Sunday, February 27, 2011

“She Said/She Saw”

By Norah McClintock
ISBN No. 978-1-55469-335-1

By the time you get to the line “…if you want to get the whole story…you need to pull the pieces together,” that comes maybe two pages into this book about the faulty memory of a witness to a gangland-style slaying, you realize you’re in the grip of a serious storyteller. When the narrator finishes her introduction with: “Here are the pieces,” we’re hooked. The “She Saw” part of this book is Tegan, the witness/survivor of a shooting that claimed two of her friends. The “She Said” part of this book is Tegan’s shaky recollection about the shooting. She says she doesn’t know why her friends were targeted, why she was spared or even who did the shooting. She also worries that the killer might come back to finish her off. No one believes her, of course. Even her sister, Kelly, is suspicious. She details and catalogues the facts in an effort to learn the truth – even if it incriminates Tegan. Because Kelly sees life “like a movie or a TV drama, or, sometimes, a comedy” parts of the story are told in the form of a screenplay. No spoiler alert here! All I’m going to say is that “She Said/She Saw” a triple good read of a suspenseful thriller – for kids (the book’s audience is aged 12+) and adults. Its topic is timely, its characters flawed but smart, and the screenplay format a great introduction to the discipline.

Friday, February 18, 2011

“My Korean Deli”

By Ben Ryder Howe
ISBN No. 978-0-385-66412-7

Now this – THIS – is a memoir! Forget all those whinefests about escaping the Nazis and recovering from a meth addiction, “My Korean Deli” is “The Godfather” of corner stores. The premise is right out of a TV sitcom: It all starts when Howe’s wife (the daughter of Korean immigrants) buys her Mom a convenience store. When Mom can’t keep the business going, it falls to Howe and his own Mrs. to run it. What follows is the American class struggle squared: In bleakly hilarious and yet thoughtful prose, Howe explains how he edited The Paris Review by day (alongside George Plimpton) and then sold lottery tickets and bologna by night. What makes “My Korean Deli” such a good read is that it seemingly covers all genres of entertainment. There’s the fish-out-of-water premise: At first, Howe writes, “It seems unreal to be on the other side of the checkout counter.” Then there’s the cost of doing business in a mercilessly political correct marketplace (the coffee has to be from “ecologically responsible land tenure systems in countries that provide universal pre-K-through-3 education and have no military.”). And finally, there’s the suspenseful power struggle: the threat of two new convenience stores in the same neighbourhood. It should all read like a really long magazine article but Howe turns his tiny, intimate story into an engrossing epic about the changing face of American culture.

“When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew”

By Jan Andrews
ISBN No. 978-0-88899-952-8

“When Apples Grew Noses…” follows the everyday yet fantastical adventures of a foreign fairy tale everyman named Ti-Jean (the introduction wisely explains that Ti-Jean is like “Jack” in the fairy tales most of us remember: a projection of our myriad selves, and whose past changes to accompany whatever story he’s in). In the three tales here Ti-Jean outwits “a greedy princess”, “a pint-sized scoundrel” and a young woman “too clever for her own good.” In short, he’s a karmic Better Business Bureau, evening up the score in places referred to as the “New World” while being faithful to the Old Country style of oral history storytelling. And unlike a lot of oral history, the stories here seem to have actually improved with each airing: plots make sense, characters are smart, and the moral lesson isn’t always obvious. And when it is – as in the case of a fiddle that’s both inspirational and magical – it evokes touches of the Pied Piper that’ll be appreciated long after the stories are finished.