BOOK REVIEW: Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky

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I loved Sarah Selecky’s Giller-nominated collecting of short stories, This Cake is for the Party. Each story tells us about a transformative moment in its main character’s life. Everyday, seemingly trivial observations give weight and heart to her words. I couldn’t wait to delve into her first novel—Radiant Shimmering Light—just-released in Canada. Surely, the novel would be more of the same, right?

Not so fast. When you start reading about Lilian, a struggling Etsy artist who sees auras of fur babies and gets reeled in by pyramid schemes, you may think you’ve encountered the latest Sophia Kinsella heroine. You’ll scratch your head, confused. But, you’ll keep reading because it’s uncomfortably funny. You may even recognize the grip social media has on Lilian. Her idolization of Instagrammers. Her constant checking for likes. Her obsession with branded colour palettes. Admit it—you’ve been there too.

Then Selecky takes the absurdity up a notch. The narrative gains momentum when Lilian reconnects with her guru/celebrity/pseudo cult leader cousin Eleven. Excited, and a tad star struck, she accepts to move from her tiny sublet in Toronto to a guest home in New York City. There she starts to work for Eleven in the Temple. She’ll take over creatives for a business selling pricey workshops and merch to women with a penchant for self-care and the divine feminine. Life seems to be rolling along better than ever for Lilian who thinks, “This is what work-life balance feels like! Everything is finally balanced in the proverbial pie chart of my life—work, family and friends, spirituality, money, health. I love being forty. I’ve never felt stronger, healthier, or more solvent.”

At that point I was expecting the beginning of the end. A traumatic unraveling. Instead, things slowed down and became repetitive. The story lost both its edge and my attention. Every new description of an aura—whether bright magenta, grey-blue and green, or butter yellow—became nauseating. I wanted more. More tension. A bigger, brighter (Yes, I just said that!) ending. But… maybe that’s just the point of the novel. Perhaps the ending, regardless of its bright whirl of shimmering auras, is meant to be diluted. Subdued. The novel is fun, but fell a bit short for me.

I’ll be interested to see how the novel is received, in coming weeks. Have you read this new novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below!

I’d like to thank Sarah’s publicist at HarperCollins Canada Ltd. for sending me a copy of the novel. Honest thoughts are my own.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

 

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BOOK REVIEW: On the Up by Shilo Jones

on the upI just finished reading On The Up by Canadian writer Shilo Jones—a fast-paced, whirlwind of a book. It features three intersecting storylines of people, from different walks of life, with a common sense of desperation. All try—need—to take advantage of high rollers in Vancouver’s property market.

Clever bits echoed the dark humour of Douglas Coupland or Irvine Welsh—which I love. One-liners and unexpected chats with a pot-bellied pig made me laugh out loud. Love the setting and Canadianisms—I appreciate a poke at Stephen Harper any day.

Still, it took a while for me to get through this story. At times, the plot was so thick with chaos it led to confusion. The characters are extreme, making the messes they find themselves in amusing. On the flip side, the over-the-top characterization makes it difficult to care for them or their outcomes.

Jones is sure to find a cult following who’ll appreciate his bite and his unique view of the Vancouverite rat race.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. 

 

 

KILLING ME SOFTLY WITH JOKES: Bream Gives Me the Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg

Bream Gives Me the Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg
Grove Press, 256 pages
Release date: September 8, 2015

BreamHiccupsCoverYou may remember Jesse Eisenberg’s breakout performance in the riveting 2005 film The Squid and the Whale. Or, perhaps his more popular role in The Social Network that landed him on the Best Actor nominee list in 2011. He’s clearly a talented actor who can deliver smart dialogue on cue. It’s no surprise that Eisenberg also has an inclination for creative writing pursuits. He’s published short stories in respected literary magazines (The New Yorker, McSweeney’s). Sounds like he could whip up a promising collection of short stories, right? That’s what I thought when I received my galley of Bream Gives Me the Hiccups (it hits American and Canadian bookstores on September 8th). I must admit, what he produced disappointed me.

The first story “Restaurant Reviews from a Privileged Nine-Year-Old” is a stellar narrative featuring a series of poignant vignettes written by a precocious boy with a believable, aching voice. Our insightful narrator shares moments of clarity like, “lies are for adults who are sad in their lives.” He comes to such realizations by spending a lot of time with his newly-divorced mother in restaurants. When his mother lies to him and to others, she “doesn’t just say things she doesn’t mean, she says the opposite of the things she does mean.” He’s a witness. He’s an accomplice. He’s a victim. He’s just a child who wants to be loved. I could’ve read an entire book comprised of such vignettes.

Unfortunately, the remaining stories do not measure up to that first one. Sure, Eisenberg alludes to historical events—like the Bosnian Genocide—and laces each page with acerbic humor. He’s clearly intelligent and funny. He’s also trying very hard to make the reader realize that he’s clever. And hip. And the master of satire. It becomes exasperating. The rest of the stories are nearly all delivered in dialogue forms. The narratives become redundant, so the appeal and the oomph are lost along the way. At one point, they deteriorate into a series of jokes with smart-alecky punch lines. Need I go on?

Perhaps the stories he will write in years to come will have more balance and depth. Perhaps I’m simply not the right audience (40-year-old mom) for Eisenberg’s style. So for now, I’ll just stick to watching Jesse Eisenberg on the big screen instead of cracking open his books.

*** Thank you to Grove Press for sending me a galley of this novel in exchange for an honest review.***