Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books, November 25, 2011

Canadian Books!!!

Todd Mason will have the links today but you probably know the usual suspects by now.

Deb was a technical writer in the financial and software industries for the
better part of two decades. Then, after being a stay-at-home mom for several years, she went to work in the public school system and currently works with autistic students in a special ed classroom. She loves to read across all genres, but mysteries are her favorite.


Leonard Cohen was born in Montreal in 1934, which makes him the same age as my mother. I don’t quite know how that happened, because he always seemed so much younger than my parents when I was a teenager obsessively listening to “The Songs of Leonard Cohen” LP. Today Cohen is best known for his vast catalog of music, including “Suzanne,” “Joan of Arc,” “First We Take Manhattan,” and the beautiful “Hallelujah,” which seems to have been covered by every singer with a recording contract. However, in the 1960s (after graduating from McGill University in 1955 and trying law school and some other career paths), Cohen published several volumes of poetry and two novels: THE FAVOURITE GAME (1963) and BEAUTIFUL LOSERS (1966). I discovered these books in the 1970s; I enjoyed THE FAVOURITE GAME, but it was BEAUTIFUL LOSERS I read repeatedly during my teen years.

BEAUTIFUL LOSERS begins with an unnamed (and undoubtedly unreliable) narrator who is living in utter squalor, unwashed and filthy. Despite his living conditions, the narrator is a scholar, a historian whose major field of study is a luckless Indian tribe whose name has historically been translated as “loser.” The narrator tells the story of a love triangle involving himself, his late wife Edith (one of the last members of the aforementioned tribe), and F, the domineering man loved by both the narrator and Edith. When the novel begins, F, like Edith, is already dead—although a “Long Letter from F” forms the middle portion of the book. Intertwined with the hallucinatory story of spiritual and sexual love, betrayal, drug abuse, mind games, religion, philosophy, politics (especially the Quebec independence movement), mental illness, and suicide, is the story of Catherine Tekakwitha, a 17th century Mohawk who converted to Catholicism, lived a post-conversion life of intense self-denial (one would be tempted to say masochism), died at a young age, and became a saint.

This brief summary does not do justice to the profound depth of the novel, the various voices within it (comic, tragic, learned, foolish, yearning, interrogatory), the richness of its language, the rapid shifts in perspective. Yes, it is a sixties time-capsule: veering wildly in tone, leaving so much ambiguously half-said, containing simultaneously so much intellectual heft and so many intensely-detailed descriptions of sex and torture; it seems to epitomize a certain sixties outlook and attitude. This is not a novel for the weak of heart, but if you know Leonard Cohen only from his music and you’re in the mood for a real change of pace, I highly recommend BEAUTIFUL LOSERS.

Incidentally, this is the novel which contains the passage that begins, “God is alive; magic is afoot,”

famously used in a chant/song by Buffy Ste. Marie.

Charlie Stella is the author of six novels about the New York underworld, most recently Johnny Porno.

Seizing the Day

John McFetridge’s Let It Ride presents a lot of subplots to keep readers engaged. A husband and wife, fresh from a swing party, are mistakenly whacked by a hit man while in a semi-compromising position in their car while driving home from a swing party. The hit man could only see the driver (so yous figure out the position). A couple of veterans used to hustling drugs and guns out of Afghanistan are joined in Toronto where one of them,

JT (a Canadian Afghanistan veteran) is about to earn his full patch (become a made man, so to speak) for the gang run by Richard Tremblay (another subplot), a full patch who seeks the ultimate power (cappo di tutti cappi, so to speak). Vernard “Get” McGetty is the Detroit half of the connection and always looking for something better. After delivering some hardware up to JT in Toronto, he’s shown the ropes of the motorcycle gang world (and notices how many of the motorcyclists drive SUV’s) … JT shows him how they operate and it is impressive.

