Sunday, November 14, 2010

Of a night in November.

Making a house a home (office).


Just finished Camilla Gibb's The Beauty of Humanity Movement (novel, 2010, Doubleday). Greg bought this book because of its Vietnam setting, and I got to reading it first. Gibb is a young (b. 1968) but highly celebrated Toronto writer who holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Oxford. An earlier (bestselling) novel, Sweetness in the Belly, was a Giller finalist and won the Trillium Award, among others. (In other words, she’s a smart and talented cookie.)

This story concerns art, history, politics, literature, food (namely the Vietnamese soup, pho), poverty, love, and contemporary life for young Vietnamese. I found it moving, informative, and -- like a good bowl of pho -- most satisfying.

The text is richly descriptive, ie:

“She’s remembering that winter morning with her mother in Minneapolis when they lost all contact with Vietnam. The snowbanks were the size of elephants that day, the sky bright,flakes swirling around them as if they were figures in a shaken snow globe.”

The characters embedded themselves in my consciousness. I cared about them. I wished them well.

The pacing was bang on, but, that said, I wish I could have got to this more often than I was able ... it would have been better to read it over a week rather than the two weeks it took me. One loses the story a bit ...

Now look at how effectively Gibb uses sound as a transition. The scene concerns Old Man Hu’ng, the lead character. (Hu'ng is trying to help the American Vietnamese character Maggie track down information about her father, an artist whose hands were mutilated by soldiers. He later went missing, and she returns to Vietnam with six of his paintings, and high hopes of discovering what happened to him. Hu’ng is a poor itinerant pho maker, living in a shantytown next door to Lan, the woman he fell in love with and has not spoken to in 40 years.)

Here's the excerpt:

He lies in the dark, “listening to the gentle patter of rain on his corrugated tin roof ... ” Shortly after: “He falls asleep only to awake startled an hour later, the rain thundering down violently from above, catapulting him back to the time of war. The worst of it was in December 1972, what the Americans called the Christmas bombing ....”

I enjoyed this bit: “It reminds you that you have no attachment to the history or geography of a place, except insofar as you are pioneering your way through it in your own lifetime, your roots buried in some faraway earth.” That word, pioneering. Who uses it anymore? I love it.

She names all the chapters, ie: “Shit on a Canvas,” "An Inverted World," "The Lady Next Door," and "Provenance."

The ending is what I like to call a Hollywood ending, in that things work out. Hu’ng and his beloved Lan reunite, and Hu’ng’s dedicated friends acquire a building for him to operate his business out of. Normally I'm cycnical of these endings, but Gibb elevates the ending with superb writing. The last sentences of the book are transcendent:

“Hu’ng has his moments of wondering whether this is the afterlife or the present life. But then he asks himself, Does it matter?"

Also Reading:

Don Cherry: Hockey Stories Part 2. This requires some explanation. I'm actually taping read-aloud segments of this book to give to my father -- whom I clearly remember yelling "Get out of the way!" (of the television) during "Hockey Night in Canada" when I was but a girl -- on CD for Christmas. You see, Dad doesn't see well, so could never read the book, and I don't think he needs a new sweater or more socks. So this is a personal touch, and hopefully the stories will make him smile.

Don't tell him what I'm doing, okay?

Just Watched:

The 2001 movie "K-Pax," starring one of my faves, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Bridges. Some fine writing in this, and decent acting. But oh the Hollywood ending ... everything came neatly together in a package tied with a bow. Still, worthy of a Shaw On Demand rental on a wet night in November.

The writing at the end is worth watching the movie for.

Just Went To:

The University of Alberta's Studio Theatre production of "Love and Human Remains," a play by Brad Fraser.

From the program cover: "Brually Dark, Sexually Explicit & Wickedly Razor Sharp."

Not sure if I'm getting old, cranky, or discriminating, but I found it excessively violent, gratuitously foul-tongued, and the nudity and simulated sex was just ... well, silly.

Many lines were yelled. The character Benita -- a hooker\mind-reader who welcomed physical brutality and sexual degradation -- was the most theatrical of the troupe, but why the inclusion of many (cliched) urban legends? Ie: car breaks down, boyfriend tells girlfriend not to leave the car while he goes out for help, she hears something on the roof, finds out the next day it's the boyfriend's blood dripping or fingernails scraping (you know the story ... fill in your own rendition) on the roof.

The worst thing about the play, however, was how incredibly miscast it was. Pleeeeease. If anything, the effeminate and over-sexed "David" should have been played by Peter Fernandes, and "Bernie," the Edmonton serial killer, should have been played by the dashing Ben Dextraze.

Did I like anything about it? Yes. The understated music was right on, and no one around me was a) crumpling candy wrappers b) texting c) kicking my seat.

Best things about the weekend:

17Km run in the river valley with Greg. My goodness, what a difference a good sleep the night before makes. And cool weather. Love that cool weather.

Today was the most I've enjoyed a run -- long or short -- in months. And I had energy to burn at the end of it.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders won. But what a squeaker. I was busy doing the things I do (today, hanging photographs I'd taken in Indonesia in my ever-transforming study) and only watched the 4th quarter, but holy, did I ever get into it. The yelling. The fist pounding. The elevated heart rate!

Hey, we have six Grey Cup tickets for sale. Contact us.

British custard, and baked apples with roast beef.

Weirdest thing about the weekend:

Much to choose from, but I'll go with this ... after cleaning the front flower bed of a quarter of a grocery bag worth of kitty caca (where are all these cats coming from, and why do they so love crapping in our yard?), I liberally sprinkled a concoction of coffee grounds, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and garlic salt over the dirt. Maybe it will work.

Finally, something I've not yet mentioned:

I now (and again) work for Rawlco Radio (after all these years) writing radio commercials. Life surprises, and surprises again.

1 comment:

  1. Hey girlfriend! Just checking in with my creative and interesting friend. Liked this post. I haven't kept up with all your blog posts but I go in once in a awhile and I did a quick browse just now and enjoyed many of the photos. You look great! and life sounds good for you.
    Do you get flagged when these comments come in?
    Your friend, who neglects keeping in touch, but I think of you often, Nadine