By Lisa Moore - Monday, October 28, 2013 - 0 Comments
Slaney broke out of the woods and skidded down a soft embankment to the side of the road. There was nothing but forest on both sides of the asphalt as far as he could see. He thought it might be three in the morning and he was about two miles from the prison. It had taken an hour to get through the woods.
He had crawled under the chain-link fence around the yard and through the long grass on the other side. He had run hunched over and he’d crawled on his elbows and knees, pulling himself across the ground, and he’d stayed still, with his face in the earth, while the searchlight arced over him. At the end of the field was a steep hill of loose shale and the rocks had clattered away from his shoes.
The soles of Slaney’s shoes were tan-coloured and slippery.
The tan had worn off and a smooth patch of black rubber showed on the bottom of each shoe. He’d imagined the soles lit up as the searchlight hit them. He had on the orange coveralls.
They had always been orange, but when everybody was wearing them they were less orange.
For an instant the perfect oval of hard light had contained him like the shell of an egg and then he’d gone animal numb and cringing, a counterintuitive move, the prison psychotherapist might have said, if they were back in her office discussing the break — she talked slips and displacement, sublimation and counter-intuition, and allowed for an inner mechanism he could not see or touch but had to account for — then the oval slid him back into darkness and he charged up the hill again.
Near the top, the shale had given way to a curve of reddish topsoil with an overhang of ragged grass and shrub. There was a cracked yellow beef bucket and a ringer washer turned on its side, a bald white.
Slaney had grabbed at a tangled clot of branches but it came loose in his hand. Then he’d dug the toe of his shoe in deep and hefted his chest over the prickly grass overhang and rolled on top of it.
He lay there, flat on his back, chest hammering, looking at the stars. It was as far as he had been from the Springhill penitentiary since the doors of that institution admitted him four years before. It was not far enough.
He’d heaved himself off the ground and started running.
This was Nova Scotia and it was June 14, 1978. Slaney would be twenty-five years old the next day.
The night of his escape would come back to him, moments of lit intensity, for the rest of his life. He saw himself on that hill in the brilliant spot of the swinging searchlight, the orange of his back as it might have appeared to the guards in the watchtower, had they glanced that way.
From Caught by Lisa Moore. Copyright © Lisa Moore, 2013. Excerpt reproduced with the permission of House of Anansi Press. www.houseofanansi.com. All rights reserved.
By Lisa Moore - Monday, October 28, 2013 at 1:33 PM - 0 Comments
The Giller nominee on her novel Caught and the ‘shimmering things’ that inspire
THE 2013 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE: Canada’s most distinguished literary prize awards $50,000 annually to the best Canadian novel or short-story collection published in English. In this series, Maclean’s highlights the work and artistic process of the five shortlisted nominees. In this edition, Caught author Lisa Moore writes about the power of imagination. Watch for upcoming interviews and book excerpts from Dennis Bock, Craig Davidson, Lynn Coady and Dan Vyleta.
When Jackson Pollock splatters paint on a canvas, there’s room for interpretation: Maybe it’s a bear, someone running, jealousy. Modern artists urge observers to connect the dots with their own subconscious, encouraging a dialogue instead of a monologue. Lisa Moore, whose novel Caught is nominated for the Giller prize, crafts her scenes with the same purpose, and her economical use of language allows the imagination of the reader to twin with that of the writer, working together across the arc of the story. “The strongest fiction, for me as a reader, is that which allows me to create it in my head and, as a writer, I like to give the reader as much control as possible—I think that’s where the real pleasure lies.” Moore’s trust of the abstract is often where she finds the seeds of story ideas. “The glimmer of a beginning: the facial expression of someone in a café or the way light hits a landscape, it can be enough to get me started.” And Moore packs wit into her short, sharp sentences. She mines situational irony like a prospector, searching for the disconnect between our imagined version of events and the reality. Those moments of relatable tragi-comedy, says Moore, are humour’s sweet spot. “We all know what it’s like to go through life assuming that we’re right until we’re proven wrong. I think that can be pretty funny.” In Caught, through seized moments and pointed sarcasm, Moore’s imagination takes off.
By Dan Vyleta - Monday, October 28, 2013 at 1:08 PM - 0 Comments
The train was running late.
It had been running late since before Nancy and had made several unscheduled stops between Basel and Zurich. Near Innsbruck it broke down altogether, or rather it stopped, and men could be seen running around outside, inspecting the tracks and wheels and shouting at one another. Then it gathered velocity once more, tore along a long, narrow valley before once again coming to a screeching halt. The sun was setting, and a fine, dreary rain was running down the windowpane. Despite the season—it was July already—the compartment grew drafty and cold whenever the train was in motion, then turned close and somehow oppressive when it shuddered to a halt.
She had been on the train now for close to fourteen hours.
During the first hours of their journey the conductor had made a point of stopping by the compartment with great regularity, to offer his services, ply her with a peculiarly sweet yet bitter tea which he dispensed from a blue enamel pot, and to keep her abreast of the reasons for their delay.
He was a fat man, doughy, and as though held together by his ill-fitting uniform. Whenever he leaned over to arrange the cushion behind her head or to fuss over the luggage that was hanging in a net above her seat, he left behind the sweaty mark of his plump little hands. Above all he liked to talk. His explanations were as inconstant as his crablike gait. At first he had told “mademoiselle” (as he insisted on calling her, even though she was no longer young, and even though they spoke in German, he in an accent that was broadly Viennese, she with the crisp formality of someone no longer used to the tongue) that the train’s delay was due to the circumstance, “and a rather odd one at that,” that the company had been unable to locate the engine driver in Paris, from where the train hailed. They had found him at last, dead drunk, at a public pissoir not far from the station, sitting on the ground, that is, with his arms wrapped around a plucked and broken-necked goose. All attempts at revival had failed, and at long last it was decided that a replacement had to be found.
