September was a very busy month around these parts for me and mine, and, thankfully, the good kind of busy. The month culminated in a wedding between two wonderful people, my “littlest” brother-in-law and my brand new sister-in-law. The beauty part for Dave and I was that our part of the country is also the home of the bride’s parents and the rough mid-point for all the travellers from East and West, so we didn’t even have to travel.
I didn’t spend as much time reading as I often do, but there are a couple gems on my list from the month.
Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga. As I continue to try to mitigate my ignorance about the experience of First Nations people in Canada, the more I realize that – while it’s easy to point to generational trauma inflicted by the decisions of the past (the Sixties Scoop, residential schools, broken treaties) – fresh trauma continues to mount. This nonfiction account of the deaths of seven high school students far from their remote Northern homes who’d come to Thunder Bay because it was their best, often only, chance to get a high school education is not about the distant past. These deaths happened in the first decade of this millennium. Ms Talaga, an experienced and lauded journalist, writes beautifully and uses the voices of her interview subjects to great effect. While nonfiction, the story unfolds like a story, with movement between past and present in the narrative and a deeply personal feel.
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú. The word “liminal” describes this memoir perfectly: “Derived from Latin limen meaning “threshold”, liminal refers to a transitory, in-between state or space, which is characterized by indeterminacy, ambiguity, hybridity, potential for subversion and change.” Mr Cantú, grandson of a Mexican immigrant, has a fascination with the border between the US and Mexico so much that he joined the Border Patrol in an effort to learn more about it, and about the people who risk everything to cross it. Over time, having been trained to hunt down and detain the living and retrieve the bodies of the dead, he becomes less certain rather than more and feels complicit in the dehumanization of real, actual, individual people. After he leaves the Border Patrol, he tries to help a friend, an illegal immigrant, get back to the US after having returned to Mexico for his dying mother. The literal border and borders between versions of righteousness, spaces of uncertainty and challenge, run throughout the book as Cantú works to desimplify the popular “build a wall” narrative.
Late Breaking by KD Miller. Fiction, beautiful fiction! This series of interwoven short stories inspired by the paintings of Alex Colville is truly, deeply gorgeous. Each focuses on the life, loves, heartbreaks, and mysteries of an elderly protagonist or someone linked to a protagonist of a preceding story. The individual stories stand on their own; taken together, they become a masterpiece mosaic.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. This novel tells the story of three adult sisters and their families as they deal with the fallout of the eldest sister (who was essentially a substitute mother as they grew up) being jailed for a series of frauds. It’s a good read and weighty enough to be reasonably satisfying.
Malevolent by Jana DeLeon. A woman believes she is being stalked by her dead husband, whom she killed in self-defence. The police think she’s crazy. She brings on a surprisingly young private detective, who has a terrible past of her own, to keep her safe and figure out what’s going on. We’re not talking fine literature here, but it was a pretty good page turner.
Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta. This lovely book – I can’t decide if it feels more like interconnected short stories or fairly distinct chapters – tells the story of Kara Davis, a Canadian girl who feels the pressure to also be a “true Jamaican.” She feels she’s always not quite living up to others’ expectations: too shy, too bold, too flirty, too much, too little. The reader can see the love she’s surrounded by in her family and how it’s expressed in ways that hide it, that confuse and even damage her. And her friends offer no safe haven, pressuring her to be more adventurous and risk-taking, which goes against her instincts for self preservation. Kara is a very sympathetic character, and Ms Reid-Benta brings forward the tensions she faces in a real and rich way.