May tallies something like this: 24 books (including verse, graphic novels, and kidlit), 2 magazines, assorted stories, 2 cookbooks, and a picture book (Marilyn Nelson’s A Wreath for Emmett Till). (Surely I’m not the only person who has trouble keeping track now that there are notebooks and files to update?)

May’s first post was devoted to Arjun Basu’s Waiting for the Man (2014)  and the last to Deryn Collier’s Open Secret (2014). There were a bunch in between. And though I actually read Chad Pelley’s novel earlier, I’m sneaking it in here, along with chat about a memoir, a mystery, and a book of poetry. Amongst the recent reads:

Chad Pelley’s Away from Everywhere (2009)
Gillian Deacon’s Naked Imperfection (2014)
Becky Masterman’s Rage against the Dying (2013)
Lee Maracle’s Bent Box (2000)

Away Everywhere PelleyChad Pelley’s Away from Everywhere (2009)
“Love creates something that never existed before, a new world to live in. It makes the past a little less present.”

Away from Everywhere has a writer as its protagonist, which immediately introduces the idea of how we create and inhabit narratives. As writers, yes, but also in the course of everyday life; for instance, a good portion of the noel is comprised of a young woman’s diary entries. Though not a writer, her journal allows her to try on ideas and possibilities that she is reluctant to face in reality; on the page, she can imagine crossing boundaries that she inhabits in her daily life and, perhaps, expand her experiences off the page.

This shifting line between fiction and reality exists, too, for the writer who narrates Away from Everywhere. “I embed my own life into fictitious stories, or build fictitious stories out of things I see in everyday life around me.” Creativity is a powerful resource, and the novel’s narrator is aware of some of the ways in which he builds fiction from casual encounters (for instance, the waitress who shifts into his fiction) and comments on this directly.

But what sets Away from Everywhere apart (beyond its astute observations about relationships, familial and romantic, and its engaging tone) is the broader focus on invention. Human beings have a remarkable capacity to interpret the unthinkable in unique and creative ways; Chad Pelley’s Away from Everywhere urges readers to recognize the power of the stories we tell, not only to others but to ourselves.

Naked Imperfection DeaconGillian Deacon’s Naked Imperfection (2014)
“And then there was the cancer diagnosis. The point at which the compulsion to redress every planetary wrong fell away. The incident that yanked me out of the reverie of a tidier future and thrust me into the unambitious and naked imperfection of right now.”

Gillian Deacon’s memoir is measured and sculpted but somehow feels forthright and authentic too. Written from the other side of that diagnosis, she has had some time to reflect upon the experience, so there are even some poetic and philosophical bits. “During crisis, time is both interminable to experience in the moment and yet barely exists in retrospect.”

Key moments of the crisis are shared, in the context of the many roles she inhabits (e.g. wife, mother, sister, writer), and the writing is scenic and wholly engaging. Even, at times, humourous.

“Cancer is the dysfunctional lover you wish you’d never dated: you can break up, reassemble your now-stronger heart, delete his phone number, and move on to the better life you know you deserve, but you can never undo the time you spent with him. He’s always going to be a part of your story. And there is always the chance you’ll run into him again.”

Naked Imperfection strikes a balance between selective detailing and broader understanding which results in a genuinely compelling memoir. Gillian Deacon invites readers to take off their shoes in a living room garbed in stiff plastic sheets: this is not a comfortable subject, but the hostess is gracious and earnest, whip-smart and spirited.

Becky Masterman’s Rage against the Dying (2013)

Rage Dying Masterman “‘Family was a cop family, dad and brother in city police, sister joined the CIA. My sister Ariel and I played with Barbies, but they busted Ken for possession instead of going to the prom.’ Coleman laughed, I assume because she thought I was kidding.”

Brigid Quinn is a retired FBI agent, 59-years-old, still raging against the dying light. She is savvy and intelligent and quickly reimmersed in a dangerous game, when she returns to consult after a man confesses to a series of brutal murders that she investigated years earlier.

A complex character, Brigid developed a habit of secrecy regarding her work, designed to protect an earlier romantic relationship, and this habit now threatens to destroy her marriage. But even more devastating, the confession might not be genuine, and as one of the few people alive capable of recognizing this truth, Brigid’s own life is at risk.

Becky Masterman’s style is sharp and compelling, and the stakes in this case are high, so the novel reads quickly and the resolution is just-complicated-enough to be satisfying.

However, a sexual predator is at the heart of this story, and he is shown to dress as a woman on occasion; a preference for wearing clothing which is more frequently associated with another gender has been all-too-often associated in the media with psychopathic deviant behaviour, and while it may have been intended only as a red-herring in this story, that is unclear. (Hasn’t this myth been far too damaging to risk confusion about its invalidity?)

Bent Box MaracleLee Maracle’s Bent Box (2000)
“‘Inequity’ is but a blasphemous
cloak for Canadian apartheid.
A liberal term no one but us
Need take seriously. Rise Soweto.”

Theytus Press identifies Lee Maracle as one of the first Aboriginal people to be published in the early 1970s and, since, the most prolific Aboriginal author in Canada.

Bent Box collects poems in the following segments: Deep Regret, Turbulent Storm, Bent Box, and Warm Wind. The longest, most dense works are in the second section, which includes poems to/about Mister Mandela, Sojourner Truth, Leonard Peltier and considering injustice in Palestine, Nicaragua, El Salvedor and Chile.

“Where Were You”, addressing the perpetrators of violence and abuse, is a particularly powerful and resonant work. But even short works, like the three lines of “Victory” are profoundly unsettling and inspiring.

In this moment, “Ka-Nata” is my favourite in the collection. “Behind her stood / the truth of infinite grandmothers / ahead of her marched / the truth of infinite / progeny.”

But on another day, I would likely choose another; there are many remarkable truths in this collection. It’s a keeper.

Have you read any of these? Or, are you planning to? Did you have a good reading month?