An hour later the conductor seemed to have forgotten about the engine driver whose goose he had taken such pains to describe. Now he insisted that a tree had been found lying across the tracks in circumstances that were nothing short of suspicious. To wit, the trees were considered to be located too far from the tracks for it to have been a matter of chance, and besides, the trunk had been cut rather than broken, “and with a proper saw at that.” Twenty miles on, it was the activities of the Swiss officials that were holding up the train. Some papers had been filled in incorrectly and they—“that is, the Swiss”—had called ahead to the next station with instructions to stop the train “whatever the cost.”
Through each of the conductor’s lengthy explanations the woman listened with an air of evident boredom, nonetheless smiling at him and accepting his cups of sweet-yet-bitter tea. Whenever the conductor left the compartment, the woman let lapse this sugary smile and turned her attention back to the boarding school boy who was sitting across from her. He, in turn, never left off staring at her with open curiosity. They had been alone in the compartment for some six hours now and had yet to exchange so much as a word.
There was little about him that was remarkable: a young man dressed in black, with a stiff white shirt and dark, patterned tie, holding a book closed upon his lap. He was perhaps eighteen years of age; too slender yet to be thought of as a man; rich (how else would he be able to afford the first-class ticket?); a boy very pale, with a mask of freckles sitting lightly on his face; the hair nearly black, thick, and falling low into his forehead; the brows long and straight, sloping gently to the temples. There was something wrong with his eye, the one that faced the window and found its own reflection in the darkness of the pane. It looked as though it had been beaten, broken, reassembled. Its white was discoloured and it drooped within its socket, giving a new note to his face, of belligerent reproach. His shoes were made of a shiny black leather and looked as though they had never been worn.
In fact, there was nothing about his person or his clothes that would have marked him as a boarding school boy—he might have been a clerk, or an apprentice undertaker—had not the satchel and cap that were stowed in the netting above his head proclaimed him as precisely that, the student or recent graduate of an institution that thought highly enough of itself to affect a crest with lions and a motto in Ciceronian Latin. He also owned a knapsack and what looked to be a lady’s hat box. At intervals he would stand up on his seat and pull a wrapped sandwich out of the former, then sit eating it with obvious relish. He was tidy and handsome and really quite short.
Darkness fell and the train rattled on. The boy seemed eager to start into conversation but uncertain where to begin. From time to time he would flash her a smile, red-lipped, innocent, and watch her form a smile of her own: grown-up, guarded, graceful, and quick. Once he pulled a sketchbook and pencil from his knapsack and sat as though he wanted to draw her, then flushed and tore out the page. The pencil he wedged behind his ear, where it hung for some minutes before coming loose and falling on the seat next to him. He grabbed it, smiled, put it in his pocket, then found it made a bulge in his pressed trousers, produced it again, and balanced it on the half inch of ledge beneath the window, from where it was sure to fall when they reached the next bend. His fingernails, she noticed, were freshly pared, and he had not undone a single button on his collar. There was a callus on his middle finger such as is formed by the routine use of a pen; and a small red pimple where nose tucked into cheek. That, and his eye was broken at the socket; bled its iris into the white. The woman found it hard to stop looking at this eye. It was much older than the rest of him, a mark of violence on his pretty, lively face; did not spoil it, nor yet set off its beauty, but sat instead like a fragment of some other face that had risen to the surface. He seemed to have no control over the lid. It would slide shut from time to time, droop across the waking eye like the line of the horizon, and he would raise one hand, making no effort to hide the motion, grab hold of his thick lashes, pull back the lid and stuff it into its fold under the bone. He’d smile then, and she’d grow conscious of her staring, so obvious under the boy’s observant gaze; would catch herself and make an effort to look away. But within minutes her eyes had returned to his, the broken eye, and she found herself wondering whether it had any life.
“I got into a tussle.”
He spoke abruptly, without introduction, the voice high and quiet, pink tongue tapping against teeth.
“A tussle,” he repeated, leaning forward, his hands spread on his knees.
“Almost a fight, actually, with a boy in my class. That’s why it looks so funny. There’s something about it. Nerve damage. The doctors say it will never really heal. But all the same I see just fine.”
He leaned back, pleased to have broken the ice, so much so that he even laughed out loud, a quick, high chuckle, good-humoured and young.
“Did you win?” she asked, after a pause.
He shook his head and smiled: ruefully, cheerfully, unperturbed in his good humour. “You know, I very nearly did. I was surprised myself. The boy was much bigger than I. But then, I’ve always been good at games.”
“Good at games. Football, I suppose.”
“Tennis,” he smiled, and pointed to the handle of a racket sticking out of his knapsack. “School champion three years running. And you?”
“I?” She laughed. “I’m nearly forty—too old for games. But what a queer little fellow you are!”
Not in the least offended by this appraisal, the boy quickly joined her in her laughter, held out his palm and introduced himself as “Robert, Robert Seidel.”
She shook his hand and offered no name of her own.
Excerpted from The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta. Copyright © Dan Vyleta, 2013. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
By Dan Vyleta - Monday, October 28, 2013 at 1:08 PM - 0 Comments
Giller nominee Dan Vyleta on writing after his father’s death
THE 2013 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE: Canada’s most distinguished literary prize awards $50,000 annually to the best Canadian novel or short-story collection published in English. In this series, Maclean’s highlights the work and artistic process of the five shortlisted nominees. In this edition, The Crooked Maid author Dan Vyleta discusses writing after his father’s death. Watch for interviews and book excerpts from Dennis Bock, Lynn Coady, Lisa Moore and Craig Davidson.
