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Bookends: A Shapeshifting Love Story December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends: A Shapeshifting Love Story

By Dan Davidson

March 27, 2018Medicine Road

– 836 words –

 

Medicine Road

By Charles de Lint

Illustrations by Charles Vess

Tachyon Publications

186 pages

$21.95

 

Since Ottawa based de Lint is himself a poet, songwriter, performer and folklorist as well as being the author of over 65 books, and the winner of the World Fantasy Award (among others), it’s no surprise that two of the central characters in this fantasy novel would be travelling musicians.

The Dillard twin sisters, Laurel and Bess, were introduced to readers in a book called Seven Wild Sisters, which, being a de Lint book, is not at all what the title sounds like it might be. It happens that this was their introduction to the world of faerie, so when some strange things happen in the present book, they’re not totally in shock, even though this series of events is quite different.

The story actually begins with two unhappy Native American spirits, Jim Changing Dog and Alice Corn Hair, who were originally a red dog and a jackalope. In some versions of Native mythology individuals can have both human and animal characteristics, with the ability to shift back and forth between forms.

Red Dog and Jackalope do not have this ability until it is granted to them by Coyote Woman (whose human, or “five fingered” form, is known as Corinna). She gives them a 100-year deadline to find their true loves, or have their shapeshifting ability revoked.

For Alice, this is not a problem. Years ago she found a human artist named Thomas and they have had a fine life together, though there is the strain of knowing that he is subject to mortal aging while she is not.

Jim, on the other hand, has never had a problem connecting with females. It’s just that nothing ever hit him like a ton of bricks until he met Laurel, and he only has a couple of weeks to establish a relationship, tell her who (or what) he really is, and see if she can accept him on those terms.

We already know, from the experience of a snake/woman named Ramona, that such acceptance can be difficult, and perhaps disappointing. Ramona, embittered by that failed relationship in her life, does her best to spoil the bonding between Jim and Laurel. But there are actually are no villains in this novel, which is essentially a love story; it’s just that sometimes people (and other beings) make mistakes and don’t behave as well as they should. Ideally, they learn better.

De Lint has used a lot of these ideas before, most especially in his urban fantasy books set in the city of Newford (which is a North American city that bears some resemblance to Ottawa). It’s also pretty common for him to move characters around from book to book, and some of the Newford people are referenced here, even though they don’t appear.

The Dillard sisters originate in the northern part of Appalachia but here they are touring as a bluegrass/traditional folk duo, doing a series of small pub and home routes style concert gigs in the American southwest. It is during one of these that they meet Jim, Alice and Corinna, and strange things begin to happen.

De Lint likes to use multiple points of view in his work. Bess’s and Laurel’s chapter segments are given to us as first person narratives, while all the other major characters (Alice, Jim and Ramona) are given to us in the third person. We see Corinna only though the eyes of the others.

In de Lint’s mystical cosmography there is a closer association between the various orders of creation than we are perhaps used to. Animals have a touch of humanity and people have links to the animals. It is Corinna’s special gift to be able to enhance that connection if there are certain qualities and a willingness to find that link in the individual.

A century ago she had seen that Red Dog and Jackalope could be more than predator and prey. With the Dillard twins she senses a connection to another form that would certainly never be revealed by checking Ancestry.com, or any of those DNA testing services. There is a need to bring out the deer in the girls if she is to be able to play cupid the way she intends to.

Accessing these changes involves a bit of interdimensional travel. There are realities beyond ours that shape shifters can visit, and various parts of this book take place in two of those higher planes.

In addition to the amount of detailed description in this book, it is graced with 16 illustrations by World Fantasy and Eisner Award winning artist Charles Vess.

Earlier editions of the author’s book bios mention that he spent some of his time in the Yukon when he was very young, as his father worked for a survey firm and they moved around a lot. More current versions just refer to Western Canada.

 

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Bookends:  A Tale with two timelines December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends:  A Tale with two timelines

By Dan Davidson

March 21, 2018

– 785 words –

 

The Emperor of Any PlaceEmperor of any place

By Tim Wynne-Jones

Kindle Edition

$9.02

Candlewick Press

336 pages

$23.99

 

The story begins trapped in memory.

“Evan stands at the door to his father’s study. There is a sign at eye level: THE DOCKYARD. It was a present he gave to his father at Christmas, made of cork so that if the house sank, at least the sign would still float. Their little joke.

“He raises his hand to knock— a habit he can begin to unlearn. So much of grief is unlearning. He opens the door, steps inside, and takes a shallow breath, afraid of what might be lingering on the air. But there are only the old familiar smells: Royal Lime aftershave, glue, sawdust.

“This is where he found him.”

