Review: Greedy Little Eyes

Greedy Little Eyes by Billie Livingston
Random House

With all the hoopla surrounding the Canada Reads, I wondered about the number of Canadian authors who were receiving very little ink because they strayed from the mainstream publishing path. Recently, I spoke to a writer about this and asked for a few recommendations of authors who were not getting the press they deserved. She gave me a couple of names, one being that of Billie Livingston.

A few days later, I received a copy of Livingston's collection of short stories Greedy Little Eyes, which incidentally won a CBC Bookie Award. The majority of the stories are set in Vancouver, many deal with families who have a member or loved one dealing with some form of mental illness, and almost all of them contain a measure of alcohol. In other words, the stories are about every day families, warts and all. Livingston nevertheless throws her characters into some dark, yet humorous, situations, such as the Lindt chocolate flogger working at a mall under siege, or a librarian held at knife point by her rodent-exterminating, psychologically unstable boyfriend in the book sign-out line. My personal favourite, also the book's longest story, was about the artistic bipolar Alice and her love Clint, the refurbished preacher, who is matter of factly sized up in colourful language by a pregnant, spandex-clad meth addict, giving the reader an idea of how their love affair might end.

After reading through half the book, I told a friend that some of the stories had at times left me slack-jawed. Now why didn't I see that coming? As my mother used to take apart clothes to see how they were sewn together, I tried on a few occasions to go sentence by sentence to see how the author could continually pull the carpet out from under me. I have a few ideas now, but by the fifth paragraph I was usually swept back into the story. What's more, even without being able to put my finger on an exact description, I had a vivid picture of the characters and situations. In short, Livingston is a crack writer.

Another important point is that Livingston allows her female characters to embrace their dark side, such as the two sisters who lure a sexual predator into a trap to end his lascivious days.  Although this may sound lurid and it is, it's also self-defense against a man who has been given full rein in their home. In these stories, Livingston's female characters are independent, complex and life-like, and those who do have a dark side are never cast in the role of villainess. They are who they are. Take it or leave it. Though some readers will enjoy female protagonists with a wider range of character, as I clearly do, this deviation from the mainstream Pollyanna norm seems to have frightened some people; otherwise, Livingston would be getting the attention she deserves.

If you're looking for something off the beaten path that will make you cringe, gasp and giggle, this is your book.

You could even win it if you "like" my page at the Unexpected Twists and Turns on Facebook. If you've already "liked" this page then just "like" this post at the bottom of the page. Winner announced on Friday, March 18.

Congratulations to Billie for winning the Danuta Gleed $10,000-first prize for Greedy Little Eyes

Other reviews:

Dead Time by Christy Ann Conlin
The Social Media Survival Guide by Deltina Hay
The Birth House by Ami McKay
The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis
The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou
Unless by Carol Shields
Essex County by Jeff Lemire



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