8th Annual Small Press Expozine (2009)
Expozine's Broken Pencil (2010)
Expozine 2011 (2011)

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Review of Lily and Taylor by Elise Moser

When the Lily and Taylor meet at a local high school, they discover that they have something in common--both their mothers had been in car crashes. While Taylor's mother died, Lily's mother survived, but the head injuries she sustained often require Lily to act as the parent.

Taylor, too, has lived through more than just the death of her mother. After her mother's death, she goes to live with her older sister and her violent partner. Taylor witnesses the escalation in violence until one day her older sister is killed, forcing Taylor to live with her grandparents in a new town and be a surrogate mother to Mason, her sister's 5-year-old son.

Moving to a new town has an upside for Taylor. It means that she is far away from Devon, her intense and controlling boyfriend. Just as Taylor begins to flourish at her new high school, Devon shows up with a friend and insists on taking Taylor for a ride. Lily hops in at the last minute, and the four of them go for a drive that no one will soon forget.

Lily and Taylor is the raw account of two teenage girls negotiating a far from perfect world. In spite of their traumatic pasts and weighty adult responsibilities, the two strike up a fast and furious friendship--something to sustain them through their difficult moments and add some much needed light to their daily lives.

Author Moser takes plenty of risks with Lily and Taylor, never shying away from the realities and darkness of domestic violence. While this is fine fiction, it also provides an eerily accurate depiction of an abusive relationship as it ebbs and flows. This was an intense read, one that I could not put down. 

Lily and Taylor is considered a Young Adult (YA) book, but people of all ages will find some food for thought in this compelling Thelma and Louise-style adventure.

This review has been cross-posted at Rover Arts.


Other reviews
World of Glass by Jocelyne Dubois
5 Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
Detropia by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
Finding Dawn by Christine Welch
The Fruit Hunters by Yung Chang

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Chihuly...From Many Angles

My husband and I took our kids to see Dale Chihuly's "Utterly Breathtaking," an exhibit of hand-blown glass at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art (MMFA) on the very last day it was in the city. Chihuly's unique collection had attracted more than 275,000 visitors, along with rave reviews.

The Pacific Northwest native, often described as the new Tiffany, is more of a glass sculptor than an artist who creates strictly decorative pieces. His colourful, finely detailed creations are life-sized and imposing, creating a striking contrast between strength and fragility. The overarching theme in this exhibit was marine life, but there were also plenty of flowers, mushrooms and even a neon forest.

Although I would have liked to get much closer to the objects than the MMFA permitted, I shuddered at the thought of having to dust each piece in the collection.

After all, a large part of an object's "dazzle effect" was how it shone from multiple surfaces in the overhead light. Dust would be highly visible and interfere with the esthetics, disgusting more than a few visitors. For the general public's viewing pleasure, these objects had to be dusted...often.

But as I stood staring at the above underwater scene, I couldn't see any easy or safe way to approach these twisting, asymmetrical, pointy pieces of multi-coloured glass, strictly for the purposes of cleaning. The potential duster would have to be extremely thin and agile, possibly a former Cirque du Soleil performer, and of course, she or he would be subjected to incredibly close "white-gloved" scrutiny by MMFA staff and visitors. I could imagine what would happen if they didn't. The visitor comment cards would read, "Dusty!" in angry block letters or "Allergies to dust, am utterly breathless!"

The position of duster would indeed be a demanding, potentially dangerous job, but the duster-acrobat would have that much-coveted close-up view that so many of us craved. The dusting professional would also be actually able to "touch" les objets d'art, and for me, that would be compensation enough.

I'll admit it. I'm inclined to touch. If I had my way, I would touch a lot of art in museums, from the curves in bronze sculptures to the chunks of excess pigment in oil paintings. The tactile experience is unfortunately missing. And I'm not alone in my tactile proclivity. I've taken more than a few of my students to museums and witnessed that spark of interest in the eye and then the slowly rising hand towards the objet d'art. Sadly, sight alone gives us a limited experience or just part of the whole picture.

At the MMFA, I saw an older woman with the same telltale dazzled look. I watched as she reached out with her hand. But when another visitor gasped, she quickly pulled her hand back.

"It's hard not to touch," I said to my 11-year-old daughter, who was standing next to me. She had also noticed the outstretched hand.

She rolled her eyes and sighed, "Everyone knows you're not allowed to touch anything."

Whether she liked the exhibit or not is hard to tell. She's at an age where her actions often belie her opinions. She took a lot of pictures, but said that "it was all too much of the same thing."

When I questioned her further, she said that "it was a lot of shiny, colourful glass without a purpose."

"But was a purpose necessary?" I asked. She just sighed and walked away.

If there was another member in my family who liked to touch things, it would be my six-year-old son. He found many objects that he wanted to touch in the first room with a glass ceiling holding hundreds of tiny colourful blown-glass replicas of sea life. With his extended index finger, he showed me his favourite things--a starfish and two cherubs.

Unfortunately, the life-sized objects were too big for him to fully appreciate, and he got bored. In the final room with the many flowers and mushrooms, he told us most audibly that he wanted to do something "fun," something related to Hallowe'en. As I walked around to take my final pictures, he began hanging on my arm, which made for some blurry pictures.

In the end, the playful "Utterly Breathtaking" was much more inspiring to the parents than children. In fact, our kids were itching for some fresh air. But I did find myself breathless on the few occasions when I was able to take a close enough look.








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