Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Aug 22 2015, Page 98

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - August 22, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE 1 BOOKS D22 Winnipeg Free Press, Saturday, August 22, 2015 T ORONTONIAN Don Gillmor gets his hands oily in his slick third novel, which explores the history of Canada’s oil and gas industry through the experiences of his main character. Long Change displays Gillmor’s talents for beautiful prose, strong storytelling and character development, while the novel’s details about machinery, business practices and geology show how well he researched his subject. Research is nothing new to Gillmor, the author of several nonfiction history books, most notably the two- volume Canada: A People’s History in 2000. He’s also developed his creative side in more recent years. His most recent novel, 2013’ s Mount Pleasant , explored the financial industry and its effects on average Canadians. With Calgary’s most recent economic slump, oil prices sinking all over the globe and loud concern over climate change, the time seems perfect for a novel about such an infamous industry. Having said that, readers expecting a literary version of the TV series Dallas will be disappointed. While Long Change contains its share of shady deals, evil villains and love affairs, it refuses to glamorize wealth or big oil. Instead, Gillmor’s themes of greed, corruption, damage and disappointment present an industry as ugly and cruel as a nuclear wasteland. The story opens with 15- yearold Ritt Devlin, a good ol’ Texas boy, fleeing across the U. S.- Canadian border, leaving behind his violent, religious zealot of a father as well as a crime Ritt accidentally committed. Though he’s underage, his height and experience working on oil rigs help him secure a job in Alberta’s booming oil fields. His hard work, instinct and love of geology help him to succeed, and by the time he’s 27, he has opened his own drilling company. Ritt’s deepest desire is to drill for oil in the pristine waters of the Canadian Arctic, a call he cannot ignore. “ This was the New World, what Elizabeth I had tried to glimpse through Martin Frobisher’s eyes four hundred years earlier. It was the gateway to riches,” Gillmor writes of Ritt’s feelings on the north. But when Ritt’s dream seems to be in reach, he must finally realize the extent of the damage he’s caused, and pay for his greed and ruthlessness. Gillmor splits the novel into three sections, each framed by one of Ritt’s marriages. His marriages reflect the state of his mind and his business, from his hopeful and happy first union to his dysfunctional third. Ritt’s deep love of nature contrasts with his willingness to exploit the environment to earn both money and a name for himself in the oil industry. “ Ritt needed the North. It not only defined him, it gave the world the illusion he was still a player. His future hinged on selling the North,” Gillmor tells us. Gillmor harshly criticizes the destruction caused by oil companies, especially the dirty practices in the field and the immoral behaviour of oil executives, referring to the industry at one point as “ A history of blood and heroic exploration and energy and exploitation and corruption and death.” In contrast, he spends surprisingly little time criticizing environmental damage, though he lands a few good punches, such as Ritt’s reaction on first seeing the Nigerian oil patches: “ A few oil fires burned, black smoke rising in dense balls that dissipated. There were patches of stagnant water, lifeless tree trunks... the greys and blacks of the ruined colonial city laid out with the optimism and scale that came from Europeans who had misread their future.” Bleak as the novel is, Gillmor infuses his story with a faint hope for redemption, both for the main character and the industry itself. Hopefully, the right people will be moved by his work. Winnipeg writer Kathryne Cardwell works at The Winnipeg Foundation. T HIS slender, elegant novel is an unusual and ambitious project. In Miss Emily , 21st- century short- story writer Nuala O’Connor attempts to bring 19thcentury poet Emily Dickinson back to vivid life. The big question: What would Miss Emily think of Miss Emily ? Would she press the book to her heart and smile, or would she shake her genteel head and discreetly put it back where she found it? After a leisurely beginning that essentially introduces two dominant characters, Miss Emily slowly begins to tighten its grip on the reader’s attention. Two voices — that of Miss Emily, employer, and Ada Concommon, her newly arrived Irish kitchen maid — alternately reveal the plot and its emerging themes. As the two women grow closer