His father had died, suddenly, unexpectedly, 14 days earlier, leaving teenage Evan an orphan, and more than a little adrift in the world, living in the home to which they had given the name Any Place.

His father was reading a hand-bound yellow book when he died. It’s the diary of a Japanese soldier who was stranded on a small Pacific island during World War II. Soon, Evan is immersed so deeply in this book that it feels to him as if he has been transported there.

In fact, that’s just what the novel does, moves us into the translated first person narrative of Isamu Ōshiro’slife, written as if it is a letter to the wife he left to go to war for the Emperor. He is the only survivor of a fierce assault on a nearby island and washes up on his refuge quite by accident.

Later, he is joined there by an American named Derwood Kraft, the only survivor of a downed troop supply plane. Eventually they meet each other, two Robinson Crusoes who reach a kind of accommodation in spite of being on opposite sides of the war. It is Kraft who has had possession of the journal for all these years, has translated it, and has added his own chapters to help the reader make sense of what is going on.

In the present day, Evan spends much of his time mourning the death of his father, and trying to cope with the conflict inherent in the arrival of his grandfather, retired soldier, Griff. The two have never met, since Clifford E. Griffin III and Clifford E. Griffin II have been estranged his entire life. Evan has grown up in Canada, where he father went to avoid America’s military culture. They are oil and water, and seem to have no way of communicating. Each is mourning in his own way.

Compared to what is happening on the island, the present day story is rather bland. The island, you see, has ghosts. Well, not exactly. There are two kinds. Some seem to be the spirits of those who have not yet been born and they are protective and kind. This becomes crucial later on, in several important ways.

There are a lot of dead bodies on the island, and Ōshiro, inspired by a kindness he saw an American GI perform during the assault on the other island, has set himself the task of giving them all proper burials. That’s when he discovers what he first thinks of as carnivorous spirits picking away at the corpses. He eventually calls these “jikininki” and thinks of them as zombies. If takes him awhile to understand that what they are after is the remnants of human memory that exists for awhile in the brains of the dead.

On top of that, there is some kind of creature roaming the jungle which threatens the safety of the two men. Part of their uneasy bonding is the need to develop some protection against this tengu (a type of demon in Buddhist mythology).

This is an odd book to experience, shifting back and forth in time as it does, with each of the two narratives ending in cliff-hangers that keep you wanting to get to the next segment of that particular story.

One review that I read suggested that there are two books struggling to coexist between these covers, and that the historical narrative overpowers the present day one. I think I’d have to agree with that assessment.

But they are stitched together as the book reaches its conclusion, and I wasn’t as disappointed with the ending as the reviewer in Quill and Quireseems to have been. Wynne-Jones wanted to have Evan and his grandfather reconcile and find a way to move forward as the book ends, and I think he managed to do that.

 

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Bookends: About the Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in biography, Bookends, Childen's, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends: About the Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack

By Dan Davidson

February 21, 2018

– 638 words –

 

 

Wenjack

Wenjack

By Joseph Boyden

Hamish Hamilton

102 pages

$12.00

 

It may not be possible to discuss Joseph Boyden’s 2016 novelette on the sad death of Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack without having the reader’s mind immediately switch to the 2017 dethroning of Boyden as a marginally indigenous author of books which very definitely mine native heritage for their storylines and themes.

Just over a year ago, Boyden came under attack for his admitedly fuzzy account of his own First Nation’s roots and was “outed” as a pretender using up all the available oxygen as the “go to” person for commentary on natïve literary matters.

It seems that some of this opprobrium was stirred up by his assertion (along with numerous other writers like Margaret Atwood and Yann Martel) that Canlit superstar Steven Galloway had been unfairly treated by the powers that be at UBC when he was accused of sexual impropriety in a pre-#metoo case at that university.

Their complaint, as I recall it, was not that Galloway was necessarily innocent, but that UBC had not followed the tradition of due process in dealing with the matter. The evidence against Galloway was eventually found to be unsubstantiated in Justice Boyd’s investigation, except for a professor/student affair, but by then he had already been fired.

For this book, some will take the position that wannabe Native Joseph Boyden had no business writing about the Wenjack case. But, if that is so, neither did the late Gord Downie, whose Secret Path(a graphic novel and a record) has generally been lauded.

The question for this book is not one of Boyden’s personal history, but whether he did justice to the story, which was generally well received at the time it first appeared, but has been tarnished by his later controversies.

In this short book, an Ojibwe boy runs away from a residential school in Northern Ontario, thinking he can find his way back to his family by following the railway tracks, and not realizing that he is actually hundreds of miles away.

