Dante’s Indiana

DANTE’S INDIANA
By Randy Boyagoda

Written in the early fourteenth century, the Comedy of Dante Alighieri (only later designated as “Divine”) is considered by many to be the greatest poem ever written in any language. One test of that status in our own time is the continuing popularity of its many translations into English and its widespread presence in contemporary culture.

Randy Boyagoda’s Dante’s Indiana, the second volume of a projected trilogy about a Toronto academic named Prin, takes that ongoing process of cultural assimilation as a starting point.

Following closely on the events of the previous novel, Original Prin, things kick off here with Prin experiencing a full-blown mid-life crisis. He has, in the language of Dante, lost his way. His marriage is under stress, and when a trip abroad leaves him with PTSD and unemployed he finds himself taken on in an advisory capacity by a family-run packaging business whose patriarch is building a Dante-inspired theme park in Terre Haute, Indiana whose goal is “to put fun back in the fear of God.”

Chaos ensues as the opening of the theme park runs into the buzz saw of life in twenty-first century America. Terre Haute is caught in the grips of the opiate epidemic and race riots break out when a young Black man is killed by the police. All of this has an immediate impact on the team Prin has joined at the park, and while he tries to keep everything on schedule he has to also juggle his disintegrating life. Prin’s family is threatening to come apart as he has to manage a long-distance relationship while an old boyfriend is making moves on his wife.

It’s the emphasis on family that connects all of the different stories in Dante’s Indiana. One of Prin’s co-workers has a daughter who is a heroin addict. The family of the murdered teen is another focal point, as is a Sri Lankan family that wants to adopt Prin.

Dante himself was married with children, but they don’t figure at all in the Comedy. He was interested in genealogy, but not family in the nuclear sense.

This is enough to let you know that Boyagoda isn’t interested in writing a modern version of the Comedy, on the order of what James Joyce did with Homer in Ulysses. He’s telling a story of redemption, but not following any formal model laid down by Dante, or even alluding to the Comedy much beyond a few obvious winks.

Still, given the precedent being invoked it’s clear that Boyagoda set himself a challenge, and it’s one that he’s up to. It is, for example, notoriously hard for writers to represent or evoke the sense of smell, but Boyagoda makes it seem easy with a series of apt similes: tap water in a public school that “smelled like flat Coke,” a truck interior that smells “like a lemon grove of baby wipes,” and fast food that gives a car an odour “like steaming bodies.”

This is the sort of imaginative verbal panache that in our own vernacular pays tribute to Dante as literary guide. As a spiritual guide the link is harder to make out, mainly because Boyagoda wants to explore domestic virtues – caring, mutual support, stability – that Dante was less interested in. The classics, however, are always reimagined in ways that respond to the personal anxieties and public crises of our own time. In the shattered funhouse of the twenty-first century we have to to redefine the content of a faith that sustains.

Notes:
Review first published in the Toronto Star, September 3 2021.

An Impalpable Certain Rest

AN IMPALPABLE CERTAIN REST
By Jeff Bursey

A few years ago I started noticing a trend in literary fiction toward the new, or newly labeled, genre of the Weird. The origins of the Weird lay in a fusion of genre elements: primarily science fiction, horror, and fantasy. There was something subversive in this, as genre is essentially conventional and the Weird uses many of those same conventions to unmoor readers, leaving them to wonder what was going on.

I think the stories in Jeff Bursey’s an impalpable certain rest are located in the same Weird neighbourhood, though approached from a different direction. It is a landscape both generic and uncanny. Where are we? Someplace familiar but unspecific. “Where I work doesn’t matter,” the narrator of the first story tells us, and tells us no more. In the most fantasy-oriented story the survivor of a shipwreck finds himself on a magical island in some unnamed sea or ocean. In “A Livid Loneliness” a woman comes to another island, apparently a tourist spot, that’s only described as “this idyllic land where she had longed to live for so many years, this bright speck of color on a map of a drab, increasingly bleak and hostile world.” The Caribbean, maybe? We just know that it’s “the country of her fantasies.” “The Frequency of Alarm” is set in a country at war, or one that was at war until recently. But where? Eastern Europe? The people speak with accents, sometimes, but it’s anyone’s guess where they hail from.

