This review appeared in The Peterborough Examiner on March 24, 2007, reprinted from Today's Parent, Special Edition.
Wiped: Life with a Pint-Size DictaThis review appeared in The Peterborough Examiner on March 24, 2007, reprinted from Today's Parent, Special Edition.
Wiped: Life with a Pint-Size Dictator by Rebecca Eckler Paperback: 320 pages Publisher: Key Porter Books; 1 edition (Mar 28 2007) ISBN-10: 1552638278 ISBN-13: 978-1552638279
Review by Ursula Pflug
Rebecca Eckler’s new book. Wiped: Life with a Pint-Sized Dictator, brought back vivid memories of having a newborn, including that of going to the bathroom whilst holding a baby. I still have the picture to prove it. The ignominy of motherhood, reads my caption, intended to be humorous. I was told (probably often) that this was nuts; it wouldn’t hurt the baby at all to briefly cry in his crib or on the carpet while I used the facilities like a normal person. These people might all have been right, but I was the way I was, and Rebecca Eckler is, too.
Eckler is, of course, author of the bestselling Knocked Up: Confessions of a Hip Mother-to-Be, as well as a weekly momoirist at the Globe and Mail.
Her new book recounts she and the fiancé’s first two years with their daughter, and her accompanying transformation from glamour girl to grown-up. Reminiscent of US author’s Marrit Ingman’s 2005 book Inconsolable, it is neither quite so brilliant, quite so funny nor quite so sad. Like Ingman, Eckler goes on post-baby antidepressants, and is completely honest about her reasons for doing so. This level of honesty amongst new mothers is a relatively new phenomenon, at least in public forums. Even recently, new moms could be considered slightly suspect if they occasionally collapsed into the weepies, faced with the mind boggling loss of self that accompanied their new role. Honesty is a healthy antidote to misconception, and full kudos to Eckler on that count.
So what do I have against this book? Post birth, there’s a lot of discussion of the new relationship in her life, except that, oddly, it’s the one with her nanny, and not her newborn. This is not parenting; the relationship with her baby is described, unsurprisingly, in more detail when she goes to Maui on vacation, spending part of the month alone with her new charge.
For me, there are also a tad too many mentions of designer consumer goods, but there are probably many amongst Eckler’s readership who will enjoy such details, alongside her tidbits of celebrity gossip and admissions of addiction to US Weekly and American Idol. It’s also possible her editors encouraged her to push this Material Girl transits to Adoring Responsible Mom angle.
Of greater concern are Eckler’s misgivings about natural birth and breastfeeding. For one thing, nursing instigates the release of vast quantities of prolactin, one of the feel good hormones, thus helping to fend off the dreaded Post Partum Depression.
Undoubtedly Eckler is a fine writer, funny and unabashedly revelatory. Confessional writing is the style of the day and has now infiltrated parenting books. Wiped is a kaffee klatsch kind of read, full of the girl chat women used to have over the back fence, back in the old days when there were fences, and girls one could talk to behind them, nowadays replaced by blogs such as Eckler’s own.
This review appeared in The Peterborough Examiner in April, 2005.
The Program by Hal Niedzviecki Random House Canada, February 2005 HC 336 pages $29.95This review appeared in The Peterborough Examiner in April, 2005.
The Program by Hal Niedzviecki Random House Canada, February 2005 HC 336 pages $29.95 ISBN: 0-679-31305-2
Review by Ursula Pflug
In Hal Niedzviecki’s new novel The Program, advertising guru Maury Stern worries about his son Danny. Danny’s never been quite the same since Maury’s younger brother Cal babysat. Cal doesn’t have much of a life. His brother finds him jobs, he lives in basements; he resents Maury and his family. He doesn’t know how to handle small children, especially willful four year olds, and ends up shutting Danny in a closet.
For how long?
We’re never told.
Did anything else happen?
We’re never told.
We’re told about how Maury was awful to Cal at the dilapidated Zionist camp they attended as children, but it’s awful in a way that, well, happens. Cal is mostly described as a not terribly likeable loser, and yet we are offered occasional glimpses of him where something seems more seriously amiss. Cal might wig out a little and do something unexpected, something frightening, something more than a little odd, and then, well, there is a creepiness pervading The Program, a sense that everything is about to tip over, that life and events will careen away from all normalcy, possible forever. Which they do.