Once he’s hacked through the jungle of daily noise, Dan Vyleta finds real joy escaping into the minutae of his writing. “The difficulty is finding the door that leads to the magical space. Then you can sit with the personality of a character, working out the language; you step into it and allow yourself to be swept away.” He envisions a concrete moment—a woman on a train deciding to find her estranged husband—and steps through that magical door, concentrating on her motivations, the anxiousness she might feel. But starting with a concept first can lead to dead ends. “If I think, ‘What is history, what does this mean, I want to depict guilt,’ all that abstract stuff, I can’t do anything with that as a writer.” The Crooked Maid deals with a search for identity after trauma, which then became art imitating life when Vyleta’s father died during the draft phase. He used his writing to escape that reality and attempt to resolve it with a fictional lens. The result earned him a Giller nomination.
Dan Vyleta on writing
The first mention of the book that came to be The Crooked Maid dates from March 2009. “Reading Doc. Zhivago,” my notebook states somewhat cryptically. “Long train journeys. Hence—conversation. Cf. Kreuzer Sonata + The Idiot. Picture it: a wife returns home after the war. Hungry for talk.” I wrote this in Sackville, N.B., still working on The Quiet Twin. There are other jottings like it, other ideas. Most are red-herrings, leading nowhere. Possibilities, three-line sketches. Roads not taken.
I started the novel some time the following spring or summer. The summer after that, my father died. Maid—as we call the book in my house—was only half-written. It (she?) became marked by my grief. I doubt I will ever think of the book without thinking of that summer. But Maid also helped me, gave me rhythm and routine, a realm dedicated to life, not death. I am grateful for her shelter.
By Katie Engelhart - Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
In 1969, the historian A.J.P. Taylor famously dubbed the First World War a “war by timetable.” War was not, in Taylor’s reading, a product of deliberate choice, but rather the consequence of an unyielding pre-war structure. States drew up rigid battlefield plans and railway timetables—and then, in 1914, became slaves to them. “The nations,” British prime minister David Lloyd George would recall, “slithered over the brink into the boiling cauldron of war without any trace of apprehension or dismay.”
Not so, argues historian Margaret MacMillan (incidentally, she is Lloyd George’s great-granddaughter) in her new book, The War That Ended Peace.
MacMillan’s book, released this month, rides the crest of a wave that will soon be a flood of Great War histories. Next year marks the centenary of the war’s outbreak and publishers have taken ample note. MacMillan—who won a Governor General’s Award and Samuel Johnson Prize for Paris 1919 and is the warden of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University—tackles well-trod historical ground. But it is her commitment to storytelling and her insistence that “there are always choices” that provides a welcome break from the passive voice of so many First World War tomes: in which war “breaks out,” alliances “form,” and battles are inexorably “waged.”
By Bookmarked - Friday, October 25, 2013 at 4:13 PM - 0 Comments
Chuvalo: A Fighter’s Life, The Story Of Boxing’s Last Gladiator, by George Chuvalo with Murray Greig, reviewed by Jonathan Gatehouse
Would You Kill The Fat Man? The Trolley Problem And What Your Answer Tells Us About Right And Wrong by David Edmonds, reviewed by Jonathan Gatehouse
Dallas 1963, By Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis, reviewed by Jaime Weinman
The Great & Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms (How One Man Scorched the Twentieth Century But Didn’t Mean To), by Ian Thornton, reviewed by Mike Doherty
A Mysterious Something In the Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler, by Tom Williams, reviewed by Brian Bethune
By Chris Hadfield - Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 11:16 AM - 0 Comments
In 2012, Hadfield was denied medical clearance to go to space. He recounts the politics and the chaos that followed.
Excerpted from An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
Nothing focuses your mind quite like flying a jet. That’s one reason NASA requires that astronauts fly T-38s: it forces us to concentrate and prioritize in some of the same ways we need to in a rocket ship. Although simulators are great for building step-by-step knowledge of a procedure, the worst thing that can happen in a sim is that you get a bad grade on your performance. In a T-38, an old training plane that’s fast but short on fuel and not all that responsive, you have to operate complex, unforgiving systems in a dynamic environment. You’re constantly forced to make judgment calls, like whether to turn back or push on when you’re low on fuel or a storm is coming or there’s something wrong with the plane. Making life or death calls, without hesitation, is a perishable skill; flying T-38s ensures we maintain it.
Even during an uneventful flight, it’s crucial that you’re focused and ready to work any problem that arises. When you’re 150 feet off the ground and moving at 400 knots, which is common for fighter and test pilots, you have to concentrate on what’s directly in front of you. If you don’t, you’ll die. That kind of intense focus is less about what you include than what you ignore. And by ignore, I mean completely block out; the argument with your boss, your financial worries—gone. If it doesn’t matter for the next 30 seconds, then it doesn’t exist. There is only one essential question: What’s the next thing that could kill me?
“Boldface” is a pilot term, a magic word to describe the procedures that could, in a crisis, save your life. We say that “boldface is written in blood” because often it’s created in response to an accident investigation. It highlights the series of steps that should have been taken to avoid a fatal crash, but weren’t.
Working as a test pilot reinforced my ability to focus on the essentials even in the midst of chaos. It didn’t occur to me, though, that the place where I’d really need to put those lessons into practice was on the ground.
By Douglas Gibson - Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 10:28 AM - 0 Comments
When I reach the Pearly Gates, I know that I have the perfect password to get in. Even if St. Peter is at his grumpy, bureaucratic worst—“So what have you ever done in your miserable, selﬁsh life to deserve getting into Heaven?”—I can waltz in simply by saying, “I kept Alice Munro writing short stories.” And he, if his English is any good, will rush to wave me through, maybe even making a saintly exclamation like, “Holy smokes, Alice Munro!”
