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.
Is there a statute of limitations on monthly roundups? Let’s hope not! Already 20% into December (and #Middlemarch13,) so let’s do this.
40 Below Official Launch #1: I’m really impressed by the continued buzz around this local, indie book. I only attended one of the two official launches, but it seems everywhere I turn I’m hearing about a TV appearance, or seeing the book on the bestseller list – really well done, 40 Below crew!
I got my book signed straightaway by mastermind Jason Lee Norman and contributors Michael Hingston and Dani Paradis. Dani read her poem about her hippy parents, which may or may not be based on a true story. There were a few awkward moments when people asked me to sign their books because they thought I was her – I guess I can see how brown hair + glasses + purple sweater + sitting as same table was confusing. I’ll take it as a compliment as Dani is much younger and more fashionable than I!
Vernon R. Wishart was my favourite reader. His story about his wife’s speedy Christmas Day labour and delivery was even funnier read aloud. I learned that it was a true story, as that Christmas baby, now in her 50s, was in the audience.
Don Perkins didn’t read, but he did write my favourite sentence in the whole book, and signed right next to it with a real fountain pen! Check out his take on the event here.
Before heading home, I bonded with fellow 40 Below reject Matthew Stepaniac and had a good chat about book blogging. Watch for a post very soon about his Bookstravaganza project.
(I also attended a little event with Margaret Atwood this month, which you can read about here.)
For once I actually posted about most of the books I read this month, thanks to Novellas in November and #ReadWilkie. Here are the two exceptions:
- Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann: I was let down by this book, which was billed as The Great Gatsby meets The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s a character study that moves through five people’s perspectives, and unfortunately, each narrator is weaker than the last.
- Why Here? by Michelle Ferguson: Similar thematically to her debut From Away, Why Here? is a better written sophomore novel but has a terrible title. Full review to come.
Books I Want to Read:
I suddenly have a slew of non-fiction books to read. I’ll probably wait till January to get to them, given my Middlemarch ambitions. Non-Fiction New Year? More about those later, but let’s give a quick shout-out to Eat It, a collection of women’s writing on sex and food, for having a great title. I also added On Beauty by Zadie Smith, my Classic Club Spin pick (was to lazy to do a post) and discovered it’s the only Smith book that doesn’t appear to even exist at the library.
Coming up on the blog:
- Middlemarch Read-Along hosted by Too Fond: Intro post coming soon (hopefully no statute of limitations on those, either) but so far, so good. I feel like I’m learning a life lesson on every page.
- Storytellers Book Club: Finally getting into this! I’m reading Alice Munro’s The Progress of Love. I’m five stories in and each one is better than the last.
- 2013 Wrap Up: Might do another vlog. Hope I can do it in fewer than five takes, unlike last time.
In the interests of time, I’m skipping the list of blog posts that usually appears here. Tell me all of your December reading plans! Are they ambitious like mine, or are you taking it easy for the holidays?