Is Cal Maury’s fault, because of what happened at camp? Is Danny Cal’s fault? Or did it begin with Danny and Maury’s mother? Her therapist tells her everything that’s wrong with her family is because of her denied guilt. Bubby Stern watches TV all day and all night, and has conversations with an imaginary therapist, at the same time congratulating herself for knowing soap opera characters aren’t real, unlike some. Very entertaining.
Or maybe Danny is The Professor’s fault, a cyborg computer engineer based on Steve Mann, who teaches at U of T. I’ve met Professor Mann. He’s definitely odd. But not the way Cal is odd. Mann is just strange, although very intelligent, and fascinating. But in The Program, what happens to Danny at the end, is somehow The Professor’s fault too, for thinking that becoming post-human is a good idea, and encouraging his students to think likewise. This section feels a bit overdone, stereotyping the hacker/programmer as brilliant, unhealthy, celibate, seriously wanting in social skills. Many programmers are, in fact, spiffily dressed paragons of courtesy and geniality.
We also get the POV of Cal’s ex Patricia, a social worker. Why is so much of Patricia’s Stern’s life in the book? Music videos, news, Windows XP, channel flipping; The Program’s structure mirrors these; and is largely successful for it. Many novels today are told in just this way, jumping from character to character, telling us snippets of a story to make us keep reading so we’ll find out the rest later. The Program upends these readerly expectations.
Niedzviecki writes unhappiness very well. The everyday unhappiness of a harried modern life filled with too much pressure and not enough time for oneself, and, given that time, no useful ways to fill it. How to be happy? In spite of Maury’s success, he feels hollow inside. And it’s not just the difficulties he has as a parent. His work in advertising, he senses, is hollow. But there are no prescriptives here.
The Program is not an upper. It’s not escapist. There’s no redemption, no strong beautiful smart characters who overcome evil and challenging circumstances. It will appeal to readers of contemporary literary fiction, crime fiction, noir and mystery, because of its engaging readability, its suspense and its content, although the genre reader may be mystified when there’s no final tidying of loose ends. It’s about unravelling, after all. Everyone, and in every way.
Like Niedzivicki’s magazine Broken Pencil, The Program is very modern. Oh, and funny too....more
This review appeared in The Peterborough Examiner in August, 2006.
How Happy To Be by Kristina Onstad McLelland & Stewart, 2006 $24.95 Trade PaperbacThis review appeared in The Peterborough Examiner in August, 2006.
How Happy To Be by Kristina Onstad McLelland & Stewart, 2006 $24.95 Trade Paperback ISBN: 0-7710-6897-2
Review by Ursula Pflug
Toronto arts journalist Kristina Onstad’s debut novel How Happy To Be takes place during the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s an insider’s view and as such is a funny, acerbic tattle tale. Like other reporters, entertainment writer Maxine doesn’t really make enough to live on; a perk is being able to rub shoulders with the glitterati. The world portrayed is stunning in its shallowness. Even thoughtful, highly educated film writers eventually turn to writing celebrity fluff pieces because that’s what sells papers. Sad but true.
Maxine’s past consists of twelve years with a nice but lame artist, who, narratively, exists in order for Maxine to have lots of soul searching inner monologues. When did it all go wrong? Where did all the furniture go? Why do I now have sex with people I don’t even like much when I’m bored or lonely or both?
All leads to the biggest question, the search for Mr. Right. The probably entirely truthful look at the a and e media scene in Toronto is wonderfully well done; but when Theo is described the novel breaks down a little. We can already see Hugh Grant in the role.
What saves it is Onstad’s description of Maxine’s childhood, including her mother’s early death from cancer on a Gulf Island hippie commune. While Onstad takes stabs at this milieu too, there’s a wistful melancholy in her descriptions of the sumptuous nature, the sensible, kindly women, the commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
Onstad has pointed out in interviews that while she grew up in Vancouver, the commune environment was not her childhood, and that while she’s had Maxine’s career, including a long term stint as the National Posts’s film critic, she didn’t have her protagonist’s party animal self destructiveness. It’s important to remember that semi-autobiographical first novels are just that: semi-autobiographical.
Problem is, why does the admittedly highly marketable chicklit category even exist? Why are women not writing about politics in their novels, a larger world?