My own contact with Alice began with a fan letter from me, followed by a meeting for lunch at the Holiday Inn in downtown London, Ont. Alice has always been such a beautiful woman that I use the word “courtship” cautiously, but I was certainly courting her professionally, to assure her that she would be comfortable working with me (which took a few meetings), and to promise explicitly that I would never, ever, ask her for a novel.
The very first book we worked on together was Who Do You Think You Are? (1978). The proud roll call of titles continues through the ’80s and ’90s. The Moons of Jupiter, The Progress of Love (the ransomed story collection), Friend of My Youth, Open Secrets, The Love of a Good Woman. In the new century, the nine- or 10-story collections continued with Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, then Runaway, then The View from Castle Rock, followed by her 2009 collection, Too Much Happiness. My own role in all this was very easy. Basically, I was hanging on for the ride, whooping.
- Alice Munro: Never too much happiness
- Alice Munro declines invite to Nobel Prize ceremony
- A Nobel in due season for Alice Munro
By Brian Bethune and Bookmarked - Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 10:26 AM - 0 Comments
Inside the remarkable triumph of the world’s greatest storyteller
Has there been a more popular Nobel laureate in recent memory? The Oct. 10 announcement of Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize for Literature was met not by respectful applause or a modest uptick in patriotic pride among her compatriots, but by expressions of outright joy, sometimes to the speaker’s own surprise. One Internet commentator summed up his feelings in a phrase at once absurd, inevitable and exquisitely apt: “A good day, a day like beating the Russians at hockey.” Yes, indeed: That is how much Alice Munro matters to Canadians.
Adding to our pleasure was the evident truth we weren’t alone in our regard. Helped along by the fact that the Anglo world hasn’t had a laureate to celebrate since Doris Lessing in 2007—not to mention a run of recent winners little-known in English translation—American and British praise was scarcely less effusive. Novelist A.S. Byatt declared the announcement “has made me happiest in the whole of my life.” The rest of the world seemed to approve, as well, which speaks volumes about the clarity of Munro’s prose and the quality of her translators. In Paris, the newspaper Le Monde, in an admiring tribute entitled “La reine de la nouvelle,” echoed the famous refrain—“Read Munro! Read Munro!”—of American writer Jonathan Franzen’s 2004 New York Times review of her Runaway—“Oui, Franzen a raison. Il faut lire Alice Munro.”
Even the very few naysayers the media managed to turn up only seemed to add to the general approbation. Various newspapers pointed to Christian Lorentzen, an editor at the London Review of Books, and his unflattering review in June of Dear Life, but then confused the issue by quoting from a section where Lorentzen summed up the views of Munro fans, making him sound bizarrely like a cheerleader: “Over a career now in its sixth decade, she’s rehearsed the same themes again and again, but that’s because she’s a master of variation. She has preternatural powers of sympathy and empathy, but she’s never sentimental.” Franzen could hardly have said it better. Otherwise, the search for contrarians pulled up only Bret Easton Ellis, and when your most prominent critic is recognized primarily as the author of American Psycho (1991), you are by definition doing good work.
By Craig Davidson - Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 12:49 PM - 0 Comments
The Cataract City author on writing ad copy to pay the bills. Plus, an excerpt from his Giller-nominated novel.
THE 2013 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE: Canada’s most distinguished literary prize awards $50,000 annually to the best Canadian novel or short-story collection published in English. In this series, Maclean’s highlights the work and artistic process of the five shortlisted nominees. In this edition, Cataract City author Craig Davidson discusses what’s grist for the writer’s mill. Watch for upcoming interviews and book excerpts from Dennis Bock, Lynn Coady, Lisa Moore and Dan Vyleta.
It’s difficult to say, really, what effect failing as a worm harvester might have on an aspiring author. Some might take it as a very strong indicator to abandon any and all previous ambitions and enrol in, say, a technical college. Craig Davidson, however, just shrugged it off, along with stints as a bus driver and dating-site profiler. “I don’t think there’s anything that can, or should, keep young writers out of the field. It’s been a bit of a slog for me, true—a lot of different hats to pay the bills. I’ve been fired as a bartender, too.” There were a couple of times when Davidson could see the appeal of what he calls “an Eminem mic-drop moment: All right, that’s it, I’m done.” But nothing else ever made him feel as good as writing did and, now, after the “big shock” of seeing his novel Cataract City be nominated for the Giller prize, it’s likely nothing will have to.
The Giller process has been like a hurdles race, Davidson laughs. “Make the long list, then, as those three weeks to the short-list pass, a little tension in your chest; jump that hurdle and you’re in the final heat.” Sports metaphors are a natural for an author known for the violent physicality of his stories, full of boxing and dogfights, and for the somewhat personal research of his youth. Davidson took steroids for his boxing novel, and they had the expected effect on him. “But I’m not an angry young man any more; you leave that stuff behind when you have a child,” he says in reference to his 16-month-old son. Davidson, Calgary-born and a resident of Toronto, is just a writer now—an established writer, in fact, one whose wannabe worm-picking days are long behind him.
By Brian Bethune - Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 5:26 AM - 0 Comments
The first of the fall season’s major Canadian writing prizes—assuming we don’t count the Nobel this year—chose its winner Monday night. The nation’s most lucrative non-fiction award, the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize, went to The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan by Graeme Smith, formerly a reporter there and now a Kabul-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, which offers non-partisan analysis and advice to governments and intergovernmental bodies on the prevention and resolution of deadly conflict.
