Tis the season for holiday shopping for many, and as the Beach is home to so many creative folk, it should be no surprise to learn that a number of local residents have books available this holiday season. The books on offer are as diverse as the residents of the area, covering everything from short fiction to memoir, from the lessons learned restoring an old home in rural France to illustrated children’s books.
In fact, our local authors are so prolific that we’ve had to split our holiday reading guide into two parts. Watch for the Dec. 3 issue for the remainder of our locally-produced literary output. Without further ado, the first part of the Beach holiday reading guide:
Urban Legend: Stories, by Jerry Levy
Thistledown Press, 265 Pgs
Reviewed by Jon Muldoon
The characters in Jerry Levy’s stories are most definitely not what one would call heroes. Some are sad, others corrupt; some are downright unlikeable. What they all have in common though, is familiarity, the sense that under the right circumstances, those characters are very much like people in our own lives, who might react to trying situations in the same unpredictable ways.
Urban Legend is Levy’s first published work, a collection of 14 short stories, covering everything from a sad husband running away to Paris (Paris is a Woman) to a sham artist getting taken by a scam artist (The Scarf).
Some stories veer into the fantastical, such as the tale where three witch-like sisters hire a stranger to imitate the symptoms of their skin disease in order to find a cure from a believing doctor (Morgellons, based on a real condition in which a person believes they are being attacked by some sort of parasite, while doctors usually diagnose the patient with delusions and known skin disorders).
Another tale features a grieving widower who reconstructs his deceased wife from mud with the help of a fringe Rabbi (The Golem of New York City).
Even the likable characters who appear from time to time, such as the disfigured young man who finds a temporary adoptive family in a group of tree planters (The Ugly Man), tend to meet with unfortunate circumstances.
That’s not to say Levy’s characters should be avoided; quite the contrary, these well-written tales will appeal to fans of speculative fiction as well as anyone who appreciates darkly comic fiction.
Eat Your Heart Out, by Katie Boland
Brindle & Glass, 229 Pgs
Reviewed by Jon Muldoon
Katie Boland may be best known as an actor, having appeared in dozens of films, television shows and TV movies. However, the young creative force is no slouch behind the keyboard, as she aptly demonstrates with Eat Your Heart Out, a collection of short fiction.
Beachers will likely feel many of the settings of the stories familiar, though most are not specifically set in the Beach or even Toronto for that matter.
Boland’s stories centre on human drama and interaction, on the emotions and though processes behind why people do the things they do, despite the pain and damage their actions may cause.
Written mostly in first person, the 10 stories in Eat Your Heart Out have a colourful cast of characters. Despite her young age, at 25, Boland shows confidence while writing from the perspective of, say, a middle-aged loner (Tragic Hero), where narrator Rich details the chain of very typical small-town events leading to one small – but consequential – decision on his part.
Monster explores the dark world of the psychologically damaged, while Swelter covers the all-too-common experience of a high school-aged character dealing with the death of a friend.
There are somewhat brave experiments, such as The Falling Action, written from the perspective of an Irishman in the 1970s. One of the more plot-driven stories in the collection, the action clicks along until the reveal.
If the stories in this collection are any indication, Boland may one day find herself having to make a choice between the worlds of film and literature; in the meantime, Eat Your Heart Out is a solid collection of short fiction from a promising young new writer on the rise.
Encounters With Authors: Essays on Scott Symons, Robin Hardy and Norman Elder, by Ian Young
Sykes Press, 77 Pgs
Reviewed by Andrew Hudson
“Encounters” is a tame a word for the wilder stories Ian Young tells in these three sketches of his writer friends Scott Symons, Robin Hardy and Norman Elder.
“Mishaps” suits many of the stand-out moments packed into this slim collection, like the day amateur adventurer Norman Elder packed a jar of thirty fruit bats into his car for a school wildlife show-and-tell and a too-curious friend let them out, the “dark, furry cloud filling the air in the car as we drove along Bloor Street.”
But “encounters” captures the distant, other-worldly quality of many stories here, looking back as they do to the lives of three young gay writers living in Toronto at a time when, as Young writes, “homosexuality was emerging rapidly and unsteadily, from stigma and criminality to uneasy acceptance.”
The worldly Young touches other frontiers, too – not only Elder’s travels to Papua New Guineau or Scott Symons’ self-imposed exile to Morocco, but flashes of 1960’s psychedelia where Marshall McLuhan shows up wearing a reflective disk on his forehead as a “third eye.”
Of the three essays, the longer pieces on Symons and Elder that bookend the work are night and day portraits of sometimes confounding men.
Symons is summed up in a withering quote from poet Dennis Lee as “a negative catalyst going through life on autopilot,” but the same poet spent 14 years editing Symons’ most difficult novel into something readable.
Meanwhile, Elder’s ending is hard to reconcile with the endearing episodes where Young describes his life with the 200-pound Henry the Pig, his favourite among many animal companions in an Annex mansion.
Young tells the stories here with relish for detail and an eye to the historical moment, and for anyone not yet familiar with these three authors or the culture they lived in, Encounters with Authors is a good springboard into their own works.
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