Both Boyden’s and Downie’s stories are based on an article called “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack”, published by Ian Adams in MacLean’smagazine in 1967, one of the first serious pieces of journalism to deal with this issue. I haven’t read The Secret Pathyet, but I did see the animated CBC special show based on the book and Downie’s songs, and both versions of the story take some literary llberties with the tale as told by Adams in his 3300 word article.

You can find that online at http://www.macleans.ca/society/the-lonely-death-of-chanie-wenjack/,and I highly recommend reading it. It is a straightforward tale, but very gripping in its intensity.

Boyden decided on a dual narrative structure for his version of the story, with chapters alternating between Chanie’s first person account, and third person accounts by a series of spirit beings (Manitous) who follow him and watch over him as he makes his arduous journey along the railbed, eventually succumbing to the cold, the hunger and the distance.

The chapters are named for the various creatures, drawn by artist Kent Monkman, that the Manitous inhabit along the way: sucker fish, crow, hummingbird, owl, mouse skull, pike, spider, wood tick, beaver, snow goose, rabbit, and lynx. These can all be seen on the book’s cover.

Boyden concludes the book with an author’s note on the facts of the story, crediting Adams as a source, and giving his reasons for writing it.

Regardless of the controversy surrounding his indigeneity (a relatively new word) I think Boyden has made a respectful attempt to tell a story and highlight an issue in this little book. It’s more than worth the short time it takes to read it.

 

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Bookends: A series of very unfortunate events March 17, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends: A series of very unfortunate events

By Dan Davidson

November 15, 2017

– 1014 words –

 

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts

Unexpected Life

By Avi

Algonquin Young Readers

Workman Publishing

314 pages

$16.95

 

This is a very old fashioned sort of book. Avi took the Victorian novel as his template when he decided to attempt longer books some years ago. As he tells the story on his website, his first such historical novel was called Beyond the Western Sea, and he intended it to be a doorstop of a book at Stephen King length, but his publisher foiled him by breaking it into two volumes.

I have a feeling the same thing has happened here, as this book ends with the dreaded words (To be continued in book two.).

This is a very deliberately old fashioned book, as the full title, not found on the cover, will tell you: The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts: Being an Absolutely Accurate Autobiographical Account of My Follies, Fortune, and Fate.

It has very Dickensian chapter titles, like “In Which I Introduce Myself after Which I Immediately Plunge in a Desperate Situation” or, later on in the book, “In Which I Engage with the Man with the Pistol.”

As you can tell, this story is narrated by Oliver himself, who is 12 years old at the time that the story begins. He lives in the English seaside town of Melcombe Regis in the year 1724. His mother died giving him life. He has been living with his father, Gabriel, who is a lawyer (and poor parent), and his older sister, Charity, who has recently left the family home to live with relatives in London, hoping there to find her fortune or perhaps, a husband.

We enter the story in the middle of a terrible storm, during which the wind, the rain and the swelling seas do immense damage to the house. Oliver is wakened by the wind and rain coming in through a hole in the roof of his third floor room. Making his way downstairs he finds more damage on the lower floors, and also discovers that his father is not at home.

The house is in sad shape; there is scarcely any food. Oliver doesn’t know what to do and heads out to find his father. At the local inn he discovers that Gabriel had left earlier in the evening on the coach to London. He doesn’t know that there’s a letter back home explaining this to him, but by the time he finds it later most of the ink has run and blotted and it is severely redacted.

Feeling abandoned,he wanders to the seaside, where he finds an overturned vessel. Within its rooms, he discovers a cache of shillings, and he takes enough of them to keep himself from being declared destitute and taken to the children’s poorhouse.

It doesn’t work out for him. His father has made enemies of many notable people in the town and they decide to take their revenge on Oliver by putting him in the poorhouse.

This is a deplorable place that makes the one described in Oliver Twist look good. Of course, the hero’s name is supposed to help us make that connection. Though much put upon, Oliver manages to spark a revolt among the other children and escapes from that durance vile, intending to find his way to London and the rest of his family, even if he must walk.

Quite by accident – because nothing turns out to be easy or convenient in this story – he falls in with a highwayman, is essentially kidnapped by another of the same breed, is taken to London and forced to work for a “thief-taker” as bait for catching pickpockets.

Little does he know that his boss, Jonathan Wild, is actually a criminal mastermind working both sides of the street. Things go from bad to worse when the first person he nearly apprehends turns out to be Charity, who has her own sad tale of woe to tell.

They manage to escape capture long enough to find their father in a drunken stupor but, in the end, all are taken by the law and tossed into prison, a terrible place where they are expected to pay their own way for room and board. Gabriel has managed to win a lot of money at backgammon (that and drinking are his main vices, though his enemies have branded him a cheat) and manages to pay for all three of them. He thinks he has also bought (for bribery is part of the system) their freedom, but he is wrong about that and the children end up being transported to become slaves in the colonies.