Smith’s intricate and sobering account of good intention gone awry was picked from a shortlist that also included Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian, The Once and Future World by J.B. MacKinnon, This Great Escape by Andrew Steinmetz and Priscila Uppal’s Projection, each of which received $5,000.
Smith was caught off guard by his win—when he reached the microphone he recited a poem by Emily Dickinson, memorized in Grade Eight, “which I always say when I can’t think of anything else to say.”
He wasn’t the only surprised person present. Canadians, like the rest of the world, Smith agreed afterwards, “are absolutely turning their faces away from Afghanistan.” We don’t want to hear about it any more: “I have a house in Kabul where I put up freelance journalists who are still interested in what’s going on there but who can’t find editors who will pay for hotel rooms. It’s not at all like it was in the beginning.” But the unpopularity of the topic didn’t deter the jurors, who praised Smith for his graphic account of “a tragic mix of cultural ignorance, miscommunication, greed, brutality, and political naiveté.”
What effect the prize’s unusual jury structure had on the eventual choice of winner is unknown.
Three original jurors—writers Hal Niedzviecki, Candace Savage (who won last year) and Andreas Schroeder—crafted the shortlist after reading 107 submitted titles. Only then were they joined by two additional jurors, Samantha Nutt, founder and executive director of War Child Canada, and CBC broadcast journalist Evan Solomon. The process seems fraught with conflict potential, but Niedzviecki and Savage agreed it was not just peacable and respectful but actually helpful.
“We were becoming a kind of single melded individual,” says Niedzviecki, a sentiment echoed by Savage, who says “we were starting to trim our opinions to suit each other—this new stage meant a fresh perspective.”
Solomon says he and Nutt were very aware the others had done much more work. “We had to accept the five books as the best on offer and the others had to accept we’d be part of the decision. In the end, Smith emerged from a general consensus.”
By Brian Bethune - Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
There is a part in Julian Porter, Q.C.’s lively—to put it mildly—book on European art, 149 Paintings You Really Need to See in Europe (So You Can Ignore the Others), that neatly catches the two most passionate of his many interests. Porter, 76, is one of the most prominent libel lawyers in Canada and, for decades, a chief bulwark of defence for media outlets, including Maclean’s, and individual writers such as Allan Fotheringham, to cite one who really appreciated the help. Porter is also someone who has regularly visited European art galleries for nearly 60 years, often annually, to immerse himself in Rembrandt’s self-portraits and other favourite works.
So Porter is happy to write, and talk, about James Whistler’s libel trial. When the famous painter was affronted in 1877 by the equally famous critic John Ruskin, who called one of Whistler’s (now) celebrated “nocturne” paintings the equivalent of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face,” the London-based American artist sued. “The record is riveting,” laughs Porter. “Whistler kept being interrupted by this mean old boob of a British judge, Baron Huddleston, who could not understand what was in the painting, let alone Whistler’s idea of ‘art for art’s sake.’ ” (The highlight of the exchange between jurist and painter: “The prevailing colour is blue?” “Perhaps.”)
Whistler won his case, although prevailing public opinion can be gauged by the one-farthing damages the jury awarded him, but he did much better in the judgment of posterity, his concept becoming, as Porter writes, “the central plank of 20th-century painting.”
By Julia McKinnell - Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
The publicist promoting Chrisann Brennan’s memoir about Steve Jobs delivers the disappointing news: “It’s safe to say that this interview will not happen,” reads the email. Brennan is the artist Jobs fell in love with when he was a teenager living in his parents’ home. She remembers his bright-red electric typewriter and the tidiness of his bedroom closet. The two were high school sweethearts, dropping acid, living together, converting to Zen Buddhism.
Brennan’s rebuffing of the press when other authors might box kangaroos in the ring if the spectacle sold books comes as no surprise. She’s been punished in the past whenever she’s co-operated with the media. The most recent occasion was in 2011, after Jobs’s death, when she granted permission to Rolling Stone to print a piece about her and Steve. The move got her uninvited to Jobs’s memorial service at Stanford University.
Before that, she’d submitted to a three-hour interview with Time and the consequence was nationwide humiliation. The year was 1983, not quite four years after she’d given birth to Lisa, Jobs’s daughter, though, bizarrely, he was still denying paternity. Time elected to make Jobs its Man of the Year, interviewing Steve and members of his inner circle. Brennan agreed to talk to journalist Michael Moritz. As she explains in her new book, The Bite in the Apple, “I thought of this as an opportunity to tell the truth about me and Steve.” When the article appeared, Jobs was quoted as saying, “28 per cent of the male population in the United States could be the father.”
By Paul Wells - Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 12:01 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on the prime minister’s inner sanctum
No figure in contemporary Canadian politics provokes more heated emotion than Stephen Harper. And yet no leader in memory has worked as hard as Harper does to keep a low profile. As Maclean’s Political Editor Paul Wells explains in his new book The Longer I’m Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006-, that’s part of Harper’s plan. In this exclusive excerpt, Wells describes Harper’s working style, his temper, and the sustained effort he puts into remaining an enigma. “The point of this word craft and image manipulation,” Wells writes, “is to last. The point of everything he does is to last.”
“Let’s go through a typical day,” somebody who works in the Langevin Block suggested. “He wakes up and he will do various media reviews with his wife, just by himself. And then he will come into the office for around 8:30-8:40 a.m. and he will meet with his senior staff. And they will then proceed to give him a media review. But he will have a sense of what some people have written already.”
This is striking because Harper has often protested that he doesn’t read the newspapers. He gets what he needs to know, he says, from his staff and the enormous bureaucracy that feeds it. But sometimes he is ahead of them when he arrives at work. Laureen Harper reads the papers, the blogs and Twitter. She will often mention reporters’ work to them when she bumps into them at receptions around town. A recommendation or condemnation from her is probably a big influence on Harper’s reading.