This sense of a vague location is very much a part of the Weird, but Bursey comes at it not from a genre background but from the field of experimental fiction and the traditions of an earlier avant-garde. An entire previous novel, Verbatim, takes the form of a Hansard record. Another, Unidentified man at left of photo, uses frequent authorial interruptions to draw attention to its artificiality in a way that’s thrown down before the reader as a challenge. The characters aren’t real, the plot is just whatever convention or expediency dictates, and even the words on the page are just that: words on a page. A phone rings not for any reason other than the fact that the author “desperately needed to get out of that paragraph.” He needed a break. And so a character picks up the phone, or “the object described on paper as answering to the letters t, l, p, h, o, n and three es.”

an impalpable certain rest isn’t a book as self-conscious as this (the lower-case title is one of the only flourishes in this regard) but I wanted to mention the experimental background because I think it shares in the same sense of weirdness, if not Weirdness, I started off by talking about. It employs alienation techniques instead of aliens, but I think some of the effects are the same.

What grounds it in Bursey’s case – here and in the other books I mentioned – is his use of voice. Bursey is a writer of the spoken word: speech, dialogue, and what literary types call free indirect discourse. When you read you have to imagine someone talking. This is an essential quality, even in the stories that aren’t driven almost entirely by dialogue (as several here are). It’s a matter of style that comes across clearly in the first story. Listen:

If we had a boss who came in regularly I suppose things would change, but even a new boss couldn’t alter the fact that fewer people are buying what we’re selling like they once did.

That colloquial redundancy at the end nicely captures the rhythm of an interior voice. It’s not something that’s easy to represent in prose and few writers do it well. Here’s another good example:

What I think every day is at least for now I have a job, though the idea of not having one doesn’t worry me, because I have one, I know, but really, it doesn’t make me sleep any worse than I do when I think about losing it some time.

You don’t want to teach someone to write like that, but when it’s done well it has the effect of making you nod your head and shake it at the same time.

This use of language is both familiar and strange. It can work well in a naturalistic vein in stories like “Certitude” and “A Torch Did Touch His Heart, Briefly” that feature first-person narrators who expertly (or unconsciously) walk a line between despair and self-awareness. Or perhaps we might say they pitch into the former without ever quite achieving the latter. But in other, less conventional stories, voice is more disruptive, giving the sense of the Modernist project of dialogue-as-form, with the story itself dissolving into a medley or even cacophony. “What in Me is Dark, Illumine” has a Prufrockian quality to its gallery of voices coming and going, while “The Frequency of Alarm” almost reads like a play in its latter half. Both stories are grounded not so much in place (which remains obscure) as in voice, and voice used in such a collage-like way that it creates its own imaginative space that feels disembodied and alien. These stories are also the most difficult: requiring a rerun just to sort out of what is being said and what is happening. Always keeping in mind that “what happens” is something that’s often up for grabs in experimental or Weird fiction. It doesn’t want you to get too comfortable.

The tone of the collection is downbeat if not bleak, but there’s a great variety to it and it’s Bursey’s strongest work yet. The short story form suits his kind of experimentation, giving the results a more purposive and intense quality. I think this is also in part due to that inheritance I mentioned from a previous century’s avant-garde, here adapted to contemporary manners and mores. The cutting edge of culture is now somewhere behind us, but it can still light the way today when so much else, from our literature to our politics, is sliding into reverse.

Notes:
Review first published online July 19, 2021.

The Braver Thing

THE BRAVER THING
By Clifford Jackman

In his widely heralded 2015 novel The Winter Family Clifford Jackman mixed pulp fiction with broader social and historical speculations as he told the story of a brutal gang of American outlaws. In his follow-up The Braver Thing he does something similar with the crew of the Saoirse, a pirate ship in the eighteenth century, though it’s a book that sails into different waters.

To be sure, the genre elements are all in place. This is a pirate novel so there’s a captain with an eye patch, a talking parrot, and sea battles that see men “pulped into tripe” with grapeshot and “hacked into meat” by swords. There are treasures lost and won, storms and duels and mutinies, and maybe even a giant sea beast at the end.

But in addition to all this swashbuckling there is a political theme introduced, signaled by an epigraph from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and chapter headings announcing the different forms of governance that are attempted on the Saoirse.

The ship of state is an ancient metaphor that goes back to Plato’s Republic, but it’s put to an extreme stress test here. That’s because these are men for whom violence isn’t a last resort but a profession and entire way of life.