Worse still, Oliver and Charity were to have been sent to the same destination, but they are separated at the last moment.

“Then and there, even as I was being pulled away, I swore that I woiuld never be a slave. And more; in some way, in some fashion – no matter how long it took – I would restore our freedom.”

That, I assume, will be the story of volume two.

What may seem odd of me to say, considering the absolute disaster that is the life of the Pitts family, is that this book manages to be dismal and funny at the same time. Some of the humour is in Oliver’s naïve view of the world, but some is also in the accuracy of his often snide observations about people and events. All of this, along with Avi’s penchant for chapters that end in cliffhangers, made this a book that it was hard to put down.

Avi writes mostly for middle readers and has produced about 70 books. His awards list includes several Newberys and Boston Globe-Horn Books, among others.

This book seems to have taken place in just a few weeks in Oliver’s life. In an interview Avi mentions that he was commuted for seven years service. We’ll have to see if he manages to get out of this as neatly as he escaped the poorhouse.

 

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February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends: A Troubled Life in Three Acts

By Dan Davidson

August 2, 2017

– 755 words –

Cut Off 

Cut Off

By Jamie Bastedo

Red Deer Press

338 pages

$12.82

Kindle edition: $7.99

 

“I was born into a family of aliens, and not one of us was from the same planet.”

So writes Indio McCracken to begin part one of his three part journey through some painful teen years. This part of the book picks up his story at the age of 14, with some background filled in before those years.

A prologue at the beginning tells us a bit more, with imagery that hints at what is to come.

“Looking back at seventeen, the memories pour through me like currents in a wild river.”

We will get to the river, but first we find him growing up in Guatemala, the son of a native born K’iche’ woman (a Mayan) and a Scottish-born miner from Calgary, the owner/operator of a gold mine that is bringing both employment and harm to the local people of Xela.

Edgar McCracken is an ambitious man, a hard man, and when he discovers that Indio, even at the age of four, has a talent for playing the guitar, he decides to make him into the next Andre Segovia. He creates a practice room for the boy, gets him lessons, actually locks him in the room for hours each day.

Then, at a special concert, his father records a video of him playing “Flight of the Bumblebee “at eight times its normal speed, and then releases it to the Internet, where it goes viral and make Indio a teen classical guitar sensation. When Indio combines his playing with his surreptitious discovery of blogging, he begins to fumble his way down a path that will lead to a serious cyber addiction.

His comfortable world falls apart as he begins to realize how much harm his dad’s mine is doing. When there’s a serious mine accident and the locals attack the McCracken house compound, the family relocates to Calgary, where mixed blood Indio really doesn’t fit in at all, Harassed by certain bullies at school, he take the more Scottish name of Ian, but he falls into a deep depression.

His mother, meaning well, presents him with an iPhone. Combing that with access to a laptop, Indio dives deeper into cyber-withdrawal. He does create some marvellous musical videos, but his obsession gets him into trouble. One would have to say it results in the death of his beloved dog in a street accident, and puts him in the hospital in serious condition when he texts while driving his father’s car.

Physical recovery is one thing, but his parents decide he needs more than that, and they ship him off to Camp Lifeboat, on the Annie Lake Road, part way to Carcross, where total cyber-isolation and a nature cure are supposed to change his ways.

Bastedo read from this part of the book during his sessions in Whitehorse during the Yukon Writers’ Festival and Young Authors Conference in April. He did field work in that area back in the 1980s, and parlayed those studies into a career writing non-fiction nature books, with such titles as Falling for Snow: A Naturalist’s Journey into the World of Winter, Shield Country: The Life and Times of the Oldest Piece of the Planet, Reaching North: A Celebration of the Subarctic and Blue Lake and Rocky Shores.

As he told me back in April, that focus came to a stop when his children protested.

“When our two daughters were adolescents, they told me, ‘No more books, Daddy, until you write a kids’ book’ That request sparked another shift in my writing, from adult non-fiction (natural history, river guides, hiking guides) into fiction for young readers – and I’ve never looked back!”

Since then, he’s produced Tracking Triple Seven, On Thin Ice, Nighthawk! and, of course, Cut Off.

Aside from being an adventure novel, Cut Off deals with a lot of issues: parental abuse, bullying, racism, international exploitation, various types of addictions, personal responsibility, dysfunctional families, and issues related to the public and private use of electronic devices.

As much as we’d like to sympathize with everything that Indio is gong through, it’s hard to escape realizing that he brings a lot of it on himself.

I don’t know about the paperback version of the book but the Kindle edition has an extensive Q&A session with the author that reveals quite a bit about what inspired the various events in the book.

 

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