In an attempt perhaps, to ponder this question, there is the occasional intrusion of Toronto’s Tent City issue into the narrative but it mostly serves as counterpoint: Maxine knows her work is superficial, and that she should be writing about the homeless, or doing something for them, but....she’d rather not bother. The parties aren’t as good. Is Maxine likeable? Well, she’s drunken and slatternly and lazy, none of which is cause for her to be fired, adding, as it does, to her bad girl writer’s persona, and it must be said, she’s a sharp and funny writer, just like Onstad. However, it came as a bit of a surprise (but shouldn’t have, given the genre formula) that nice, serious, handsome, brilliant Theo fell so hard for her. Maybe he has rescuer syndrome.
I had a good cry with this one, and if one of the purposes of well done chicklit is to serve as catalyst for emotional purge, well, Onstad can do it. Still, I’d rather she veered away from the genre in her next novel, and took on some themes with greater depth and scope. She obviously has both the smarts and the insight to pull it off.
As far as I know they stopped doing these wonderful Strange Horizons anthos. All the more reason to be pleased I'm in this one (I think there was oneAs far as I know they stopped doing these wonderful Strange Horizons anthos. All the more reason to be pleased I'm in this one (I think there was one more) with a story called "Late for Dinner." It's still archived on the SH site, and was published with a painting of Christiane Pflug's (my mother) as illustration. The painting is entitled "Kitchen Door with Esther."
I've got a story in this book entitled "Kaolani from Kaua'i." I've spent a lot of time in Hawai'i where I have family, so the settings and charactersI've got a story in this book entitled "Kaolani from Kaua'i." I've spent a lot of time in Hawai'i where I have family, so the settings and characters are influenced by that. "Kaolani" is not a true story, but little bits of the pirate character are inspired by the pirate with whom I once ate banana pancakes, on his boat in Pokai Bay, Oahu. I did not know he was a pirate until later.
I submitted the story to the VanderMeers for their pirate antholgy, Fast Ships, Black Sails. It was turned down, and I sent it to Bamboo Ridge. It's a better fit, I think. For one thing, I probably like my contributor's copy more. I was really excited to read the other stories, essays and poems. Hawai'i is home to people from all over Asia and the South Pacific, and many have taken to writing about their interesting, unusual (at least to me) lives. Definitely an amazing antho that expanded my view of a place I like to think I know pretty well. ...more
I read a great many introductory and closing essays in Canadian spec fic anthos to prep for an Anticipation panel on the nature of Canadian SF that II read a great many introductory and closing essays in Canadian spec fic anthos to prep for an Anticipation panel on the nature of Canadian SF that I was on with Karl Schroeder, Nalo Hopkinson and Bob Boyczuk. For instance, there's still a post-it note afixed to C.J. Dorsey's thought provoking Afterword on which I've written: isolation is not survival. I am no longer quite sure what I meant by that. Something literary, no doubt.
What I really liked about the fiction in this book is how well nature was represented. Lots of landscapes, and yes, sometimes the landscape is character.
My story herein is entitled "A River Garden." It is not about a place but about a person named River Garden....more
This is a delightful, strange book and one I'd almost forgotten. I'd love to reread it one day. Somewhere on the net there's a wonderful review by JesThis is a delightful, strange book and one I'd almost forgotten. I'd love to reread it one day. Somewhere on the net there's a wonderful review by Jessica Amanda Salmonson.
Year's end and I'm going through notebooks and piles of scrap paper and typing some of them in; the ones that might be good enough to include in a shoYear's end and I'm going through notebooks and piles of scrap paper and typing some of them in; the ones that might be good enough to include in a short story or essay at some future date...
One of the lines of note is:
We have to honour ourselves as readers and not just as writers.
Did I say that? If it's a quote from someone else I didn't attach a name in my notes, but regardless, it's true.
Made me think.
I read a lot of books as a reviewer, and simply because I'm one of those folks who can't not read. If I don't have a novel or a story collection and a book of essays on the go at all times, well, something is definitely not right.
But books that make one feel enlightened? In the presence of a kindred soul? Someone wise and not afraid to go into the dark without a candle?
The older I get, the seldomer it happens.
Is it because I'm older and harder to impress? Is is that there are few such books published, then and now?
Who knows, but I can't read Bolano without feeling gratitude. For me, reading Bolano is like taking spiritual vitamins or drinking homemade chicken stock or playing with toys for the soul, to paraphrase my dear friend Sher.
Aside from all that, in this book as in his others, Bolano mentions Leonora Carrington, a surrealist painter still living in Mexico City. Dali said she was "The" woman artist; her studio portraits remind me of pics of my mom; she also wrote extensively, both fiction and non. Anyone read her fantasy novel, "The Hearing Trumpet?"