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 3:12 PM - 0 Comments
Will readers still love the madcap singleton when she has two little Darcys to raise?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the procurement of a husband is a far more compelling literary device than the maintenance of one. So it shouldn’t come as a complete shock that the third instalment of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones juggernaut, Mad About the Boy, arrives this week after a 15-year hiatus minus Mark Darcy, the husband the beloved protagonist laboured so assiduously to land. As the British press naughtily revealed—in a spoiler that went viral—the charming, earnest barrister Mark Darcy has been killed off, leaving our heroine a 51-year-old widow with two young Darcys to raise.
Mr. Darcy had to die, of course, so Fielding could maintain the formula that made the 1995 Bridget Jones’s Diary a literary sensation that spawned countless imitators. Based loosely on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the novel ended with Darcy and Bridget snogging; its sequel, the 1999 Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, concluded with his marriage proposal. The novels’ humour stemmed from the gaffe-prone, unsinkable singleton seeking, but not securing, a man. Fielding likely deduced, shrewdly, that “Bridget Jones, divorcee” would alienate readers who’d rooted for the heroine’s inevitable union with Darcy. His demise reboots her as “Bridget Jones, widow,” a sympathetic character entering the ripe-for-mockery mid-life dating pool at a time when many Bridget fans are doing the same.
Now the familiar diary format (in which Bridget obsesses over smoking and her alcohol and caloric intake) has been updated to include 21st-century anxieties such as number of Twitter followers and texts received versus texts sent. Her new focus is navigating the new rules of dating, among them meticulous waxing and never texting while drunk.
By The Associated Press - Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 5:39 PM - 0 Comments
LONDON – Youth and heft triumphed at the Booker Prize on Tuesday, as 28-year-old Ontario-born, New Zealand-based author Eleanor Catton won the fiction award for “The Luminaries,” an ambitious 832-page murder mystery set during a 19th-century gold rush.
The choice should give heart to young authors of oversized tales. Catton is the youngest writer and only the second New Zealander to win the prestigious award — and her epic novel is easily the longest Booker champion.
In her acceptance speech, she thanked her editors, her agent and her publishers — Granta in London and Victoria University Press in New Zealand — for not putting pressure on her while writing her novel.
“I was free, throughout, to concern myself with questions not of value but of worth. This is all the more incredible to me, because ‘The Luminaries’ is and was, from the very beginning, a publisher’s nightmare,” she said.
“The shape and form of the book made certain kinds of editorial suggestions not only mathematically impossible but even more egregious, astrologically impossible.”
Travel writer Robert Macfarlane, who chaired the judging panel, called “The Luminaries” ”dazzling” and “luminous.”
By Ken MacQueen - Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 9:00 PM - 0 Comments
With a new book and his first survey show in the offing, a peek into the author/artist/designer’s world
We are sitting in a temporary studio space on Vancouver’s North Shore looking at a brain. Well, part of a brain; part of Douglas Coupland’s very busy brain. Or at least how he imagines it. It would be the part of the brain that collects things, which he does rather compulsively, never quite knowing, sometimes until years later, the utility of, say, the toy soldier, or horseshoe magnet or piece of plastic poo he has gathered.
These thousands of things—part of 165 boxfuls he keeps in storage containers—are arrayed on the studio floor, starting with a row of old Penguin paperbacks by our feet and ending 10 m later with a collection of dartboards on the end wall. It’s a brain as represented by a very neat flea market—yard-sale things that fire his synapses, spur his imagination or simply give him pleasure. It’s hard to know if it’s the part of the Coupland brain that inspired some 23 books, or the part that designs furniture, clothing and outdoor spaces, or the part that fires the visual artist whose works range from whimsical pop to biting social commentary, to the four outsized bronze statues at Vancouver’s B.C. Place that magnificently capture the spirit of the late Terry Fox—one of Coupland’s heroes.
One assumes this stuff, and much more, nourishes all of Coupland’s endeavours—and currently the 51-year-old is on quite a tear. He has just released his 14th novel, Worst. Person. Ever. And he is at work on a solo exhibition of his visual work that will take up the entire ground floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery for three months, starting May 31. “The Brain,” or at least the sample that is spread here on the floor, is part of his attempt at “assessing the early 21st-century condition,” as Daina Augaitis, the museum’s chief curator and associate director, puts it. “That’s a pretty broad thing,” she concedes.
By Bookmarked - Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 8:27 PM - 0 Comments
Command And Control: Nuclear Weapons, The Damascus Accident, And The Illusion Of Safety, by Eric Schlosser, reviewed by Colby Cosh
The Value of Violence, by Benjamin Ginsberg, reviewed by Brian Bethune
Claire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat, reviewed by Naoko Asano
Festival Man, by Geoff Berner, reviewed by Michael Barclay
The Criminal Conversation of Mrs. Norton, by Diane Atkinson, reviewed by Joanne Latimer
The Wes Anderson Collection, by Matt Zoller Seitz, reviewed by Barry Hertz
By Barry Hertz - Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 3:30 PM - 0 Comments
After winning the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday morning, Alice Munro can now be rightly called the most famous Canadian author in history. Yet for some Canadians, Munro may only be a half-remembered name from their high-school or university days, lost in the fog of CanLit syllabuses.
