A single-sitting read, a summer road-trip, and Sesame Street: good reading.
Margriet De Moor’s Sleepless Night (1989; Trans. David Doherty 2019)
“Sleepless night succeeded sleepless night – agonized day followed agonized day.”
This, from L.M. Montgomery’s 1918 journal, came to mind when I was reading Margriet De Moor’s Sleepless Night (1989; revised 2016; translation by David Doherty 2019 via House of Anansi).
And that is how it begins for our narrator: “It’s another of those nights. A night to live through, without sleep.”
At just over a hundred pages long, this is a taut narrative. Tense and concise. “There was something perverse in my determination to keep happiness at bay, though for hours I had felt it darting around me like a stray dog.” The unnumbered segments of the story dart around the narrator’s unresolved emotions.
This wife has unanswered questions about an act committed by her husband. Whom she can no longer query directly as to his motivation and direction. Instead, she walks the floor, like Montgomery did; but unlike Montgomery, who wrote her way out of despair and uncertainty, Margriet De Moor’s character bakes.
She gets up in the night and combines ingredients. “When it is time to slide the cake pan or baking tray into the preheated oven, I set the kitchen timer. This is essential.” It’s essential, because it buttresses the narrative. But even more essential is the emotional territory traversed before the timer erupts.
André Alexis’s Days by Moonlight (2019)
The author’s Quincunx cycle began in 2014 with Pastoral, in which readers meet Father Pennant “on the warm April day that was his first in his new parish” when he is “so enchanted by the land, by the thistles and yellowish reeds at the side of the road, that he asked the driver to let him off at the sign that said ‘Welcome to Barrow’ so he could walk into town, suitcase and all”.
Alfred Homer, in Days by Moonlight, has read Pastoral too, although he doesn’t remember much of it. Something “about women fighting over a man, and a priest struggling with himself”, he says. So, let’s say that’s what Days by Moonlight is about as well. Although it too is preoccupied with the quiet details that comprise a life, the simple plants that grow in southwestern Ontario, the words that take root in bound volumes of poetry and prose, the four-legged and furred creatures who warm our beds and patrol our borders, and the intricate connections between human beings who explore county concession roads and the arteries of bustling metropoleis. (Yes, I had to look up the plural form of that.)
An unscheduled tonsillectomy and the thrill of discovering Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Eagle of the Ninth, “vague memories of gas stations and telephone poles” and “altruistic and profitable” ideas, “poems too dry to read” and “a belief in Love’s omnipotence and grandeur”: Days of Moonlight is most satisfying when viewed within the prism of the Quincunx and, even then, readers will likely yearn for the connecting line, pleading for the fifth.
Andrea Warner’s Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography (2018)
Until recently, everything I know about Buffy Sainte-Marie, I learned from Sesame Street. A few years ago, when my interest in indigenous history turned into a long and deliberate reading and viewing project, I started watching videos online, in which Buffy Sainte-Marie sings a bunch of songs that Big Bird didn’t know. Which is nothing against Big Bird, whose awareness of indigenous issues is likely more advanced than many Canadians’, since Buffy Sainte-Marie turned guest spot on Sesame Street into a regular gig.
“The fact that Indians exist – that was really important to get through to little kids and their caregivers. It’s important to get that message through before any kind of stereotyping makes a presence in their lives. So that when somebody says ‘Indians are no good,’ little kids can say, ‘Oh, no, Big Bird says Indians are okay.’”
But it turns out that her years on Sesame Street comprise about ten pages in her biography, so you can imagine how rewarding it is to read Andrea Warner’s book. Informative and entertaining, often in Sainte-Marie’s own words and always accessible and inviting. And so damn inspiring.