Short Fiction – Babies

Val glanced up at the clock above the bar as she finished filling carafes of water. Twenty five past nine. Through the large front windows she could already see a line forming; a grizzled older couple, Lonny and Margie, who had been regulars here since the days when it had been a dive bar; a group of four millennials and three, no, four sets of parents with strollers. Fuck Sunday brunch, she though to herself vehemently as one of the parents knocked loudly on the window and then gestured to his wrist.

“It’s freezing out there, you know,” he said with a snarky tone as Val unlocked the door and everyone filed in.

“We open at 9:30,” Val replied, making a note to herself to replace his coffee with decaf.

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Book Review – When We Lost Our Heads

When We Lost Our Heads
by Heather O’Neill

Heather O’Neill’s unique voice makes for engaging storytelling. Her interest in telling the stories of talented or precocious children, with recurring themes of circuses, repressive living situations such as schools or orphanages, special powers, and life-long relationships, make for books that read very much like fairy tales. In the process of visualizing O’Neill’s words, I see her stories as if they were animations of drawings by Edward Gorey.

How We Lost Our Heads is a tale of two girls in late 19th century Montreal, a grave accident, and the separation and then coming together (twice) of these same characters. In the interim, they lead very different lives, and come to represent two different ways of looking at the world.

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Book Review – Fight Night

Fight Night
by Miriam Toews

I usually give a book to the 10% mark, maybe 15% before deciding to keep going or pitch it; life is too short to read books you don’t enjoy. I started to really hate Fight Night at around the 60% mark, but stayed with it because I had invested the time. I’m glad I held out because the ending was worth the wait, but maaann… it was a tough slog to get there.

Fight Night is narrated by 9-year-old Swiv, a precocious girl who keeps getting kicked out of school. Swiv lives with her Mom and kooky Russian grandmother Elvira. Mom is quite pregnant, Dad is… somewhere, it’s never clear if he has bailed or something else. Grandma is not in the greatest of health and Swiv acts as her personal carer in a way, to the point that they embark on a trip to California together where much hilarity ensues.
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Book Review — Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship

Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship
by Annabel Abbs

Women with writerly aspirations in the early 1800s had few options for publication. Most female writers were advised to stick to gothic novels, bits of poetry, or cookery. Even if they had never cooked. Such was the case for Elizabeth Acton, whose desire to become a poet was derailed by a publisher who rejected her manuscript but offered her the opportunity to write a book of household cookery.

Annabel Abbs creates a fictional world that gives life to Acton’s plan to create her book by taking everything wrong with previous cookery books (such as the lack of an ingredients list, concise temperatures, measurements or cooking times) and making them better. In real life Acton’s family was destitute and she and her mother ran a boarding house where she tested all of her recipes with the help of one kitchen assistant, Ann Kirby.

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Short Fiction – The Black Cat and the Prince of Darkness

We would walk for miles most nights.

First we would smoke a big joint, purchased from the dealer who hung out at the Quoc Thé, the basement Vietnamese karaoke bar up the street with the dirty glassware and the overwhelming incense. Then, in search of munchies, we would head north to the 7-11, the only place in Kensington Market open after dark, other than the Portuguese billiards hall where I, a young woman of the Goth persuasion, was most definitely not welcome.

On nights when we didn’t load up with every form of chocolate then return to the flat to eat and pass out, we would walk around the city for hours. We walked because we were skint most of the time, or would rather save our money to buy drugs than pay for transit, but also because everything was within walking distance. Sort of. We thought nothing of leaving a club at 2am and walking three or four miles home, even in the freezing cold. Most stuff was closer. But on those nights when we intentionally went for a walk, we would just wander for hours. Sometimes it was down into the empty financial district, other times up to the posh enclaves of old mansions in the Annex or Yorkville where we peered curiously into windows to see people’s fancy decor.

We would come home after these walks, or any night we were out clubbing, staggering into the Market past the nausea-inducing stink of trucks full of live chickens parked and awaiting slaughter in the morning, to be greeted by a small black cat that sat at the end of the alleyway we traversed to get to our door. It would always run away before we got close to it, and over the months it never seemed to get any larger. But it was there every night, regardless of the weather, seemingly waiting for us.