So, how to get up to speed with the writer everyone will be talking about for the rest of the year? You could always read her 14 excellent collections of short stories…or you could take the easy way out, and download (or “rent,” if that’s still a thing) the half-dozen or so films adapted from her work. But a word of warning: Although the 82-year-old author’s stories have inspired some extraordinary works of cinema, they’ve also spawned some made-for-TV duds. A quick, chronological run-down:
By Diane Turbide - Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 1:15 PM - 0 Comments
Acclaimed Canadian author Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize for literature. The following profile of Munro was first published in Maclean’s Oct. 17, 1994, after the publication of Munro’s eighth book of stories, Open Secrets, and shortly before the awarding of the then-new Giller Prize. (Munro, a judge in that inaugural year, would go on to win the Giller–twice.)
Alice Munro is describing her amateur acting career, launched in the past five years. “In one play–both of them were murder mysteries–I was an aging but still sexually voracious professor of English,” she says with a laugh. “And in another, I played a lady writer who comes into the library and demands to know if any of her books are available. I loved it.”
The mere fact that Munro performed in public–the plays were fund-raisers for a local theatre near her Clinton, Ont., home–is surprising. An acclaimed fiction writer, she usually shuns public appearances, gives few interviews and refuses to go on book tours. “Well, that’s because I have to be me,” she says to explain her dislike of such self-promotion. “With acting, I love the mask.” Now, with Open Secrets, her eighth book of stories, Munro is again in the limelight–and being unmasked once more as a consummate artist. “The incomparable Alice Munro,” as a New York Times critic recently described her, “is not just a good writer but a great one, the first Canada has produced.”
By Brian Bethune - Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
In 1932, George Eastman, 77 and suffering from a painful spinal disorder, killed himself. He had been one of the great Gilded Age capitalists, the founder of the Eastman Kodak film-making company and lord of Smugtown, as the recession-proof city of Rochester, N.Y., became known. Even after his death, Kodak went from strength to strength, eventually employing 60,000 people—a full quarter of Smugtown’s population—and controlling 89 per cent of the U. S.’s insatiable demand for what made iconic Kodak moments possible. And then, in less than a decade early this century, it all fell to pieces or—quite literally, given that the firm’s purpose-built factories were useless for other purposes—was blown up, while Eastman’s straight-to-the-point suicide note took on a contemporary resonance: “My work is done. Why wait?”
Toronto photographer Robert Burley made it his business to record the strange death of film. In his superb, elegiac book The Disappearance of Darkness: Photography at the End of the Analog Era, and now in the exhibition of the same name opening at the National Gallery of Canada on Oct. 18, Burley’s text and images capture a world that dissolved in a swirl of ironies and incidents as evocative as George Eastman’s abrupt departure.
Burley was one of the first outside photographers allowed inside Kodak’s decommissioned Toronto plant—film-making factories, full of secret chemical processes, have never been camera-friendly places. Which is one reason most camera users never gave a moment’s thought to the vast industrial machine that provided their raw material. Burley’s images of factories abandoned or trashed or slated for destruction show the serried ranks of master rolls, transported in containers called coffins after their shape, each over a metre wide and three km long, with enough film to provide 70,000 24-exposure rolls. There would actually have been less to shoot in the factory in its glory days—a working plant operated in a chemical-protecting blackout: figuratively and literally, the film trade was cloaked in darkness.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 12:50 PM - 0 Comments
Filming the David Bowie video was fun. Then came the biggest crisis of Hadfield’s career.
Chris Hadfield had enjoyed a peaceful and productive few months aboard the International Space Station. He’d become the first Canadian to take command of the orbiting outpost, and his frequent updates on social media had generated an unexpected surge of interest in his mission. And his biggest web hit, his rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, was yet to come. Under his command were two Americans, Tom Marshburn and Chris Cassidy, and three Russians, Roman Romanenko, Pavel Vinogradov and Sasha Misurkin.
But the tranquility on-board wouldn’t last. As Hadfield writes in his forthcoming book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth–launching Nov. 3 at a Maclean’s In Conversation event–with just days to go before his return to Earth on May 13, 2013, he and the crew faced a crisis.
An exclusive excerpt from An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth:
I existed in a parallel universe, one where 681,000 people were following me on Twitter; in total, more than 1.2 million were along for the ride, via various social media sites. There were too many magazine and newspaper articles, TV clips and radio mentions for [my son] Evan to track. I was being hailed as a photographer, a poet, even a celebrity. I was aware this was happening, of course, but on orbit, none of it seemed real, nor did it bear much resemblance to my everyday life of sweating the small stuff and fixing toilets.
Evan wanted me to do one more thing: make the first music video in space. He wanted me to sing David Bowie’s Space Oddity. He’d suggested this not all that long after I got to the International Space Station (ISS), and was doing all kinds of work on the ground to make it happen, lining up the right people to help with the editing and so forth. This video, he assured me, would corner the market on wonder.
- Chris Hadfield on the view from above and his fear of heights
- Behind the scenes on our Bowie-inspired Chris Hadfield cover
- The wonder of Chris Hadfield
By Lejla Sarcevic - Monday, October 7, 2013 at 9:09 PM - 0 Comments
The home at 203 Amity Street had fallen on hard times: previously a city-funded museum, the unassuming row house was shuttered in 2012 after the city of Baltimore decided it couldn’t afford to fund it. That the home still stood at all owed a debt to its famous former inhabitant, whose reputation had helped save it from the wrecking ball decades prior. Last year’s cash crunch at Edgar Allan Poe House was the sort of predicament the home’s namesake would have known well.
But a year after the closure, the former home of author and poet Edgar Allan Poe has opened to the public again, thanks to a newly formed non-profit, Poe Baltimore, which plans to run the facility on donations.