As it sets out on its voyage the Saoirse is likened to “a wooden world . . . a parasitic nation at war with all the world, enemies of all mankind.” The crew are warrior monks of the sea: men without women, or much in the way of any human bonds at all. There are no female characters in the novel, and though lip service is paid to the notion of pirate brotherhood they are not a family. Real family being one of the few social units Winter presents as giving life purpose and meaning.

As with the gang of Winter desperadoes, the pirate ship in The Braver Thing is a radical anti-polis more than a microcosm of any sort of functioning society. The Gentlemen of Fortune and Honest Fellows, though bound together by articles of service and given to holding lots of shipboard meetings and votes, have little sense of loyalty or a social contract. The shipboard state, to use the language of political science, is prior to the individual.

What identity the crew have is submerged in rank and function. This is especially so at the top, where the isolation and burden of command results in self-flagellating pathologies. It’s not that absolute power corrupts so much as it breaks men into pieces.

The Braver Thing isn’t a novel that goes deep into the heads of any of its characters. There’s more a sense that anyone is expendable, with even the captains of the Saoirse coming and going almost by accident. But that is by design. Winter is less interested in psychology than he is in the behaviour of the group and the timely question of how to get by in a world where politics has gone mad and the ship of state is plunging into the blackness of darkness. Pro tips: keep your head down, do your duty, and you might get out alive.

Notes:
Review first published in the Toronto Star, September 4 2020.

Hollywood North

HOLLYWOOD NORTH
By Michael Libling

Hollywood North is a terrific novel about growing up in mid-century Trenton, Ontario, but it’s also a great deal more than that.

Michael Libling proceeds by way of subtlety and misdirection. On the face of it, Trenton in the late 1950s and early 1960s seems like a dark idyll from the pages of Stephen King, with a gang of kids – narrator Gus, buddy Jack, and budding love interest Annie – slowly becoming aware of something sinister going on in town.

It seems a lot of accidents and disappearances have been happening in Trenton, going back nearly a hundred years. Adults, however, are curiously apathetic, if not hostile, to the gang’s investigations. Is Pennywise the Clown up to his old tricks? Or does this all have something to do with Trenton’s brief incarnation as a movie hub, dubbed Hollywood North, back in the days of silent film? Perhaps the cache of silent-film title cards that Jack discovers holds a key to the mystery.

Or perhaps there’s no mystery at all. Movies are, like the idylls of childhood, illusions. As we get older both fade from our memories, or are reimagined as something less dramatic.

Hollywood North is a coming-of-age story like no other, masterfully using the guise of supernatural horror to wrap its poison pill. Childhood idealism gives way to deceit. We give up the freedom of youth for weary resignation to the inscrutable and mostly grim workings of fate. Cold revenge is not a dish to be enjoyed but only a petty and bitter satisfaction. Dreams are a source of regret, and their loss a welcome oblivion.

That probably sounds rather downbeat, but while Hollywood North is a dark fantasy it’s presented in such a lively way, right down to the book’s delightful interior design elements, that you don’t notice the darkness falling until the curtain is pulled on The End. The writing has an immediacy and power of observation that tears the reader through the story like a dangerous set of rapids leading into a whirlpool of horror.

The psychological and emotional business of growing up is a familiar theme in fiction, but it’s rarely been handled with this much sophistication while being so entertaining in the bargain. The balancing of pop, or pulp, fiction with profundity is hard to maintain, but Libling makes it seem easy. As a novel containing history, real and imagined, we might even say the epic of Trenton has arrived.

Notes:
Review first published in the Toronto Star, December 20 2019.

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell

FALL; OR, DODGE IN HELL
By Neal Stephenson

Exposition, or the background explanation necessary to make a fictional plot understandable, is often seen as the bane of narrative: usually introduced in a clumsy fashion and bringing the action to a halt until the reader is brought up to speed.

This is not the case in a Neal Stephenson novel. Exposition is Stephenson’s métier. There is nothing he likes better than to have his characters break into mini-TED talks and go into full explainer mode.

But these discursions are never a drag on the story. Stephenson’s lecturing has the same energy and imagination as his descriptions of nail-biting action. He is as informative as he is entertaining when dealing with just about any subject.

Such as, for example, the next step in our digital evolution.