in spite of their class differences, they disclose the details of sexism and racism ( here the Irish were the targets) that will not be swept under the New England carpet. When Ada suffers a violent sexual assault, Miss Emily finds she must take action on her behalf. Like any good writer of fiction, O’Connor wants to convince us that what she has written is true, whether it happened or not. But there are big challenges here: today’s writer is Irish, yesterday’s writer was American. The modern storyteller writes from an environment of feminist freedom, while the antique poet wrote from inside many circles of confinement. And so much is on the literary record now about Dickinson’s life and literary style that infidelity to those truths might easily end in uproar. Fortunately, O’Connor seems to have written Miss Emily with Emily Dickinson looking over her shoulder, for she has struck many chords familiar to the poet and her legion of contemporary fans. The Dublin mistress of the short story has captured Dickinson’s elusive character, her complex circumstances, her era and her unique talent. Miss Emily Dickinson ( 1830- 1886) was born into an ultra- respectable Amherst, Mass., family at about the time Puritanism was losing its grip on society. She was loved, but not at all understood by her repressed family, and in spite of the adult passions in her verse, remained single all her life. Unencouraged, she would write almost 1,800 poems, most on scraps of paper and discovered only after her death. The mystique around her is based on fact: known as the Belle ( and sometimes the Ghost) of Amherst, she increasingly wore only white clothing and refused to leave her house. Dickinson’s verse was boldly unconventional, reinventing both rhyme and punctuation. It was characterized by an ironic tone, by satire, puns and sly humour. She was not fully recognized as one of the great American poets until scholars began to teach and publish her collected work in the 1950s. A selection of Dickinson classic poems have made it into high school English classes (“ Because I could not stop for Death / He kindly stopped for me...” or “ I’m nobody, who are you?”) But we are also reminded of her in the brilliant sparks of other artists. Director Jane Campion drew on the character and work of Dickinson for her 1993 movie The Piano . Woody Allen stole Dickinson’s description of hope as “ that thing with feathers” to call his early book of selfdeprecating humour Without Feathers . O’Connor has not only captured Dickinson’s mystique, she writes in shades of the poet’s style, elegant, concise full of images that linger. She writes of “ egg yolks as bright as marigolds,” has Emily refer to her maid as “ My Emerald Ada,” and to her agoraphobia as “ the quarantine of my room.” Among the thoughts attributed to Miss Emily is that “ words command me, beg to be courted, danced and bedded, and will not leave me alone until I comply.” Miss Emily entertains and shines with historical insight. It’s sure to inspire a new wave of admirers for Miss Emily Dickinson, who would probably retreat with it into her parlour, close the door and remain there for a long time. Lesley Hughes is a Winnipeg writer. POETRY Reviewed by Kathryne Cardwell Crude dude Texan expat turns oil tycoon in Gillmor’s scathing new novel Long Change By Don Gillmor Random House, 351 pages, $ 30 Reviewed by Lesley Hughes Entertaining Irish novel modernizes Emily Dickinson Miss Emily By Nuala O’Connor Penguin Canada, 239 pages, $ 18 ne no ti ma ma th an fr ha hi th M ÉIRA Cook’s Monologue Dogs ( Brick, 80 pages, $ 20) dives into the waters of folklore, with poems ranging from Bible tales to Greek legends to the Brothers Grimm. Winnipeg’s Cook playfully marries myth and the modern. In one poem, a young Eve beds her beau in a pickup truck just off the highway. Cook braids together dense, rich images. Young Eve also ponders a “ Library of Imaginary Books” where “ poems ripen, wet and lush, / as timelapse fruit inside their husks.” Another poem describes the sky, elegantly, as a place “ where nothing grows.” Cook plays with the monologue form throughout, her mythic speakers sparking to life to tell their dramatic tales in a charming, engaging, vivacious collection. . . . Joanne Epp’s Eigenheim ( Turnstone, 110 pages, $ 17) is an assured debut, and its opening poems achieve a dreamy lightness that belies their craft and care. The poems of Winnipeg’s Epp have a relaxed pace and offer imagery as clear as glass; the night, for instance, is “ a solid thing that would still let her fall,” and “ kids feel August stretching out.” Epp, an assistant church organist, manages a suite of strong poems about playing music — an impressive feat given the