Friday, March 31, 2017

Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth

Drew Hayden Taylor. Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth. Talonbooks, 1998. 



Thanks to Elsie for loaning me this book. Only Drunks... , a sequel to Taylor's Someday, addresses the identity crises of adopted Indian children scooped from their families and communities and raised in White culture. The birth mother Anne, who Janice met for a few hours the previous year, has died and Janice's sister Barb comes to Toronto to retrieve her and bring her home again. This play again (as with Tomson Highway's Dry Lips...) struggles with an aboriginal writer's dilemma. Who is the audience? And how can he tell a story which will be viewed totally differently by people from the different cultures. Although he does not tell the "crabs in a bucket" story, the opening scenes evoked its memory in this reader. Speaking as an outsider, to me, Barb and her two sidekicks seem to be bullying Janice and seem oblivious to her conflicts and struggles. They also project a "holier-than-thou" attitude towards her, assuming that they know what is best for her and what she "should" do. The one-liners are stale, but the play is twenty years old so I'll give him the benefit. And they would likely be more appreciated by the native audience who could get a laugh at recognizing the familiar of the unfamiliar stage set. The dreamcatcher too suffers from over-exposure and commercialism since the end of the twentieth century. The many stereotypes are also disconcerting. The family moving in to your city apartment. The Indian male "putting the moves on" every female he meets (which just seems to link "trickster" with "manipulator"). The belief that children are apprehended because of alcoholism in the home. And the belief that using alcohol is a positive way to bond. So not my experience, and one opinion I stereotypically associate with addiction and denial.

Hidden beneath the discomfort for me is also a new awareness of the grief experienced by the mothers who lost children and the impact of that grieving mother on the subsequent siblings. And the cognitive dissonance experienced by Janice, a trained lawyer who believes in "the system," to cope with the idea that "the system" caused the scoop and its subsequent consequences. This for me parallels the way the rest of us experience such cognitive dissonance about the residential school system scoops. We didn't do it (meaning I personally do not feel responsible for what happened). Most of those who worked within the system were sincere in their belief that they were helping educate children. Not everyone was an abuser or a criminal. Corporal punishment was the norm in all schools everywhere for most of those years. Many former students are appreciative of the education they received. I have heard some say they are glad they learned English at school and that they revel in their Christian faith. However, we have real difficulty teasing out all the issues involved, and putting our fingers on the biggest knot--the racism behind the belief that this sort of education was best for Indian children. That the ways of the colonizers were superior to the beliefs and customs of the First Nations people. And furthermore, we have difficulty accepting that those of us who believe that "educating the children" was for the best are racist--accidental, unconscious, or otherwise.

Who? Me?

And What do we do about that?


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bent Box

Lee Maracle. Bent Box. Theytus, 2000.

March 22, 2017


I love the cover. I love the title, the idea of the bent box as a place to collect and store sacred objects. I love seeing the work of a prolific storyteller, editor, cultural worker, presented in another genre (poetry). I love the way she loves the English alphabet, words, language, and the uses to which it can be put. The way she has loved it ever since she was a child. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Literary Lineage

My first literary influence was Margaret Laurence. 


Laurence was born & went to school 50 miles from where I grew up in Manitoba. She wrote about places I knew and people exactly like the people I was related to, including an old woman with dementia lost in an abandoned BC cannery. I was about 14 when I read The Stone Angel. When I read The Diviners I felt that there was absolutely nothing left to say. But I recovered somewhat after a few years. I went to university 50 years ago in the age of raging Canadian nationalism, after the Centennial. For many years I read only Canadian writers. Then my influences in order of importance were Leonard Cohen, Dorothy Livesay, Carol Shields, and Alice Munro. I took a course from Dorothy and I met Carol through the writers' guild. Before I was bitten by the Canada bug, I was into D.H. Lawrence and John Fowles. A gaggle of romantics, for sure. I have always been more interested in content than in style. I guess I like male writers who talk about sex and relationships and nature and addiction, and female writers who highlight the importance of the lives of girls and women. In my novel Embers, my first goal was to write a story with an older female protagonist. I am so tired of coming-of-age stories of teens inventing sex.



I know Cohen was influenced by Layton (very lusty) and in The Diviners Laurence returns to Old Country roots and to the ancestral writers who celebrated the Celtic heritage buried beneath Britain. This may also explain my passion for Irish literature (anything by John O'Donohue or Roddy Doyle). Coming to terms with "being on the wrong side of history," with being descended from oppressor colonials (how I hate the term "settler"), learning to meet and know Others, being able to empathize with and identify with victims and victim groups, giving voice to the voiceless are other running themes for me. And the importance of place. Our rootedness in place. Our place in the world.

For relaxation reading, I like detective stories where the protagonists always succeed in restoring order out of chaos. Lately, my two faves are Louise Penny (Quebec, Montreal & the Eastern Townships) and Ian Rankin (Edinburgh). Face it, I love Rebus, a man who loves his city and whose work is his life. And my guilty pleasure is Lee Child's Jack Reacher thrillers. So sorry to admit that. Although I always refuse to acknowledge the body count, these novels are page-turners, but well-written page turners, I like to think. Child has a lot to teach us about character development, hooks, scenes, pacing, and about hiding personal story within the larger political plots. Never thought of it quite this way until I took Nicole's CNF course. Thanks again. 


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Killing Floor

Lee Child. Killing Floor: The First Jack Reacher Novel. 1997.



Another lost weekend, starting and finishing a 500-page thriller. The first Jack Reacher novel, set in Georgia. Jack's brother has called him to Margrave in search of Blind Blake. Jack meets Roscoe, a local policewoman, and other residents of the mysteriously clean and well-kept town. Chaos ensues. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Two Pints

Roddy Doyle. Two Pints. Jonathan Cape/Random, 2012.


Hilarious. Two characters meet daily for a pint, two pints, in a Dublin pub and discuss the latest news, sports, family drama. Told completely in dialogue.