A Novel for the Judd Apatow Generation

It’s something of a paradox, but the thing that first intrigued me about Domestic Violets—its cover—is the one thing I’d change after reading it. I mean, look at that thing: it’s bright, it’s simple, it has commercial fiction written all over it. It suggests a lighthearted rom-com full of domestic friction. When I read it I was looking for something light, the literary equivalent of a Paul Rudd movie. Which is what Harper Collins wanted me to think I was getting.

However, like the best romantic comedies, Matthew Norman’s debut novel has a lot going on under the surface, so much that its cover actually does it a disservice. This is more than just a fluffy piece of entertainment. Domestic Violets is smart and insightful, and paints a wonderfully muddy picture of love and passion in the 21st century.

This is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.

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Franzen in February in May

Every February, Laura Frey takes a pause from her regular book blogging to “love, hate, and love-to-hate that great American novelist”, Jonathan Franzen. The event, aptly titled Franzen in February, is hosted at Reading in Bed and attracts a delightful array of guest writers.

I promised to supply an article this year, but, as I am wont to do, I didn’t write one.

Why? I’m enigmatic AF, that’s why.

Instead, I reserved the right to submit my piece 84 days late. As everyone knows, the number 84 resonates with creative expression, making today the perfect day to write about Franzen’s not-exactly-awesome sophomore novel, Strong Motion.

And yes, I totally knew about the 84 thing before I wrote this, and no, I didn’t just Google “significance of the number 84” mere seconds before writing that last paragraph. Who would do that.

So without further adieu, I present Franzen in February in May. Now get off my back, Laura. Gawd.

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A Magician, a Conqueror, and a Man with One Eye

I’ve written book reviews for several different sites over the years, all of which are now defunct. This is the first in a series of mini-reviews that will parcel out some of my favourite reads over the past few years. 


by Glen David Gold

Carter Beats the Devil opens with Carter the Great executing a particularly risky trick. He murders President Warren G. Harding on stage before feeding him to a lion, only to have Harding burst from the lion’s stomach alive and well. The show is an unbridled success. But a few hours later Harding is found dead in his hotel room and Carter is considered a prime suspect. He flees, only to be pursued by Secret Service agents, most notably aging Serviceman Jack Griffin.

The novel then jumps back in time to tell Carter’s life story, of how he came to perform magic, how he met the girl of his dreams and then shot her out of a cannon to her death, how he befriended Houdini, made arch-enemies, married a blind woman, and used the invention of the electric television to propel him to heights no other magician had ever dared.

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Chasing a Novel at the End of the World

“That’s the thing about being a writer … Every bad experience you have is good material.”

Nell Stevens was just like every other twenty-something at the tail end of her education. Or, at least like every other twenty-something with a degree from Warwick, another degree from Harvard, and an MFA from Boston University. It was time to finally put all of that work, time, and money to actual, productive use. For Nell, that meant writing a novel. But there were two things standing in her way: one, she didn’t know what she was going to write about, and two, she was far too distracted to commit to anything.

But then came the perfect opportunity. She won a fellowship that would send her anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, for three months. There, she could find her inspiration and finish the novel she always felt destined to write. Her peers had chosen France for its tranquility and sense of history, New York for its vibrancy and clash of cultures. Nell chose Bleaker Island, a barren, uninhabited scrap of land in the Falklands, hundreds of miles off the southern tip of Argentina.

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The Futures by Anna Pitoniak review

Just Because You Can Write a Novel, That Doesn’t Mean You Should

When I was 21 I started writing a novel.

Well, by “writing” I mean I bought a fancy moleskine and nice pens and wrote down little vignettes of no consequence while riding the bus back and forth to class. Clever quips, character sketches, you know, the annoying shit that makes a person feel creative without actually doing anything, ever.

It was about a young 20-something guy who dated an overbearing, controlling girl who didn’t “get” him. During the novel he found the girl of his dreams, learned to love himself, and, I’m not even kidding, the denouement involved him decorating his bedroom with posters of the bands he loved. Because he was apparently not allowed to do that before?

He was also an English major who looked and sounded exactly like me. It may or may not have been autobiographical. Worst of all, its working title was Strong Enough to Break, which I stole from a documentary about Hanson.

It went nowhere. As in, I never even wrote a first sentence. But had I been disciplined, I would have actually written that piece of shit. That thing would have existed, for no other reason than the fact that I was obliviously miserable in my relationship.

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Finding My Father, One Book at a Time

I was a year old when a man fell asleep at the wheel, blew a red light, and t-boned my father’s car as he was driving through an intersection. The man, who was almost 90 years old, died instantly. My father, meanwhile, broke two cheekbones, his right wrist, and lost about 75% of his right kneecap. He also cracked his forehead on the steering wheel–resulting in a gash that required more than 40 stitches to close–and the resulting head trauma left him in a coma.

Despite giving him about a 10% chance of living, doctors operated on his broken bones over the next few days. Steel pins were placed in his wrist, a false kneecap–held together with a copious amount of wiring–replaced what had been lost, and his jaws were wired shut. He would stay that way for the next six weeks. His face was so swollen, my mother tells me, that she couldn’t even see his ears.

By the end of the week he had come down with pneumonia and was placed on life support. Eventually, his right lung collapsed.

But then my mother felt him squeeze her hand.

A devout, devout Catholic, my mother had been praying to God, for 10 days, in hopes that he would give her husband back to her. Her prayers, it seemed, were answered. Albeit, with cruel irony.

My mother ran out of the room screaming to the nurses that her John was awake. A nurse came in and squeezed his hand three times. He squeezed it back three times. She leaned down, and said to him, “Your wife is here. Say something to her.”

He smiled and turned his head. He looked my mother in the eyes, and said, “Fuck off.”

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Review: The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

I wonder if all of history was as muddled as this? The chroniclers of future years, if there are any, will only be able to guess at what a mass of contradictions we were, who lived in such times.

It’s been 23 years since Tad Williams released—and 13 years since I’ve read—his epic, genre-defining Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. It’s been well publicized that it was a major influence on George R. R. Martin, and it stands alone as my favourite work of fiction. After more than two decades of poking and prodding by his fans–“What’s the deal with the prophecy surrounding the twin children?!—Williams finally decided to return to the world of Osten Ard. But not in the way anyone would have expected.

Before the sequel trilogy debuts in June—the ominously titled The Last King of Osten Ard—Williams released (on January 1st) The Heart of What Was Lost, an almost-novella that comes in at just over 200 pages. For a writer whose hallmark is 800 page behemoths (the final volume of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was split into two volumes in paperback due to its massive size), this is a stark, energizing departure.

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