Fall; or Dodge in Hell is a book with a lot of explaining to do. As things begin, Richard “Dodge” Forthrast, the billionaire videogame developer we first met in Stephenson’s 2011 novel Reamde, dies during a routine medical procedure. But, being a titan of tech and having more money than God with the hubris to match, death no longer has to be the end.

Cheating death by having one’s consciousness digitized is currently a hot topic in silicon circles, and it provides the launching pad here for an epic account of just how such a process might work and what a digital afterlife might look and feel like to the saved and uploaded.

It’s an ambitious agenda for any author to pursue, but Stephenson has never been one to shy away from epic undertakings. And with Fall coming in at nearly 900 pages, he’s again given himself room to approach his subject from many directions: scientific, social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical.

With all of this, we’re 300 pages in before Dodge’s brain gets a reboot and awakens in the digital dimension known as Bitworld (the virtual counterpart to Meatspace). Bitworld is a blend of SF and Fantasy, mythology and science, that may be the next generation of cyberspace, an outmoded construct Stephenson sees as being badly in need of a conceptual update anyway.

As Milton put it, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” And if we replace the mind with a connectome in cyberspace? Bitworld, like any imagined afterlife, is the product of a certain culture or historical moment, casting its creators into a heaven or hell of their own making. A scary thought for the rest of us.

Notes:
Review first published in the Toronto Star, May 31 2019.

Songs for the Cold of Heart

SONGS FOR THE COLD OF HEART
By Eric Dupont

Eric Dupont’s Songs for the Cold of Heart (the Giller-shortlisted English translation by Peter McCambridge of the Quebec bestseller La fiancée americain) begins with a father telling a story to his three children. It’s the winter of 1958 and what makes the date significant is the fact that television hasn’t yet arrived in the town of Rivière-du-Loup, which means that the tall tales of Louis “The Horse” Lamontagne are still the best way to pass the time.

Songs for the Cold of Heart is a novel built out of such stories, beginning with that told by Papa Louis but then taking us much further afield. The way the narrative spreads through time and space is a leitmotif, as the act of storytelling (taking in all forms of gossip, rumour, and fabulation) is likened to the flow of lava or the contagion of smallpox. There’s no stopping the fiercely readable voice of this book once it gets going, no holding its incestuous proliferation of stories down.

Each of the stories, in turn, has a granularity of detail and willing waywardness that suggest a depth and familiarity that goes beyond the page. Then the bounds of realism also dissolve as supernatural characters and events are introduced or invented. Just as the narrative spreads out from Rivière-du-Loup so the particular and local events described take on a larger significance as the context for viewing them enlarges to take in whole swathes of the collective consciousness of the twentieth-century.

The usual label given to this sort of fiction is “magic realism,” and Dupont has been compared to the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his employment of the technique. However there have been a number of prominent Canadian novels whose family sagas are directed toward the same operatic intersection of legend and history. For some reason it’s a particularly popular mode among Newfoundland writers, with such books as Galore by Michael Crummey and The Son of a Certain Woman by Wayne Johnston coming immediately to mind.

Such a large, complicated novel is a balancing act. Songs for the Cold of Heart is rambling and spontaneous but also coherent and carefully structured, rooted in the local but never sentimental or provincial in its outlook. Though some of the energy flags in the middle it’s a wonderful read, a testament to the continuing richness and vitality of the art of fiction.

Notes:
Review first published in the Toronto Star October 26, 2018.

No Quarter

NO QUARTER
By John Jantunen

Who knows what horrors lurk beneath the surface of Northern Ontario’s cottage country?

Perhaps George Cleary does. George is the former publisher of the Tildon Chronicle and author of a series of twelve melodramatic novels ripe with an excess of sex and violence. One of these novels is even titled No Quarter. It seems that life imitates art in the town of Tildon, and Cleary’s “Fictions” have a prophetic cast.

Unfortunately, George soon dies, leaving behind an unfinished manuscript for a new novel offering cryptic clues to Tildon’s dark history and fiery fate. So it falls to reporter Deacon Riis, George’s adopted son, to figure out what’s behind a recent crime wave involving people from the top and the bottom of Tildon’s food chain.

At the top we have the uber-rich Wane family, enjoying a life of Chandleresque decadence in a gated lakeside mansion. At the bottom there’s René Descartes, an ex-con living in a trailer and trying to get by doing pick-up manual labour. Remarkably, their paths will cross. Sparks will fly.

