Friday, March 27, 2009

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam

I finished Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures at 2am, after my Book Club. I have to admit, I did NOT enjoy it at first. At my insistence, we had dropped Yasmina Khadra's The Attack, because I felt the writing was weak and dry. It was like reading a first-year's attempt at drama. Anyway, we dropped it and opted for Lam's 2006 Giller winner instead. Unfortunately, the first two chapters were just as stilted and hesitant as Khadra's work, so I had a mini panic attack, thinking I had jumped from the pan to the fire.

Thankfully, it picked right up. I think it has everything to do with the introduction of Sri and Chen; Fitz and Ming were like, as Mags would say, a bad episode of Grey's Anatomy. It was so interesting to watch these very different personalities deal with death: Sri is compassionate, Fitz is cavalier, Ming is detached and Chen is super-professional. At one point, Fitz and Chen ask each other when it was they lost their ability to deal with death in a human (not just humane) way. I think it must be difficult to deal with something so harsh (final) everyday and not become detached or cavalier about it, otherwise you become overwrought and bound to have a breakdown. Sri's compassion seems ideal, but perhaps would have burned him out, had he been given the opportunity to continue his work. Perhaps not.

Written as a collection of interlocking short stories, it was easy to pick out my favourite chapters: "Winston", with its dark erratic turns, that yet actually gives you a believable view inside the mind of a psychotic - my favourite part has to be the ghost costume made with a flowery bed sheet; "Contact Tracing", dealing with the SARS epidemic that left Toronto stunned and had the world thinking we were a plague ridden city - my favourite part had to be the lottery, which was news to me and which had shades of Shirley Jackson. Getting through Ming and Fitz was so so SO worth it.

I always expect a lot of my Giller winners - I expect them to be epic and heartbreaking and distinctly Canadian. Lam achieves all of these in such a surprisingly lighthearted way. The "short story" is a great tool for completely changing moods, tones, styles and narrative textures - I have no idea if he did it on purpose or if it just came together that way, but boy, did it work. The collection is full of beautiful vignettes (a fedora being pushed into a mailbox; a pregnant mother opting for a Cesarean without anaesthesia; eggs Benedict) coalescing into a moving frieze that paints a harsh but honest, epic but personal view of life. How ironic that this is achieved is a work where the the main theme is death. I recommend this one highly.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


As the year races past me in a dizzying blur, I set out to do one more thing off my NYR checklist: speed dating. In theory, this is something that makes me really nervous: many men, only three minutes to decide which ones deserve a proper date, stopping talking as soon as the bell goes ding… I didn't think I could do it. But AnCe and Nish were going and I thought, what the hell.

AnCe set up our lowered expectations, which Nish confirmed is the key to a successful first date. This, again, goes against everything in me. Why waste my time with mediocrity when I know it's not going to work? Anyway, we showed up and I immediately fortified myself with a drink. Then, I asked the (cute) bartender to pour me a glass of water in my massive wine goblet. He's all "I can just give you a water glass" and I'm all "that would ruin the illusion"… so he pours me a glass of water with a few drops of iced tea to make a perfect replica of rich white wine. I found myself wishing he was part of the speed dating process, but alas.

Anyway, as "G" I found my place in the lounge area. And it began. Now, more than twelve hours after the experience, I will admit that it is mostly a fog. I only have a few highlights…
#4: opened his convo with the usual "what do you do for fun" question, but since he was the fifth person I'd talked to, I was kind of sick of answering, so I said "what do YOU think I do for fun" … his answer? "Hard core porn?" …to which I replied, "it has its time and place. This would normally have been funny, except when he found out I'm a Children's Librarian, he said his favourite book is "superfudge"… all in all? I think he's gay.
#11: moved to Mississauga from Barrie and thought the 'Saug was more boring. I blinked my surprise at him and he says "well, maybe it was the booze and drugs that made it so entertaining"… ooookaaaay.
#8: a Star Trek fan that prefers Kirk to Picard. That killed it.
#2: I liked him - quiet and cute and, when Nish began distracting me, used his jacket as a shield. Charming, really. And I like the geeks - they comfort me.
#7/#8: interchangeable Polish guys who were absolutely hilarious.
#15: aka Alanis. He talked more about his friend Sonia (in Woodbridge) than himself and I thought, "oh dear - you need to ask her on a date."
… All in all, fifteen guys were there and they were all very covnersational. No total freaks or psychos. But dateable? I only checked off six. Now we wait to see if the same six will check me off.

