Sunday, December 19, 2010

Review of Dust, by Arthur Slade, We All Fall Down, by Eric Walters

The time I spend drumming my fingers waiting to hear back about a manuscript I've sent out is a great opportunity to catch up on my own reading. I am not as familiar with Canadian writers as I should be. DUST by Arthur Slade is an excellent book: a work of art. It won a Governor General's Literary Award in 2001. It is a short novel, better considered a novella, and the setting is in the gritty dust bowl of the 1930's. The opening chapter begins as a boy of seven takes his first unescorted walk to the prairie crossroads town near their farm. He is enticed into a truck by a 'friendly stranger'. Slade's writing is superb and everything about the situation and the stranger has just the right mood of creepy malevolence. The naive farm boy accepts the ride from the stranger who tells him, "I was never young. I was never, ever young.". Nobody witnesses the boy's disappearance but numerous other children disappear in the regions around. The story shifts to the older brother who has insights beyond that of most of the adults in town. A type of spell is cast by the stranger and the problems of bringing rain to the parched community seem to be solved by his magical machine. This is an excellent read and Slade's mastery of writing is superb. I would recommend it to anyone: young adult or adult.

One of Eric Walter's many books, We All Fall Down, is a disappointment. The setting is the World Trade Towers on the day of 9/11 and this fictional story is a well-meant tribute to those brave people who rescued others while escaping the burning towers. Many interesting facts about the towers are included and worked into the plot by a detail-obsessed father, as he speaks to his restless son. But any work done on a event of that magnitude should be done with utmost care. It wasn't. I found the dialogue flat with both main characters, father and son, speaking alike. The son's problems with the father's absences from home-life and his workaholic nature are supposed to be resolved by the end, but they take away from the life-and-death focus of the narrow escape they are making. For people who have read other books on 9/11 or want to increase their knowledge of the event, this might be a book to read, but for others... sorry.

The third book I read is Playing With Fire, by Theo Fleury and Kirstie McLellan Day. I wasn't sure what to expect but I was surprised at how well written it was.
The first and most important thing to note, this is not a book for kids. Fleury is a damaged man who was evilly abused by a man everyone trusted. His recall of his early years should be required reading for Children's Aid workers. Fleury's voice is genuine. He is rude, funny, insightful and descriptive. Kirstie Day does a marvelous job of organizing this angry and painful biography and keeping her own voice out of it. (I'm certain her voice isn't in it, because I've never heard a mother of five kids swear like that). From Fleury's stoned look on the book cover to his pranks, taunts, fearless challenges of bigger guys and his drug, alcohol, and gambling abuses, you are transported to a world most of us know little of. His unapologetic description of fellow NHL players and his blunt observations of professional hockey's management are similar to other hockey player biographies but are necessary to the book. Particularly telling is when he wonders aloud how the management of his team would be unaware of the sexual abuse of him and Sheldon Kennedy. All parents of elite hockey players should take note of this biography as well. Fleury's descriptions of the party scene are so vivid you can smell the beer-puke in the corners and see the folks in the dingy bathroom snorting lines of coke. His tryst with suicide is a 'cri de coeur' you will not forget reading. A balance throughout is the touching account of how a few stable friends and family members, people of faith, stick with him and help him find meaning and forgiveness in life. Again, this is not a book for the young and innocent.

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