My rating: 3/5 stars
Potato Island, Nova Scotia, is a quiet place sheltered from the problems of the outside world. When Ian McKendrie, a young man from Toronto, arrives and begins selling the products of his small meth lab, the Islanders are anxious to rid the Island of this scourge.
The judge in Halifax sees things differently. He sentences McKendrie to house arrest on the Island with conditions that seem no punishment at all. So, when an opportunity presents itself, the Islanders decide to take the law into their own hands and impose a few “conditions” of their own.
I have an appreciation for drug stories that goes back to Evelyn Lau’s Runaway, read as a preteen and before I’d smoked a cigarette, let alone anything else. By the time I saw Trainspotting at seventeen, I’d done plenty. My parents objected to renting the movie because it glorified drug use, but it actually scared me off trying hard drugs. The “baby on the ceiling” hallucination scene may look kind of ridiculous by today’s special effects standards, but it was a pretty effective deterrent in my case.
Other drug and addiction books that I love: The Basketball Diaries, Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, A Clockwork Orange, Go Ask Alice, every other Irvine Welsh books I’ve ever read. Oh, and Spun, which is a movie but relevant because it’s specifically about meth and absolutely horrifying. So that’s my frame of reference.
Why Here? is a a drug story. Addicts, dealers, and law enforcement dance around each other in a tiny isolated community, till the community’s had enough and regular folks turn vigilante. The premise is very similar to Ferguson’s first novel, From Away (my review), but this story succeeds in ways that From Away didn’t – the writing is fresher, and the stakes are higher. I really like how the older adults were the heroes; not the twenty-something drug dealers or the teenage drug addicts, but the people in their 50s and 60s who’d had enough. And the ending was great. I almost thought it was headed towards the “special moment” 90s sitcom ending, but then it was suddenly open ended and hopeless or hopeful, depending on your perspective.
Ferguson took some risks; however, the story just isn’t gritty enough. All those drug books I’ve read have given me certain expectations. I want devastating relapses, and sweaty, hallucinating withdrawals. I want the manic filth of “Spun.” I want Trainspotting‘s baby on the ceiling. I needed something harrowing or horrible to believe that this community would take the law into their own hands. That, or I need a strong lead character to hang that belief on, and I didn’t quite find that in the ensemble cast.
After two books with similar settings and themes, I’m left wondering about the author’s intentions. Are these morality tales? Celebration or condemnation of small town, maritime culture? I await Ferguson’s next move.
Thank you to the author for the review copy!
I ended up watching a bunch of scenes from Spun while writing this review. As stylized and dated as this movie is, it’s worth a watch.
Two times this year, a book has let me down by not being dark enough. I felt like the authors held back to make things a little more palatable – The main characters got off too lightly. There wasn’t enough at stake. Things resolved themselves a little too neatly.
I don’t like it when a story feels reigned in. I want the characters to hit bottom and keep falling.
I do feel a little guilty about this. Why do I want bad things to happen to good characters, and why do I roll my eyes at a happy ending? Schadenfreude? Shock value? Or, am I not quite over my goth phase of 1996-1997? I think it’s a bit of all of those things. I need an emotional connection to really enjoy a story, and the dark and depressing route is the easiest way to my heart.
Here are the two examples that came up this year, the darker alternatives I found, and even more dark recommendations for the long winter nights ahead. BONUS: All four books featured below are by Canadian authors!
“There is no law past here.”
My husband (then boyfriend) and I passed the hand-lettered sign on a dark stretch of highway on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. The whale watching tour we’d planned was cancelled due to rain, so we decided to go off the tourist path to Dark Harbour. This side of the island was rough and isolated. After passing the sign, the road simply ended at a beach. This was not a tourist spot. The people there were working – getting on or off a boat while dulse was drying on racks. No one said hello or smiled. There was something about the situation that screamed “leave,” and we did.
The rest of our trip was all quaint B&Bs, cafes and gift shops. But we’d seen something else. Something that wasn’t meant for us. Some of my family had told us about a group of local vigilantes who burned a drug house down recently. Did the sign have something to do with that?
I thought about this experience as I read From Away. I share a lot in common with Marion, the main character. We are both from Alberta, but feel some claim on the East Coast, because “our people” are from there. Like Marion, I visit every couple of years and consider myself an honourary Maritimer. The premise of this book, an outsider trying to find her place in a small maritime
community, was interesting. Continue reading
Occasionally, I am allowed to listen to the radio in the car between renditions of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” (Ben loves the “hum diddle iddle iddle hum diddle ay” part.) It’s important that I don’t play it too loud, or appear to be enjoying myself, lest Ben realize that we’re not listening to his music and demand that I “PUSH THE BUTTON.”
One day, when conditions were good, I was listening to the local modern rock station (Nirvana every hour, on the hour) when I heard the lyric, “She doesn’t know but when she’s gone I sit and drink her perfume.” I cranked the volume just long enough to figure out what we were listening to before switching over to Disney Soundtrack Hell, as it was clearly a reference to Love in the Time of Cholera, one of my all time favourite books.
“Sixteen Saltines” by Jack White is supposedly a big “eff you” to his former partner Meg White, but this lyric makes me think there’s more to it. In the book, unrequited lover Florentino Ariza drinks Fermina Daza’s perfume to literally make himself lovesick. It’s a powerful image, and I don’t think it was used accidentally. I would LOVE to provide a quote from the book, but I can’t find my copy. I’m a bad book owner.
I love literary allusions in music, and I especially love it when I find them myself, because then I get an “aren’t I clever” bonus. What are your favourite musical literary references?
A few asides:
- In other Bad Book Owner news, my mom finally returned my signed copy of From Away. Yes, that is a FOOTPRINT over the author’s note and signature. This is why I can’t have nice things.
- I love that I got to work “Sixteen” into this post, because today is my 16×2 birthday. Sixteen was quite the year for me. First job, first love, first heartbreak, first… well. MANY FIRSTS. I hope that 32 is just as auspicious and a lot less traumatic.
You eat local. You shop local. Do you read local?
When I’m not reading from the list, I usually come across books by accident – browsing the library or used book store, or a random recommendation – but I love it when a theme emerges. The idea of “reading local” has come up a few times lately:
I won a copy of From Away by Edmonton author Michelle Ferguson from local book blog Eat Books. From Away is about an outsider in a small Nova Scotia community. I have family on Cape Breton Island, and have heard the expression “from away” used to describe not only visitors, but anyone not born on the island, even those who have lived there for twenty plus years.
- A random person tweeted me with a recommendation for Americas by Edmonton author Jason Lee Norman. Americas is a collection of 22 short stories, one for each of the countries in the Americas. This is another case of a local author writing about “away.” I’m looking forward to this one, as short stories sound like the perfect antidote to months of dense Russian drama.
- Another way to read local is to connect with local readers. Fellow book lover Andy Grabia (@agrabia) is organizing a book swap on June 26th where each person must bring a book they loved as a child, a book they loved as a teenager, and a book they loved as an adult. Henry and I will be there, for the first hour or so anyway. Bedtime must be observed. Check it out, sign up and maybe I’ll see you there.
And with that, my summer reading is set. From Away, Americas, and whatever I pick up at the book swap will keep me reading local for the next few months. I’m interested to see how the themes of being “local” versus “from away” play out in these books.
Do you read local? Does a book’s setting or author’s origin influence your reading choices?