In which there is talk of the slim stories which have travelled with me within the city, while bulkier volumes stayed home.
Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Harbor (Translated by Marlaine Delargy) are awkward travelling companions.
As are some of the skinnies in my current stack, like W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, which seems designed to be read somewhere other-than-here, but not somewhere which requires that any additional baggage be carried as well.
Travelling with books: a delicate business.
Meeting a train at Union Station, a friend travelling from the west, I am waiting in a coffee shop overlooking Lake Ontario when she messages to say that she was late leaving.
This gives me a chunk of time with only Ernest J. Gaines’ A Long Day in November for company.
Originally published in 1964, published with Don Bolognese’s illustrations in 1971, it tells the story of six-year-old Sonny, whose father works on a 1940s sugarcane plantation.
The first part of the story considers his relationship with his mother, the second with his father and, in between, readers glimpse his school life and girl crush.
While the wind blows across the lake and the shore, and I sit, warm and comfortable, Sonny’s father seeks help from Madame Toussaint, who has had to give a great deal of advice to the men in the region.
She gives Sonny’s father some concrete advice, and adds this commentary:
“Women like to be in their own house. That’s their world. You men done messed up the outside world so bad that they feel lost and out of place in it.”
Brought back into print in 2013 by Ig Publishing’s Lizzie Skurnick Books, dedicated to reviving classics for young adult readers written in the 1930s through the 1980s,
A Long Day in November is a sweetly satisfying (but not all easy, not by any means) read.
On a weekend day, when it was impossible to avoid subway travel while the line was under construction, I tucked Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters (1988) into my bag, thinking it would be worth some smiles in crowded and bustling stations, moving between trains and shuttle buses.
The play takes me out of time and onto the roof, where the women are working and dreaming. Amidst the gossip and trash talk on the reservation, there is a lot of talk about bingo, which is where many of the dreams reside. What would each woman do if she won the jackpot?
The women’s voices are all-a-blur, their sisterhood sometimes literal, connections sometimes looser but still family-based. All of the roles are written for women and, in the background Nanabush, the trickster flits and flies. At times the women speak (or yell) simultaneously, and on-stage that would be impossible to decipher.
In the script, the women’s temperaments sometimes make the dialogue recognisable. Here’s Pelajia, for instance:
“I say we all march down to the Band Office and ask the Band Council for a loan that will pay for the trip to this bingo. I know how to handle that tired old chief. He and I have been arguing about paved roads for years now. I’ll tell him we’ll build paved roads all over the reserve with our prize money. I’ll tell him the people will stop drinking themselves to death because they’ll have paved roads to walk on.”
But sometimes it’s just a broader exchange, the speaker not crucial, rather a contributor to the mood. Which is, for readers familiar with Tomson Highway’s work, a most magnificent medley of inspiration and devastation, yearning and sorrow.