Baltimoreans insist Poe left his mark on the Charm City more than any other place he lived. And they have some evidence to back up the claim: Poe lore is deeply woven into the city’s identity. Visitors can take in an NFL game by the Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens, dine on Chesapeake Bay specialties–crab dip and crab cakes–at the Annabel Lee Tavern, charter a yacht christened The Raven, or wander through the laneways of Fell’s Point, where Poe was found delirious in the days prior to his mysterious death, 164 years ago today.
Poe spent much of his life in poverty. He lived with his aunt, Maria Clemm, and her family in the small house on West Amity Street from 1833 to 1835; it’s believed he wrote his first true horror story, Bernice, in a small bedroom on the third floor. He left for Richmond, Virginia in 1835, and although he never lived in Baltimore again, the 40-year-old spent his final days there in 1849.
Only half of the building’s original structure remains, and Poe House was nearly lost entirely in the 1930s during the construction of a new housing development. The small house today feels as claustrophobic as some of Poe’s writing, with stairs so steep and narrow they are almost perilous. It is in these tight quarters that Poe met Virginia Clemm, his cousin and eventually, his wife.
Poe House was saved from demolition in 1941 by the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. It opened as a museum in the 1970s, and was operated by the city for decades before being stripped of its annual funding of $85,000 three years ago, when Baltimore faced a deep budget crisis. The museum finally ran out of reserve funds and closed its doors last fall.
Following the closure, the city spent $180,000 to consult on ways in which the house could reopen, money that also went towards its renovation. “As a general museum it would have a hard time surviving, but as part of a larger organization that had a broader mission of the Poe legacy, it would stand a real chance. That was how Poe Baltimore began,” said board president Kristen Harbeson.
It took a year of planning to revive Poe House, previously unchanged since the 1970s. The updated house has benefited from a clean-up, a new coat of paint and an overhaul of the exhibits to reflect the author’s tumultuous life: from his orphan beginnings to the unusual circumstances surrounding his death. Poe Baltimore aims to pay tribute to his legacy, not just the house. “They created a space where you could think about Poe, where you could learn a little bit about Poe, but more than anything experience where he was,” said James Smolinski, a Poe Baltimore board member.
The organization now has permanent stewardship of the home, which will be open weekends for the remainder of the month before closing for the winter, with a planned reopening in spring. Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake–whose father grew up in the neighbourhood, aptly named Poe Homes–made it official last weekend, in a ceremony marked by a cognac toast and the exchanging of a stuffed raven.
By Patricia Treble - Monday, October 7, 2013 at 10:51 AM - 0 Comments
New research reveals some Poles were encouraged by the Nazis to actively persecute the Jewish population
There were approximately 3.3 million Jews in Poland before the Germans invaded in September 1939. At the end of the war, that number had plummeted to about 30,000. Now, in path-breaking research, Jan Grabowski, a history professor at the University of Ottawa, reveals what happened to those Jews who tried to hide in rural Poland after the Nazis violently emptied the ghettos. “The locals had everything to say about who could survive and who could not,” he says. In his new book, Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland, he explains how, all too often, Poles turned on and killed Jewish neighbours they’d known for decades. And, in particular, he destroys the myth that the Polish “blue” police had nothing to do with killing Jews.
When an earlier Polish version of his book was released in 2011, Grabowski’s findings deeply polarized public opinion in that country. In media interviews and debates, his was the face for a hot-button topic: a re-evaluation of Polish actions during the Holocaust. Poles have long, and rightly, perceived themselves as victims in the Second World War, at the expense of exploring their involvement in the Holocaust. Now, Grabowski says, “You show that, sometimes, victims were victimizing even more desperate people.”
Though his Ph.D. is on New France, an interest in the Holocaust had “always been sleeping in me,” he says, “but woke up in a vengeance” a decade ago while he was visiting his parents in Warsaw. He went to the archives and stumbled upon German court files from the war that hadn’t been opened by historians. Grabowski, whose Jewish father and paternal grandparents survived by “passing” as Poles in Warsaw during the war, began his work.
By Anne Kingston - Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
The XX Factor’s arrival signals a burgeoning literary genre: ‘egghead chick lit’
Four months ago, The XX Factor: How Working Women Are Creating a New Society was published in the U.K. to polite reception. Written by British economist Alison Wolf, the book examines a new class of “elite” women—the 15 to 20 per cent who work in professions and management. It’s a global tribe that numbers 62 million, Wolf writes, and is growing faster and “more comprehensively” in developing countries than in the West. As the subtitle suggests, the arrival of a femme “elite” has wrought seismic changes, not all salutory. The biggest, says Wolf, is a widening gap between well-educated women and women who toil in the poorly paid domestic sub-industries created by their ascent. The predictable result is that “elite” women have more in common with their male counterparts than those women below them socio-economically: “They are more like the men of the family than ever before in history. It is from other women that they have drawn away.”
This week, The XX Factor arrives in North America with a blame-laden subtitle destined to be gobbled up by the folks at Fox News: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World. Wolf prefers it, she told Maclean’s: “It’s less bland.” The notion that professional women are wreaking social havoc will also position the book within a booming literary genre focused on instructing, scolding or fretting about the majority of women who work outside of the home. Think Sheryl Sandberg’s much-debated Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead. Or Anne Marie Slaughter’s controversial essay “Why women can’t have it all” in The Atlantic (soon to be a book). Or the stacks of articles dissecting Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer’s every decision. Controversy equals sales.
The XX Factor’s North American promotion is calculated to tap into this cluck fest. A press release calls it “the smarter, older sister of Lean In.” The jacket copy alludes to great social injustices perpetuated by feminism (though the Oxford-educated Wolf, who employed a nanny herself, is hardly advocating that women return to the kitchen). Most telling is the colour used as an accent and on the book’s endpapers: a lurid bubblegum pink, chick lit’s signature shade, Pantone 806C.