Sunday, 16 July 2017


Charlie has been given six months to live. What’s the best way to use those last months? Spend all your money? Have torrid sex? Find your authentic self? All of the above, and if you are a bestselling author, shock your agent by writing a serious novel.
First then, find your authentic self, but that's not easy when it is buried under your surrogate self, the carrier of some cherished quality, the vehicle for a certain story that needs to be shaped.
Another problem: friends who will not leave you in peace, friends with a psyche like a wildcat prospector, producing eruptions of unwelcome insight.
But at least Charlie succeeds in finding love/sex with Angelique who also helps him to get rid of his money, gambling on his behalf, while he watches the gamblers drifting past like fish in an aquarium.
Yet he cannot find peace and is plagued by thoughts like a cloud of gnats at sunset, made visible by the dying light. In the end, however, his torment is replaced by the congealing powers of resignation and habit.
Meanwhile the characters in his novel take shape: a woman loyal to her husband who is in a coma (are those feelings akin to necrophilia?). The woman and two fellow philosophers discuss the nature of consciousness while stuck in a train stopped at Didcot. What else was there in the end? A man’s biography was the history of what he had given his attention to, and so it seemed worth knowing what attention was, and how it related to other types of knowledge.

Angelique spends all of Charlie's money and departs. He muses whether it would be better not to wait out the six months and to commit suicide instead. It was less upsetting than this limitless white terror, bleaching every object in its universe …It’s always the same story: if you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017


My writers' group, Spirit of the Hills, rented a booth to draw attention to our collected works. Here we are -- Reva and I -- doing our stint minding the table.

Friday, 23 June 2017


Jan’s career as concert pianist is ruined by auditory hallucinations, a needling high-pitched ringing, a cascade of notes, raining down like hammers from the ceiling of the concert hall. Are they a flood of memories, of words left unspoken between him and his charismatic childhood friend Dirk. 

He was like a new word that, once learned, you heard spoken everywhere. Compelling attention. Mine, yours, anyone’s. Dirk is a consummate actor, but when they two friends are alone, he reverts to his self. The hunch returned. The loping strides. The fiddling with his ear. The sly smile.

This is a novel about music and about a friendship that could be love.

The music: Notes balanced on the thinnest, most fragile wire, ascend and descend. Underneath it all a regular pulse of octaves in the bass clef gives the piece a steady and abiding feeling of hope. And then there is Rachmaninoff: A tumbling that builds up to an explosion of chords, broken and solid, shooting up and sliding down octaves. The tempo increases until runs of notes crash in waves running crosswise. Dirk would like the Rachmaninoff.

The friendship: You and Dirk. I might’ve guessed you two would fall out of touch completely, but it could’ve been the opposite. Pirm smiled and shook his head slowly. You know, Jan, we all thought you two were… He grinned.  Us two what? I said.

There was only one way for Jan to find an answer to that question. To look up his old friend.

A thunderclap runs from ear to ear, like weather starting up again. My arms start to shake. I don’t have much time. I begin to blurt out the words. What I’d meant to say from the moment I stepped in the front door.

Friday, 26 May 2017


Angela Palm’s memoir reads like a novel. You keep waiting for a plot to develop, for something to happen to the heroine that will create the familiar story arc, but all that’s happening are thoughts and observations in beautiful language.

Angela  consults a map and finds that she lives in between two red dots indicating towns, like some half-breed spawn of both worlds and alien to both.
Neither town wants her. She is stunned by this new perspective. Everything I saw was familiar – driveways and houses I’d seen before. These were signs of home, but I felt spat out like bad milk.
Because her house is so far from town, solitary pursuits replaced social ones, and a cacophony of ideas swirled in me.
There was, from a young age, already a disconnect between the way I processed experiences and the way others conducted themselves, the way I was critical of my surroundings and the way others seemed to float through them without taking note of anything.

Teenage years
We knew the land as we knew our teenaged bodies. Ripe, firm. Yielding in places. In those days, running was nothing but an extension of self. Like breathing. There was no labor in it, only direction and the feeling of blood rushing in our veins.
She falls in love – if love was a pull, magnetic and inevitable as gravity. If it was a secret, best kept slow and steady and unspoken.

Returning home after twenty years

I wondered which part is most real – the conscious or the unconscious. Whether the place itself is the thing that stays, or its effects on a person. One is concrete and one is embedded in the brain, in memory.


Monday, 22 May 2017


What does Marx and Bram Stoker have in common? According to Globe &Mail book reviewer John Semlet, they were both commenting on capitalism: Dracula allegorized a cautious ambivalence toward the emerging capitalist order. Come on, let’s not ruin a perfect gothic horror story by giving it redeeming value. I want to enjoy my shlock without the guilty feeling that I’m reading a social commentary.
What next? Zombies as allegories of Facebook’s addictive power? Superman as allegory of the airline business? Lego as allegory of failing infrastructure? Is nothing sacred?

No, next thing they’ll tell me the Bible is an allegory for sloppy fact-checking.