Should I start by saying this book wrecked me? That I bawled through the last twenty pages, apparently having stopped at exactly the right spot last night. Normally I can't put a book down with that few pages to go, but something told me that I couldn't continue last night. So at lunch today fat tears dropped into my soup and scattered across the pages, as a mound of kleenexes piled up.
Not that this book was... what? Chick-lit? Thriller? Romance? It was none of those things. It was literature, and good quality prose at that.
All the way along I felt like this was a book that a man's man would appreciate. The main character is 16-year-old Frank, raised by "the old man". He taught him to fish, hunt, recognize tracks, survive in the bush, and most importantly, the value of hard work. His father on the other hand slips in and out of Frank's life on rare occasion, and those moments are always punctuated by drink. He is a virtual stranger and a miserable, non-communicative one even when he does make rare appearance. The old man serves as the only kin that young Frank has, but that doesn't prevent his thoughts from straying to blood ties.
When the book opens, Frank has been summoned by his father to town. Eldon is sick and dying, his abused liver finally at the point of shutting down. He has a last request for his estranged son - to take him into the woods to bury him in the warrior way. This despite the fact that Eldon has never taken much stock in his native roots. Frank struggles with the request, but ultimately agrees to the task, if only to see if some of the questions that have dogged him his whole life might be answered. What they discover along the way is a broken life lived.
This quiet book looks at life, hope, fear, love and the struggles that are encountered along the way. Wagamese's prose is fuelled by the knowledge that as much as we need to listen to hear life's stories, sometimes those stories need to be told too. Whether we think we have the strength to tell them or not.
This debut novel from Barbara J Taylor opens in grief. Young Daisy's life has been extinguished too soon in a freak sparkler accident in her backyard. Her sister Violet is witness to the accident and many whisper that perhaps the incident was in fact her fault. Their mother Grace is thrown into heavy mourning and their father Owen quickly finds solace at the bottom of a bottle. It looks to be a sad tale that just might not find its way back out.
The story may have a sad premise, but Taylor convinces the reader to join her in the tale, as we watch bewildered Violet try to find a space in her new world. Her mother is lost in grief and her father abandons the family to move into a gin mill in town, where the firewater that numbs his reality is readily available. It seems no one cares about poor Violet, until "stinky" Stanley befriends her. The two form a quick friendship fuelled by both of their outcast statuses; Stanley's mother is dead and his father another disgruntled miner working long hours. Where no one else seems to care about them, the children find hope and life in each other.
The world of the anthracite coal mines is harsh and filled with constant threat of tragedy in this turn-of-the century novel. As each bell rings out an accident, both fear and hope are flamed. Will a new tragedy bring Violet's torn family back together once more? The mine that employs the bulk of the men in town, also takes as many away. It is a reality that touches everyone in town, where Violet's father Owen works, and eventually Stanley finds himself as well. The only thing that brings comfort is the heavy presence of the church, even with its share of meddling church ladies and their caustic tongues. In Grace's case though, it would seem that grief is even more powerful than God's good graces. Owen prayers died on his tongue with his daughter too.
So what will it take to reunite a family torn apart by grief? You will soon find out in this quick read.
Thanks to Akashic Books for sending me an Advance Reading Copy to review!
Joe is in his mid-30s. He is in advertising and does quite well at it, laying claim to successful beer, beans, and dog food campaigns. Everything Joe attempts, turns out right.
But one day he wakes up in a panic. He's 35 and life somehow appears meaningless. He can get any girl he wants, but is single. He is surrounded by people daily, but is without real friends. His family loves him from afar. He's good at his job, which pays the bills, but at the end of the day, it all leaves him empty.
Until a voice in his head tells him to wait. So he does.
So began a vision quest that took Joe from the streets of high-profile New York to middle-of-nowhere Montana. The voyage holds much soul-searching, questions about what life is all about, and debate about if we are supposed to find meaning in it all. Joe is a cynic and his journey isn't easy. For one, there is a mini van. And lots of bad pizza. Showers and sleep are minimal.
Sounds like the making of any great adventure, right?
Are you interested in learning more? How about a few words from the author, Arjun Basu himself? I had the pleasure of asking him a few questions. Here is what he has to say about "Waiting for the Man" and the writing process that went along with it.
