“Reality is for people who can’t handle fiction — and that is mostly everybody.”

Elliot Johnson has been writing screenplays in LA, but he’s been having trouble selling his fictions.

House of Anansi, 2011

That’s Elliot Johnson.

Or Elliot Johnston, or Elliot Jonson: it depends which document you’re looking at.

His identity is in flux.

Not only has the screenwriting work been unpredictable (and largely unrewarding, even unrealized in some ways), but his wine-making venture is struggling as well.

His work isn’t finding the desired audience, whether for storytelling or viticulture, neither readers/viewers or drinkers.

The relationship that exists between these efforts is more tightly drawn than one would guess, and Elliot takes pains to explain this regarding wine and grapes.

For “at its best wine was an expression of the place, not the ingredients” and “you grow different grapes on different sites to best represent the land and the conditions”.

Edward Riche’s novel takes Elliot Johnson, creative writer, and transports him between different sites (as different as LA and Toronto, as different as freelance script-writer and corporate honcho).

Easy to Like explores the vital elements of Elliot’s identity, those that emerge when he allows himself to root.

At the beginning of the novel, readers meet an Elliot who is a compilation of superficial elements that he has adopted, those ingredients he has deliberately added to skew his own brew.

Readers can sympathize with his efforts to make the right decisions, even though it’s obvious that he does not always succeed in doing so.

(And, no wonder, because apparently NOT sleeping with another man’s wife can be as problematic as he thought it would be to have accepted the offer: the political relationships in Hollywood baffle Elliot.)

He does not always behave in a sympathetic manner, but Elliot consistently tries, even if his judgement is off.

And, truthfully, there is a great deal of humour to be found in the errors he makes in judging situations. (Which is true for us, too, but it’s often hard to see the humour in horrible situations until years later.)

Ultimately the success of Easy to Like rests in its satire, its pointed consideration of industries built on creating the illusion of authenticity.

This is particularly amusing for readers who will recognize elements of the land in which Elliot has been grown, to which he has returned (i.e. Canadian media, specifically the CBC).

“We are accused of having a liberal bias and of being too accommodating to the right as a way of countering this criticism. We are asked to be all things to all people. How can we possibly do this? As much as the television business in the United States is driven by stars and money, by glitter and ambition, the business of public television here is driven by the very lack of those things. This is a broadcaster whose mandate is dictated by an act of Parliament. That is why, unlike a private broadcaster or a studio, it has to be led not with bluff and bravado by risk seekers but with caution by professional managers.”

But it is irony and humour that every reader can appreciate in a more general sense, and which will be appreciated particularly by those readers who enjoy workplace novels.

“Now Elliot let them rise to their feet and clap. How much time had he wasted in Los Angeles trying to get his point across, trying to convince, trying to make the producers see things his way? Al this time he should have been telling people what they already believed.”

Edward Riche’s Easy to Like: it’s easy to like.

Anvil Press, 2011

Matthew Firth’s Shag Carpet Action (Anvil Press) contains eleven stories, ranging in length from two pages to more than 70 pages.

“Three Women on the Bus” is one of the shorter stories, centred around a conversation that Sean overhears on a crowded commute; he was planning to do the crossword, but he is distracted by talk of hair colour and Brazilians.

It’s a brief, raw look at the plain, ordinary dialogue and thoughts of the everyday-transit-variety characters who inhabit these stories.

Streets, city transit, apartments, carpets, offices: the reader has the sense of having heard and seen these scenes before. “What this mean, cliche? It don’t sound nice.” And, yet, there is nothing predictable or cliche about them.

Matthew Firth delivers these stories in a naked and honest voice: authentic (so, sometimes, sad) and too-sharp-for-comfort (even when it’s funny).

Quotation: “I follow the girls, watching her ass in her low-cut jeans. I am about to have a vasectomy so it seems right to summon a primal yet misdirected sexual urge before having my nuts sliced open.”

[My sample? “Three Women on the Bus”, “Greeks”, “Procedure”.]


Coach House Press, 2011

Gabe Foreman’s A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People (Coach House Press) is a slim little reference book, with fewer than 100 pages, containing some verses, prose poems, lists, diagrams, and a chart.

Okay, it’s not really a reference book.  If, by that, one means that it’s a book with all the answers. But it’s still helpful to learn more about Adulterers.

“They first appeared 350 million years ago.
Today there are about 2,100 species of adulterers worldwide,
including 550 native to North America.”

Sometimes these poems elicit a “hah” and sometimes the ‘hah’ erupts between poems. (I’m ashamed to admit how long it took me to giggle at the fact that Queue Jumpers appears between Blind Dates and Bookies.)

Other times they provoke a ‘hmm’ (and sometimes the ‘hmm’ echoed until I read the next poem).

Fruit. Money. Cars. Wild leeks. Birds. Trees. Dogs. Doormats. And then all those different types of people.

[My sample? Entries in the A, B, and C sections of the encyclopedia, about 20 pages.]

Edward Riche’s Easy to Like (House of Anansi, 2011) is shortlisted for the 2011 ReLit Award (Novel); Matthew Firth’s Shag Carpet Action (Anvil Press, 2011) is shortlisted for the 2011 ReLit Award (Short Stories); and, Gabe Foreman’s A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People (Coach House Press, 2011) was longlisted for the ReLit Award (Poetry).

The ReLit Awards lists: good reading.