Thursday, August 30, 2012

One Good Hustle

Stories about con artists, hustlers, and small-time thieves are usually pretty happy go lucky. I remember picking up Paper Moon as a kid and being totally fascinated by the world of tricks and sleight of hand that saw a father and daughter travelling around the country to make their fortune. For the most part, their crimes seemed victimless, and you just knew everything was going to work out. If this is what you're expecting when you pick up Billie Livingston's new novel One Good Hustle, prepare yourself: her perspective on cons is totally different.

The novel is the story of Sammie, the 16-year-old daughter of hustlers, and takes place during the summer between Grades 11 and 12. Sammie is living at a friend's – almost more of an acquaintance at the beginning – because her mother is depressed, suicidal, and has substance abuse problems. When Sammie decided she couldn't take it anymore (her mother could kill herself, but she didn't want to be there to watch), she left. Of course, that doesn't mean she isn't thinking about her mother, or worrying about her, or wondering where her dad is (her parents split up years ago), or hoping he'll come and take her away with him.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Art of Fielding

It is no secret among those who know me that I love baseball movies. I love them. Not more than all other movies, but definitely more than all other sports movies (as a group, anyway, specifics can prove to be exceptions). I think some of that has to do with being a kid in the late-'80s and the '90s, when movies like The Sandlot (probably my favourite childhood movie), Rookie of the Year, and Angels in the Outfield all came out. When I got older and realized that all the great baseball classics started either Kevin Costner and Robert Redford, I was hooked. I mean, Bull Durham? The Natural? Field of Dreams? Do sport movies get better than that? Anyway, the reason I'm bringing any of this up on a book blog is because I only recently discovered baseball books, and, at least as far as Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding is concerned, the appeal is much the same.

What I have always loved about baseball movies, and now books, is that they are never really about baseball. Baseball is the catalyst, it happens regularly throughout the movie, but it isn't what the thing is really about. Or, maybe it is, but it manages to tie in so many other things that it doesn't matter how much about baseball you know in order to enjoy it. Everyone gets the baseball metaphor, and that's enough grounding in the sport to understand any action that takes place on the diamond. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Every once in a while, a book comes along that challenges the way I see myself as a reader. I like to think that I'm a good reader, that I'm generous to authors and open to unusual scenarios or styles, and able to tease out allusions and images and all that "between the lines" stuff. I probably don't get everything (hence my continued joy of rereading), but I usually feel like I do okay, which means it's rare for me to have a complete turnaround on a novel when I'm more than halfway through. This is why I was so surprised by my experience reading Rachel Joyce's novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

It's possible that I got stuck on the simple-seeming premise: essentially, the novel is about Harold Fry, who one day receives a letter from a woman he used to work with who is dying. He's very upset, and when he leaves to walk to the post box to mail his reply, he decides to instead walk to see her in person. This doesn't sound like much, but Harold is in his 60s, has no history of taking long walks, and lives in the south of England. Queenie Hennessy, however, is in a hospice in the north of England, practically on the border with Scotland. Harold doesn't return home to equip himself, and instead just continues walking in his yachting shoes, wearing a shirt and tie, with a rain jacket slung over his arm.

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