There’s also Sunitha, an Indian "rub and tug" (hand job) hooker with a second gig heading a small band of women who rob massage parlors of the almost rich and not so famous. She wants more and is ambitious enough to get it. Once she hooks up with Get (after JT takes him for some relief), she sees gold in her future.

Literally gold.

There’s also a subplot that has to do with the law trying to solve the couple murdered in their car … Maureen McKeon is cop no longer satisfied with her home life, her husband or young infant ... and she’s drinking again.

There are also those pesky, but not so powerful eye-talians out and about; with a subplot within their story as well.

Hookers and hit men abound … the names of the characters sub-title each chapter so there’s no reason to get lost. Let It Ride is chock full of references to the author the author of Let it Ride is most often compared to (say that three times fast). The name Elmore Leonard and several of his works make a few appearances, in tribute, I suspect. The references work well, as does the writing in this exciting page turner from the Toronto Bills very own crime fiction specialist.

The bit about full patches … essentially, a Full Patch = Made Man … north of the border there are motorcycle gangs that operate much the same way traditional organized crime does (or did); those seeking full honors in the program need to prove themselves over time … earn their stripes (so to speak) and then be approved by a board (of sorts) before they can become full patch members. There are rules one needs to abide along the way (or at least not get caught breaking them) and some are pretty similar to those the Italian-American mob are supposed to abide by.

Like don’t screw the wife of a made guy/full-patch and get caught without expecting to meet your maker. It’s one of the rules tested by JT …

No spoilers here … but know that McFetridge does very good work. He teaches as well as entertains. Let It Ride offers convincing snapshots of the different characters who inhabit our world. Like them or not, their choices are much more understandable by the novel’s several endings (each character has one, whether open ended or not). I never imagined motorcycle gangs were so powerful until I saw a documentary on the subject. It was chilling. Let It Ride was a reminder of just how powerful a group of determined sociopaths can be in a society unprepared for the violence and protected by law enforcement as corruptible as politicians.

Take a journey with this character driven novel of crime that takes place north of the border. You’ll meet interesting people at each turn; characters that both frighten and intrigue. Let It Ride is the character driven page turner we expect from McFetridge and we’re always glad to see some of his characters from prior works appear. Comparisons to the master from Detroit are valid. North of the boarder, McFetridge’s people inhabit the gritty world it is better to read about than taste first hand. Let It Ride lets us do that. An intriguing novel about opportunistic characters seizing their day. Carpe Diem indeed. McFetridge is the real deal.

Kent Morgan writes a sports column in Winnipeg, Manitoba and is a candidate for the Hoarders TV show as he is losing a battle with the books in his home. He hates it when every week reviewers write about Forgotten Books that he knows has and hasn't read, but can't find.

The Kate Henry Series - Alison Gordon - McClelland & Stewart

Alison Gordon was the first female sports writer assigned to an American League beat when the Toronto Star gave her the job of covering the Toronto Blue Jays. In 1985, her book about that not-always-pleasant experience titled Foul Balls: Five Years in the American League was published to positive reviews. After leaving the "toy department" Gordon began a mystery series with its main character a Toronto sports writer named Kate Henry. The first book was titled The Dead Pull Hitter and she followed up with Safe at Home, Night Game, Striking Out and Prairie Hardball.

Prairie Hardball may be my favourite because it takes Kate away from her comfort zone of Toronto and Florida to the province of Saskatchewan where she grew up. She brings her partner, Toronto homicide detective Andy Munro, with her to see her hometown of Indian Head. The reason for the trip is to watch her mother and the other Saskatchewan women who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League during the 1940s and early 1950s be inducted into the provincial Baseball Hall of Fame in Battleford. Philip Wrigley had recruited many of the best young softball players from the Wheat Province and neighbouring Manitoba to play in his "Glamour League." Some of the players have been warned to stay away from the induction and when one is murdered, Kate as might be expected becomes involved in the investigation.