Things I learned from this whole experience:
1) It's hard to answer "what I do for fun" - I read, I watch movies, I play Warcraft and board games, I like to hike in the summer. I travel, but not alone. I like the legitimate theatre (symphony, opera, plays). I want to shark-dive and parachute-drop. But I don't know how to ride a bike or rollerblade or do any cute sporty things. I wish I could have just filled out a card and handed it to them to remember… like a dating resume.
2) 3 minutes is more than enough time for me to judge a person. Thank you, Customs, for teaching me to spot a liar in 13 seconds or less. #13? You are a poseur. Get over your drumming self.
3) I need to ask AnCe what she's wearing before we go out - we have, I swear, identical clothing taste. Either that, or I convince her to room with me so I can raid her closet. Hmm… I wonder what shoe size she wears?
4) I have bad hearing. It was a loud buzzing atmosphere with everyone talking and being gregarious and I had to struggle to hear the quiet ones (the ones I like!), which meant I was watching their lips instead of their eyes and that can't be good. I wonder if a discreet hearing aid would be completely out of the question?

We hear back on Friday. I shall keep you posted, poppets!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

march break

So, I'm a bad blogtress. Ten lashes with a wet noodle. It's not that nothing has happened... it's just that too much is happening. And coming off the busiest March Break of my life (without an ounce of exaggeration), I just seem to be too exhausted to do much more than the most menial of labour. This past week alone, I must have programmed for over a thousand kids, organised five really "big shows" that had sold-out attendance and played the "domina libri" for our Harry's Horcruxes Scavenger Hunt. Fear not, darling readers, I did have a brief reprieve that came in the form of fire fighters.
... In other shocking news, my Senior Librarian (and buffer and friend) has announced her managership within SteelTown, taking her on a new and exciting road in her career but far away from us. I can't help but feel a terrible mixture of happiness and selfish, selfish disappointment. I shall miss her greatly.

Please don't think I'm completely giving up on this little morsel of the internets. I'm just trying to find a way to keep it in the juggling act that has quickly become my life.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Now Playing: The Watchmen (by Alan Moore)

I spent most of my Saturday off (a precious commodity, let me assure you, dear readers) waiting in line to see The Watchmen, a movie based on Alan Moore's celebrated graphic novel by the same title. I wasn't really chomping at the bit for this movie - the costumes seemed sillier than normal and, having not read the book, I just didn't get it. But, being the first major blockbuster of 2009, it seemed a logical movie choice. I read the first half of the novel while waiting in line, so that turned out quite well.

In actual fact, this was very entertaining. The casting was excellent, but the real standouts are Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Comedian) - those two sold the movie more than everyone else combined. Haley's deep bass made Bale's Batman growl sound amateur and Morgan's turn as the extremely grey-area Comedian definitively wiped away any fuzzy feelings we may have had left over from his turn as Denny Duquette on Grey's. Zack Snyder's directing is very convincing, though slow to start. I will admit to falling asleep for a few minutes in the first half hour of the film. I don't know if this is entirely his fault, as the source material is just a slow to get started (Chapter I took me forever to get through). There are some major rewrites (which is for film pacing purposes, I'm sure) and a few omissions (no sign of the Black Freighter anywhere), but if you haven't read the novel, you wouldn't notice a thing. In fact, the writers should be commended for penning such a tight and believable script and the art director is genius for actually recreating entire panels throughout the movies.

On its own merits, I'd give Watchmen 4 out of 5 stars. It's a great break from the winter blues and a nice early intro to the 2009 blockbuster season. If you have to wait in line, I recommend reading the novel as an appetiser.

Having just finished the novel, I am still undecided as to what my reaction is to it. I have heard over and over again about how this graphic novel is the greatest of its genre and an absolute must-read. I don’t think I agree. Don’t get me wrong: it is a really written graphic fiction, capturing the undercurrents of 80's paranoia and opening up discussions of war, morality and justice. More than anything else, it takes a "real" look at the kind of personality it would take to be a superhero (or super-villain, for that matter): slightly psychotic, damaged and a subconscious yearning for the spotlight (and the implicit social acceptance that comes with it). Moore's weaving of the Black Freighter as a parallel storyline is sometimes a bit obvious, but it probably helps reluctant readers keep up with ever-darkening plot and sometimes-esoteric conversations. Finally, the plot itself is really an exercise in philosophy: what does it mean to be "good" and "evil"? What is the difference? How much value does life have - if any at all? Is the sacrifice of millions for the sake of billions ever justifiable (it is in money - if we invest a million dollars and get a billion back, wouldn't that be considered an unmitigated success?)? But the greatest graphic novel ever? I don't think so, but I do think it's in very good company in terms of quality. V for Vendetta, Gaiman's Sandman series and the new Hush (Batman) duology would all be "must-read"s in my opinion and Watchmen would be a worthy shelf-companion to all of these.