difficulty of describing not only the sound but the sense of this activity. In one poem, playing piano becomes akin to “ running downhill too fast / wind shoving at my back” — an earlier line, almost like a prayer, says “ Make the lightning come closer.” Eigenheim means “ one’s own home,” and Epp certainly feels at home here in this impressive first book. . . . Ben Ladouceur’s Otter ( Coach House, 80 pages, $ 18) joins a handful of excellent and explicit books that bring a gay male perspective to the poetry world ( a similar standout that Otter sometimes recalls is Daniel Zomparelli’s Davie Street Translations ). Ladouceur’s poems are slick and inventive. There’s a paradoxically thudding elegance to a line like “ We wrote letters, until we didn’t.” He also shines in a more conventional poetic register, with an almost ( and perhaps ironic) biblical tone: “ When winter arrives / the mosquitoes will expire / and material will cover the bodies of men.” Otter is a startling debut and a dense, rewarding read. . . . “ Enough philosophy. Greatly / I have coffeed and greatly / misunderstood,” writes Kayla Czaga in For Your Safety Please Hold On ( Nightwood, 96 pages, $ 19). Another strong debut filled with wonderful, sparkling gems ( such as turning “ coffee” into a verb), Czaga’s book displays a remarkable confidence and range. Czaga’s most impressive poems are modelled on the work of Gertrude Stein, a mimicry many poets try ( most fail). Czaga couples her Stein- esque lines with a feminist critique: “ A girl never wants to woman. A girl is kicked / and killed in wild, howling womanhood. / […] A girl turns another girl / womanish to stay small and wanted and win.” Most of Czaga’s poems are more formally conservative but no less impressive. Highlights include an elegy for Victoria Soto, a teacher killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, and a Poem for Jeff listing all of the things in the world that are f— ked. Spoiler alert: Pretty much everything is f— ked — except this book. Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@ jonathanballcom) lives online at www. JonathanBall. com, where he writes about writing the wrong way. By Jonathan Ball Cook marries myth, modern RYAN SZULC PHOTO Themes of greed, corruption, damage and disappointment run throughout Gillmor’s latest. Based on sales for the week of August 16 th at McNally Robinson Booksellers HARDCOVER FICTION 1. Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee. Fiction. ¡ Çd Çe . Çj Çj . 2. His Whole Life, Elizabeth Hay. Fiction. ¡ Çd Çc . Ça Ça . 3. Alert, James Patterson. Fiction. ¡ Çd Çe . Ça Ça . 4. The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George. Fiction. ¡ Çc Çj . Çj Çf . 5. The End of All Things, John Scalzi. Science Fiction. ¡ Çc Çi . Çj Çj . HARDCOVER NON- FICTION 1. The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo. Interior Design. ¡ Çb Çj . Çj Çj . 2. .. City Beautiful, Randy Turner. Regional Interest. $ 29.95. 3. Wages of Rebellion, Chris Hedges. Issues & Politics. ¡ Çd Çc . Ça Ça . 4. .. The Hermetic Code, Carolin Vesely & Buzz Currie. Regional Interest. ¡ Çc Çj . Çj Çf . 5. .. Henry Kalen’s Manitoba, Henry Kalen. Regional Interest. $ 24.95. PAPERBACK FICTION 1. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. Fiction. ¡ Çb Çj . Çj Çj . 2. .. Convince Me the Winter is Over, Katya Kolmakov. Fiction. ¡ Çc Ça . Ça Ça . 3. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins. Fiction. ¡ Çc Çe . Çj Çf . 4. .. All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews. Fiction. ¡ Çc Çc . Ça Ça . 5. Mouthquake, Daniel Allen Cox. Fiction. ¡ Çb Çf . Çj Çf . 1. This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein. Issues & Politics. ¡ Çc Çc . Ça Ça . 2. .. You Might Be From Manitoba If…, Dale Cummings. Regional Interest. ¡ Çb Çj . Çj Çf . 3. Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada, Carolyn Harris. History. ¡ Çc Çe . Çj Çj . 4. Strength of Conviction, Tom Mulcair. Memoir. ¡ Çb Çj . Çj Çj . 5. They Left Us Everything, Plum Johnson. Memoir. ¡ Çc Çc . Ça Ça . PAPERBACK NON- FICTION .. Manitoba author Publishers’ list prices shown; retail prices may be lower. BOOKS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE 1. What Pet Should I Get? Dr. Seuss. Picture Book. ¡ Çc Çb . Ça Ça . 2. Paper Towns, John Green. Teen Fiction. ¡ Çb Ça . Çj Çj . 3. Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown. Board Book. ¡ Çj . Çj Çj . 4. The Day the Crayons Came Home, Drew Daywalt. Picture Book. ¡ Çc Çb . Çj Çj . 5. Winnie, Sally M. Walker. Picture Book. ¡ Çc Ça . Çf Ça . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. D_ 22_ Aug- 22- 15_ FF_ 01. indd 1 8/ 20/ 15 6: 16: 21 PM

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