Jantunen’s previous novel, A Desolate Splendor, had a similar taste for violence set in an unforgiving, apocalyptic landscape. With No Quarter he has added more self-reflective literary elements. In its end is its beginning, and the story closes in upon itself while still leaving key questions unanswered. There are also hints at some deeper, metafictional or mystical connection between George Cleary’s Fictions and what’s going on in Tildon, though this is finally left up in the air.

No Quarter is presented as the first book of The Tildon Chronicles, which helps explain much of its elaborate, in-depth world building. Readers would be advised to keep track of the names and family genealogies as they go along. There is a lot of back story to get through and many detours into stories within stories, not all of them as yet fully digested.

There’s an ungainliness and energy to No Quarter, its unevenness being the result of an ambitious reach. How far that reach extends remains to be seen. It’s hard to make out the road ahead, but it seems as though the twisted chronicles of this town have a way to go.

Notes:
Review first published online December 26, 2018.

Foe

FOE
By Iain Reid

When Iain Reid’s debut novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things came out in 2016 its over-the-top psycho-thriller plot drew a number of apt and complimentary comparisons to the films of M. Night Shyamalan. These are likely to continue with the publication of Foe, a very similar but deeper work.

Both Shyamalan and Reid are masters of suspense. Foe reads like a house on fire, and is almost impossible not to finish in one sitting. The story has a gimmick to it, but it’s one that works. You know that twists are coming, but they’re not easy to figure out. Only when it’s over, and you have time to catch your breath, do you start to raise objections in your head as to whether any of it made sense.

Without spoiler alerts only the basic set-up can be described. Foe is set some time in the future, on a farm operated by a young couple: Junior and Hen (short for Henrietta). As the story begins a stranger named Terrance arrives with some disturbing news: Junior has been selected to be part of the work force on the construction of a space station. While Junior is away, the organization Terrance works for doesn’t want Hen to be left alone and so offers to provide her with a duplicate Junior to keep her company.

The details are left deliberately vague, which adds to the unease. There is an air of comic menace reminiscent of a Harold Pinter play, with characters that seem drawn from the same paranoid matrix. Terrance is the threatening but nerdishly comic bully who drops in out of nowhere, Junior is the frustrated, increasingly desperate Everyman who has his comfortable domestic life turned upside-down, and Hen is the oddly passive woman in the middle who gives the impression of knowing more than she’s letting on.

If Foe were just a thriller it would be a catchy beach read, but it’s not a book without further layers.

It may, for example, be read as a parable about the blurring boundaries between ourselves and our technology, especially when we see Junior being gradually reduced to a pile of data collected by the organization. Why does he find it so hard to resist? To what extent is he complicit in his own undoing? These are questions we’ve all had to face.

Another angle to the story has to do with Junior and Hen’s relationship. How well do they really know one another? How well do any of us know our partners?

While Junior enjoys his life down on the farm, Hen feels herself to be in a rut. Then, as Terrance insinuates himself deeper into their lives they drift even further apart, while paradoxically the bond between them grows stronger. Even after the final reveal we’re left to wonder at the weird mix of dependency, trust, and affection in their feelings for each other.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Foe, however, is something it shares with I’m Thinking of Ending Things: the way Reid takes the familiar gothic setting of the isolated farmstead, which has been a weird enough place in Canadian writing going back many years now, and turns it into an otherworldly hothouse of introversion and fantasy. The rural routes of our national unconscious are getting creepier even as they become the roads less traveled by.

Notes:
Review first published in the Toronto Star August 3, 2018.

Liminal

LIMINAL
By Jordan Tannahill

In 2014 playwright Jordan Tannahill became the youngest-ever winner of the Governor-General’s Award for Drama. Now, still not 30, he has published a semi-fictional memoir. This is what’s known as a fast start for a literary career.

The genre Tannahill is working is a hot one, sometimes referred to as the autobiographical novel or autofiction. Think names like Karl Ove Knausgård. The reader is given to understand that the people and events being described are, broadly speaking, real, but they are being presented and arranged in such a way as to heighten their dramatic effect. As Tannahill puts, describing his Toronto theatre project Videofag in terms that could just as easily be applied to Liminal, “it is both art and life . . . a sort of hyperreal portrait of a slightly more mundane reality.”