There have been some nice reviews including Sue Dyment at The Peterborough Examiner and Katelynn Schoop at the now sadly defunct Danforth Review.
"PfluThere have been some nice reviews including Sue Dyment at The Peterborough Examiner and Katelynn Schoop at the now sadly defunct Danforth Review.
"Pflug’s impressive control of language creates a manageable framework for the imaginative content of her stories in which reality is shifted slightly, turned on its axis. Characters confront the impossibility of true communication with another person as their various relationships are mediated or perhaps enabled by letter-writing, drugs, and parallel worlds. The highly visual and often abstract prose makes for an uneasy reading experience in which the narrative begins to interrogate the reader’s perception of reality. This is the kind of reading that requires a little, god forbid, work – it forces thought and reconsideration and discomfort in a great way. It’s often the case that writing that seems difficult or challenging on a formal level manages to best articulate the complexities of human life, and Pflug’s collection is no exception."
-Katelynn Schoop, The Danforth Review
"While the world Pflug creates is tensioned with useful allusions to oppression as well as cauchemar horror, the counter-placement of people next to unexpected objects and within strange settings is beautiful, bizarre and bleeding in a bright red way more dignified than a lie... We know these characters, they are quizzical, human, endearing. They write letters on air-sickness bags, Saran Wrap, pages torn from magazines. They are our punk roommates, they discuss arrangements, want to bring one more friend to sleep over on the hideabed couch."
This review appeared the New York Review of Science Fiction in April, 2007. It was a reprint from The Peterborough Examiner.
The success of Susannah ClThis review appeared the New York Review of Science Fiction in April, 2007. It was a reprint from The Peterborough Examiner.
The success of Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was phenomenal. This debut novel by a newcomer, already hailed as the new Tolkien, describes the Napoleonic Wars as seen by a young magician, Jonathan Strange, and was called, by Neil Gaiman, no less, the best English fantasy novel to appear in seventy years. It also set Clarke firmly in the top ranks at first go, winning her both the World Fantasy Award and the Hugo for 2005. Time Magazine named it best novel of the year.
Clarke’s second book, The Ladies of Grace Adieu is not a sequel, but a collection of short stories taking place in the same alternate nineteenth century of Norrel and Strange, in which practical magic is real, fairies exist, and magicians are able to influence both weather and world events. In these stories, Clarke returns to her Austenesque style, describing relationships with a dry elliptical wit. She continues to employ unusual spelling, such as chuse for choose, scissars for scissors, headach for a bad time the day after, and so forth. The eight stories and wonderfully inventive introduction by a fictional academic describe smaller worlds, often seen through the eyes of women, who were, it must be said, largely missing from Strange and Norrell except as secondary players..
The titular story describes the adventures of three young ladies, practising magicians. They have a great deal of slightly improper fun, and manage to do some good, unmasking the unscrupulous officer cousin of one, and even managing to surprise and frighten Jonathan Strange. They are students of the works of Lady Catherine of Winchester, who, while a mere female, still managed to exert summary influence on the greatest magicians of her time, as well as those of the following centuries.
In Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge was built at Thoresby, a Jewish doctor, David Montefiore, convinces a fairy to build a bridge for a depressed little town, and to forgive his many fairy daughters their impetuous behaviour, releasing them from various sorts of magical captivity.
In John Uskglass and The Cumbrian Charcoal Burner we meet the legendary half fairy king of northern England, which is a benison, as we don’t see much of him in the novel, even though he’s constantly being referenced. The Raven King we meet here is a little arrogant, and pays for his arrogance at the hands of a humble charcoal burner, with a little help from various saints.
There are not one but two stories about magical embroidery. In The Duke of Wellington Mispalces His Horse, that is exactly what happens, while Antickes and Frets concerns another historical personage, namely Mary, Queen of Scots. Much magical employment of scissars in both.
The embossed cover is evocative of English fairy books by authors such as Andrew Lang, that some of us were lucky enough to read as children. The illustrations by Charles Vess are dreamy. This slim hardcover is pricey, but a sumptuous object to be treasured or gifted.
I was on a panel at Anticipation which used a quote from this book as its starting point. I bought a used copy on Amazon and really enjoyed some of KeI was on a panel at Anticipation which used a quote from this book as its starting point. I bought a used copy on Amazon and really enjoyed some of Ketterer's thinking on the ways in which Canadian SF and F differs from the US flavour. If I find time, I'd like to set down some of my thoughts on the book and our interesting discussion.