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Short Fiction – The Cherry Beach Express

Shannon walked out of Nuts and Bolts just before last call expecting the air outside to be cool, or at least cooler than the soup of humidity that hung over the dance floor. But the early-August night offered no respite; no breeze with the heady scent of summer blooms, no drop in temperature from the sweltering heat of the daytime. It was hard to breathe, but she shrugged her leather jacket back on, the collection of buttons and badges of her favourite punk and industrial bands carefully arranged on the lapels clinking together as the heavy garment settled on her shoulders.

Her white t-shirt was soaked with sweat, and she hadn’t worn a bra. Usually it didn’t matter but this old shirt with The Smiths on the front had been worn so often it was getting faded and thin and while it hadn’t bothered her in the darkness of the club, on the street she felt self-conscious about the sheerness of the fabric.

Between the exertion of dancing and the temperature inside the club, what little make-up she had bothered to wear had mostly melted off her face, leaving her with only a messy smudge of black eyeliner under each eye.

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Short Fiction – Table Manners

Alison gave the exclusive restaurant’s private dining room a final once over. Everything had to be perfect this evening. She adjusted the forks at two place settings on her family’s side of the table, stopping to refold a napkin at the spot where her father would be seated.

The room was as elegant as she could want. A long cherry-stained table with cream-coloured velvet seats filled the centre of the space. Three walls of the room were exposed brick, with the fourth being glass that allowed the diners to view the restaurant’s extensive wine cellar. The menu was mostly local ingredients prepared with classic French and Italian techniques, but without the piety of those nose-to-table places that told diners the name of the chicken they’d be eating. It had taken weeks to narrow down their choice to something that would suit everyone, and even now Alison feared that someone in her party this evening would have something to complain about.

She smoothed the skirt of her silk dress, admiring the sapphire colour, knowing that it made her eyes look even more blue. “I hope everyone can find the place,” she said, turning to Percy, her fiance, who was sorting the selection of wines arranged on a sideboard for their meal.

He sniffed as he replaced a bottle and turned to her. “It will be fine, Ali. Don’t get so stressed. There’s enough wine here to make your parents and my parents the best of friends.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” she replied, admiring his stoicism. “Or that there’s enough wine to make everyone come to blows.”

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Book Review — The Hiding Game

The Hiding Game
Naomi Woods

That first year at university, college or art school, when young people leave home for the first time and form new relationships with the world around them can become the framework for the rest of their lives. Thus begins Paul Beckermann’s journey through the Bauhaus school. It is 1922 and he and the other Bauhaus babies treat the town of Weimar and the surrounding forests like their playground. A quickly formed group of six offers up love triangles and jealousies. Paul loves Charlotte, Charlotte loves Jeno, Walter loves Jeno…

Told from Paul’s point of view decades later, he’s moved to England and is now Paul Brickman, famous abstract artist, The Hiding Game traces the life of the six friends and the Bauhaus school as it moves from Weimar to Dessau and finally Berlin, each time being pushed out by conservative (fascist) forces that dislike what the place stands for. Continue reading “Book Review — The Hiding Game”

Book Review — The Kitchen Front

The Kitchen Front
Jennifer Ryan

Kent, 1942 — the war rages on and the rural villages under the path of Hitler’s blitz on London are starting to feel the grip of food insecurity. The Dig for Britain campaign is in full swing and rationing is the only way to get meat, butter, and eggs unless you have a farm. This period was resplendent with contests and competitions to keep up people’s spirits and share advice on how to make the best out of limited resources.

In The Kitchen Front, The women of Fenley Village are encouraged to show off their best recipes and win a spot as an on-air radio host demonstrating their skills in the kitchen.

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Book Review: Aubrey McKee by Alex Pugsley

Aubrey McKee
Alex Pugsley

This collection of stories about a well-to-do kid from Halifax’s South End is apparently meant to be the first in a 5-part fictionalized autobiographical series. This book covers Aubrey’s childhood and teenage years in the 70s and 80s, and includes a cast of characters that range from his parents’ friends to drug-dealing ruffians from the poorer parts of town, to a collection of eccentrics and misfits who are the early adopters of Halifax’s vibrant punk music scene in the early 80s. But Aubrey’s life is pretty insular and posh. Private school, tennis lessons, and yacht clubs all play a role in his development and it’s only when another character tells him off and points out that his life is nothing at all like that of other Halifax youth (a refreshing twist, because I wasn’t sure the author actually had that self-awareness up to that point and was beginning to think he might be an awful jerk), that it became clear that somebody had the great good sense to consider Aubrey a poncy twat, and to call him on it.

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