After Prairie Hardball was published, Gordon seemed to lose interest in writing. At least that's the impression I got from her in a brief email correspondence. In 2004 on her blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, Sarah Weinman began a series called The Disappeared and her first author was Alison. In it she gives a much better summary and analysis of the books than I could so I encourage you to track it down. Weinman suggests that Gordon's books succeed because they are character-driven. In the comments section, there is one from Alison herself where she says she hasn't disappeared, but is living happily ever after in Toronto. She said that she had felt that she had gone as far as she could with Kate Henry and hadn't stopped writing because of lack of interest by her publisher.

She also added that occasionally a bunch of her Presbyterian ancestors show up in the middle of the night to inform her, in heavy Scots accents, that she is wasting her God-given talent, but so far she had managed to drive them off. I guess she continues to do so. The last I heard about Alison came in 2009 when she wrote an afterword for a new edition of The Men From Glengarry, a book written by her grandfather Rev. Dr. Charles William Gordon in 1901. He wrote under the pseudonym of Ralph Connor and sold millions of books around the turn of the 20th Century. Connor was Canada's best-selling author and in my opinion his granddaughter Alison is one of our country's best mystery novelists.

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Patti Abbott, Depth Rapture, Carol Bruneau

Often when we go to Canada (20 minutes away) I will pick up a book by a Canadian author and although I have good intentions, they often join the mountain called the TBR pile. So this was an ideal time for me to dig into one.

Depth Rapture is one of five published works by Ms. Bruneau. The stories in Depth Rapture take place in various parts of Canada and England, and although they are not crime stories, a lot of them are certainly noir. Many concern two girls (and then women) named Barbie and Marilyn and the people in their lives.

The early stories are about their girlhood in the sixties and we follow them as they find careers, marry, have kids of their own. There is little joy n these stories. One story that particularly impressed me was "Where Adders Lie." A young girl is forced to spend one Sunday a month playing with a deaf girl, who her family picks up at an institution. The reason for this monthly visit or the girl's institutionalization remains murky as adult actions often due to children. The family expects some sort of gratitude for this act and Corinne, the deaf girl, gives them none, remaining mysterious and unknowable until the final scenes of the story when she sheds some light on the adult world that lies ahead for Barbara.

Another story, "The Park Street Bridge" takes a look at the fate that awaits girls on the loose. Marilyn and Barbara spend all the time they can at a resale shop, but getting there in time one night means crossing a railroad bridge. But the real danger comes later when they accept a ride home from two boys.

This is a fine collection of stories. The writing is lovely and the characters jump off the page.


Charles Gramlich said...

I read this years ago. A lovely book, although pretty strange.

Anonymous said...

Patti - Really interesting choice! Thank you for sharing. Sometimes collections of stories can really work effectively and it sounds as though this one does. Interesting...

J F Norris said...

Deb -

I like your choice to represent Canada. Cohen has long been a favorite of mine thoguh I initially only knew his music. Then I found his poetry. I never knew he wrote a novel - let alone two. Really enjoy learning somuch through this feature of Patti's.

Todd Mason said...

He wrote the novels before getting into music, at least seriously.

And I note that Patti didn't actually provide a link to the blog here, so the links post is at

George said...

Great choice, Deb! Love Cohen!

Anonymous said...

Rumor has it you're in NY eating pastries, Patti.

Anonymous said...

Rick, they are headed home this morning.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And those pastries were incredible. Thanks to Jeff and Jackie for the food tour of Brooklyn.
Great trip but I lost my driver's license and was barely allowed on the plane.

Tim Mayer said...

Great Blog! Just added you to my list of Arresting Authors. Also liked your contribution to "Pulp Ink".

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Tim. How about writing a review of a forgotten book for us?

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Truly sorry I missed doing this. With my wife Sandi still in the hospital, lots of things aren't getting done.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Just concentrate on Sandi, Kevin. You do enough for us.

Todd Mason said...

Ah. I took your query, Patti, about Tucson bookstores as to be one involving this week's trip...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Tucson is next month. Old age has its benefits.

Tim Mayer said...

So many little time...