This is having one’s cake and eating it, since we have a tendency to accept that what we’re getting in Liminal is a true story, even if we have no idea how much of it really is. That’s a big part of what makes these books so popular. An enhanced reality may be even better than the real thing.

Tannahill begins with the moment that gives the novel its title and theme. On the morning of Saturday January 21, 2017 he stands in the doorway, on the threshold, of his mother’s bedroom, not sure if she is alive or dead. And so she will remain, suspended between life and death, for the rest of the book.

The liminal state between life and death, subject and object, soul and body, self and other, fact and fiction, along with countless other binaries, is frequently returned to (and sometimes has to be shoehorned in). Meanwhile, as Jordan stands waiting in the doorway, he proceeds to tell his story of the life of the playwright as a young man.

It is more a personal than a professional life, with the emphasis less on his writing, which he scarcely mentions, than on the most significant people in his life. These include his mother, of course, but also a friend named Ana and several different mentors and lovers. These relationships, in turn, are milestones on a journey of self-discovery. As borders break down in liminal space “I am all the bodies through which I’ve known my body and all the people through which I’ve known my person.”

It all makes for a fun read, even if it’s not as revealing as one would expect. Tannahill is a good writer, a natural storyteller with a strong sense of narrative rhythm as well as the ability to launch into almost mystical flights of poetic vision, but he’s not into the kind of obsessive self-examination that Knausgård and others have popularized. The book has an immediacy boosted by the fact that what he’s mainly describing are very recent events, unfiltered by mature reflection, but at the same time one gets the sense that a great deal is being held in reserve.

To take just one example, it’s never clear how Tannahill (who, as noted, doesn’t talk about his own writing much) makes a living. In North America, for whatever reason, money is a more taboo subject than sex. Our narrator confesses to appearing in some porn films but never says how he pays the rent. I doubt the porn would be enough. At one point his mother comes to visit him and he is relieved that she “she didn’t ask me how I was making my money lately and I think we both knew that was for the best.” The rest is silence.

We might agree in considering that silence a relief, at least in this case, but in presenting an autofictional confession certain rules of disclosure apply. One needn’t be explicit, but one can’t be coy.

Liminal gives us little sense that Tannahill is someone struggling to understand his life, but it may be that he hasn’t come to that point yet. Again we’re reminded of how young he is. Instead of thoughts recollected in tranquility, he concludes with a climactic paean to the raw, sensual experience of life, taking us with him as his own liminal state collapses and he rejoices in a new physical contact with the world. This is not someone looking back on his life, but being born again.

Notes:
Review first published in the Toronto Star February 9, 2018.

Bibliomysteries

BIBLIOMYSTERIES
Ed. by Otto Penzler

As a veteran editor of crime fiction as well as the owner of the famous Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, Otto Penzler was uniquely situated to bring this anthology about. Over the last decade he has commissioned a who’s who of mystery writers, including names like Anne Perry, Jeffery Deaver, and Nelson DeMille, to pen a series of one-off tales that he then presented as Christmas gifts to loyal bookstore customers. The only guideline given the authors was that the stories involve books in some way. Thus was born the genre of bibliomystery, and this delightful collection.

The ground rules allow for a lot of variety. The settings are bookstores, public libraries, and personal collections — the best of them filled with “that peculiar musty smell distinctive to rooms in which books are aging like fine wines.”

The cast includes police detectives, private investigators, and of course lots of book lovers. Though in some cases “love” may be too tame a word for obsessions that lead to murder.

And then there are the books. Books for children and adults. New and used. Some can be used as weapons – to hide a bomb in, for example, or beat someone to death to with. And some even possess magical powers.

An anthology like this could have been just a curiosity, a bit of fun for bibliophiles, but the authors rise above the occasion with a selection of excellent stories that are great reads in their own right. It’s obvious everyone was enjoying themselves, and the results are just as much a treat for the rest of us.

There’s even something bittersweet to it as well. Behind the mystery and suspense there is the fading romance of books. Books are more and more associated with a world that is disappearing, and the book people we meet are almost all eccentrics and loners, aware of the fact that they are living in the past and that bookstores and libraries have something archaeological about them today.

But is the twilight of the book something to feel sad about? Not really. For connoisseurs they’re only aging like fine wines.

Notes:
Review first published in the Toronto Star August 18, 2017.