How long did it take you to write the first
draft of “Waiting for the Man”? How long was the editing phase? When it came
time to publish it, did you debate self-publishing or insist on the traditional
route of a publishing company? What made you decide to use ECW Press? ~ AB: The first draft was written so long ago, it's hard to properly answer the question. The story behind getting this story out is long and arduous. It involves probably 10 drafts, a huge rethinking of the story after draft 4, the discarding of two complete threads (and one major character, almost a co-narrator), and really winnowing this thing down to its essence. It also involves 4 agents (!) and, yes, a time when I was considering self-publishing so that I could move on and get with my life and my writing. But then ECW stepped up, and I was "given" a great editor in Emily Schultz and we worked really well together - she saw a fully realized work but then made it that much more complete.
2.Many people speculate throughout the book as to
who “The Man” actually is, i.e. God, Jesus, a Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Taoist,
Buddhist, etc. His omnipotence is what attracts people to Joe’s story, but is
he any of these things? As much as his presence is the driving force in Joe’s
journey that begins in New York, his time in Montana is devoid of any influence
from The Man. So what role did The Man actually have in Joe’s story?
~ AB: That speculation is valid and is even brought up in the book itself. But because The Man is in Joe's head (and only his head), he/it gets imprinted with a lot of meaning by a lot of people. And Joe being an advertising guy, probably sees a certain irony in his situation, sure, but on some level he also understands that his story is not his at all, that all stories are given meaning by those receiving it, and that we all interpret stories to suit us. I don't know that Joe gives up on The Man, but he sees everything for what it is. In Montana, The Man is already in his rear view mirror. And perhaps he/it ends up being Joe's inner voice just telling him to find something, anything, and get out of the rut he finds in New York.
3.Have you ever gone on a “vision quest” or done
any extreme soul searching of your own? Why and what was its outcome?
~ AB: I've gone on road trips. When I was younger I went on road trips every summer - some of those memories made their way into the book. I've never gone on a vision quest, per se, though some journeys seems to become a kind of vision quest. My desire to write was the result of a lot of baby steps growing up, but when I was 18, I left home and hung out in Banff for 6 months and when I returned home I realized I was going to write. I didn't head out West with that goal, it just happened. Was that a vision quest?
4.Joe has an interesting relationship with people.
He is a self-proclaimed womanizer and has a decided lack of connection with anyone.
So how is it that he was picked by “The Man” for this journey? Do you think
that we all have a little piece of “Joe” in us? How did this affect his
relationship with characters in the parallel story in Montana?
~ AB: The Man doesn't so much pick Joe as Joe picks The Man. At least that's how I see it. There's probably some deep self-improvement mumbo-jumbo in that statement. But I don't see Joe as anti-social as much as he's a bit numbed by modern life. That doesn't make him unique.
5.Were you changed by the writing of this book? Do
you have any other books in the making?
~ AB: I don't know that I was changed by the writing but it's possible that I was changed by the process. I wrote this book at the same time as a huge shift in the publishing industry. It was amazing to see such change occur while I was writing. In a way, it shifted my goals, but in the end, my goal, my primary goal, remained the same. And now my goal is to finish my next novel. I've started writing it. My only hope is it doesn't take as long to write as Waiting for the Man.
Thank you so much for sharing Arjun! Myself and my readers appreciate your thoughts and time.
This review/author interview/giveaway is part of a book tour promoted by ECW Press. Words of Mystery started off the tour last Monday, but please take the time to visit the other bloggers on the tour.
So, does this put you in mind of any journeys of your own? Have you broken with the status quo, even for a moment, to dip a little deeper into what life is all about? Would you care to escape life's confines to travel along with Joe, as he stops and waits for the Man? Tell me about your own soul searching moment and you will be entered into a contest to win your own copy of "Waiting for the Man" by Arjun Basu. The folks at ECW Press were good enough to send me a copy to review, plus included an extra just for YOU! All I want to know is a little bit about your own experience with "The Man". Share this contest with your friends, followers and whomever might be on a vision quest of their own. I look forward to your answers! In the interim, feel free to watch the trailer about the book below. And don't forget to dig deep for your existential dreams to share with me...