Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

“Newfoundland where it is perpetually almost summer until it is almost winter again.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 539 pages.
Read from February 28, 2020 to March 18, 2020

I’ve been a bad reader lately and have found myself behind on my books. I’ve finally finished what is number four out of five of the Canada Reads 2020 finalists. The debates themselves have been postponed so I have some time to catch up at least. Alayna Fender will be defending this novel when the debates resume.

Following a first-person narrative rotation of Newfoundland locals, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club highlights what it’s like to work and live within the small province. Needless to say, it doesn’t paint a happy picture. All the characters know each other and the quick-paced narrative jumps from one character to another while depicting intimate scenes from all their unique perspectives. To highlight a few of the characters: Iris, a self-sabotaging waitress, loves John but he is married. John works with Iris and thinks only of himself and won’t end their affair despite the pending consequences and damage its causing Iris. Georgina is married to John, she was looking for something completely different after the heartbreak of her last partner. Olive is Iris’ roommate who is barely holding on after experiencing severe sexual trauma. Damien, who also works with Iris and John, is suffering from a broken heart after Tom left him and can’t stop drinking and doing drugs. Each character is bound with these similarities, that they grew up in poverty in a small and socially confined bay of Newfoundland.

“No one says it is okay to feel hurt. No one says anything. Everyone just goes on living. We all go on living until we lose more of each other. And then we are made lesser.”

I have to say, I think the current atmosphere has affected my feelings on this novel. The characters are great and so is the writing but it isn’t what you’d call a happy story. In fact, it’s very dreary and the world feels a bit too dreary right now due to the Covid-19 virus.  I’m sure that this has played a factor into me not rating this novel higher as I did really appreciate the writing style and concept. This book also isn’t for everyone. The characters ooze with inescapable sadness and desperation. There are also many triggers for those that have suffered from sexual assault within the book. While it’s brought about tastefully and while highlighting the culture that perpetuates it, the content is still graphic. Interestingly, the author highlights both sides of the one major assault that takes place in the novel.

What I liked the most about this novel was how nicely it laid out some of the aspects of rape culture and the thought process behind it. The inner worthlessness and lack of control felt by the female characters and the confusion of the male characters who in the patriarchial workings of entitlement, poverty, and suffering in a small town were never taught to understand or empathise. What’s more, is that I could relate to some of the inner conversations that some of the female characters had with themselves with the endless people-pleasing and being trapped in that cycle of never feeling good enough constantly weighing them down.

I do wish I had read this book at a different time but who is to say that my rating of the book would change. Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? Perhaps. It gives a voice to those that struggle to live out in the beautiful East coast. It’s not easy to make a living out there. The book also discusses rape culture, drug and alcohol abuse, and the treatment of people who are of mixed ethnicities, all of which are prevalent issues facing Canadians. We will have to see how this one stands up in the debates.

Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

“She was forty-five minutes late to work that day, but she had toast for breakfast. Goddamnit.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from February 18, 2020 to February 28 2020.

I guess I scheduled this wrong? Sorry it’s late! This is book number three for me of the five finalists from this year’s Canada Reads 2020. Radicalized is the one novel of four short stories in the final five this year. I better hurry up with the last two as the debates are approaching fast!

Each story in this novel is based around the characters doing something ‘radical’ in a futuristic or dystopian setting, hence the title. It’s an interesting look into what being radicalized means in our current society and political atmosphere.

Unauthorized Bread:  4/5 stars
A highly unique refugee story that highlights the difficulties of making it in a new country that doesn’t really want you. What makes this story so interesting is that in this futuristic setting, companies that make basic home appliances have patents on what can be used in them. For example, a toaster that can only process bread from the same company. A group of immigrants starts jailbreaking their appliances when the company goes bankrupt so that they continue to use them which could, in turn, result in them getting kicked out of the public housing tower that they worked so hard to get into. I really enjoyed the flow of this story and the development of the main character. The focus on the toaster and the ridiculous premise of only being able to use branded bread is not only entertaining but highlights some of the circumstances and frustrations that are not easily obvious to others or escapable for refugees.

Model Minority – 2/5 stars
A superhero story with a twist. Imagine that Superman started getting involved in some of the deep-seated racial issues between police and people of colour and then realising his help isn’t wanted. The white people don’t want him interfering with their system and some of the black people that he tries to help see him as someone who tries to do good but makes things worse. A great concept but I felt it wasn’t executed very well.

Radicalized – 5/5
This story was the one that really impressed me and would get me to read more by Doctorow. A normal family of three is devasted with the news that the wife has cancer. Despite paying a decent amount of money for health insurance the insurance company denies a treatment that might save her. The husband joins a Facebook group for people in a similar scenario to get some support as he struggles to cope. Miraculously, his wife goes into spontaneous remission and is completely cleared of her cancer. The husband continues to help and maintain the support group that helped him in his darkest hours. Unfortunately, as frustration and numbers in the group grow,  members of the group become radicalised and start bombing insurance offices. The man tries his best to stop members from committing the acts but also does nothing to report the acts he can see coming. This story really grabs you as you truly feel the plight of the family as you really lean towards the decisions that they make.

Masque of the Red Death –  3/5 stars
A rich dude builds the ultimate apocalypse bunker and carefully selects the people he wants to join him. A certain set of single women and people with other assets and connections. He enjoys building the bunker and treats the whole thing as a bit of a game as he strives to have the group see him as the ultimate leader. He has one rule for his group of people and it’s that they can bring no others. This, of course, will backfire on him.

I think what I liked most about this selection is that it touched on a variety of interesting issues and subjects, making it, in my opinion, one of best contenders to meet the 2020 Canada Reads theme of one book to bring Canada into focus. The book touches on some hot Canadian topics involving race, immigration, refugees, privilege, classism and privatized health care while also making for an engaging read. Out of the three books from the finalists I’ve read, this one is my current favourite. We will see how it stacks up against the last two.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

“The world is hard,” his mom had said. “You need to be harder.”

4/5 stars.
ebook,  249 pages.
Read from February 1, 2020 to February 11, 2020

This is book number two of the five for me  in the Canada Reads 2020 contenders.  I best get reading a bit faster if I want to have all five read before the debates in March! I have always wanted to read Eden Robinson, in fact, I’m pretty sure one of her books was part on my required reading list in one of my university classes back in the day and I still didn’t get around to reading her (oops)! At least I’m making up for it now. 

Kaniehtiio Horn will be defending Son of a Trickster in the debates this March. I adore Kaniehtiio Horn so it will be interesting to see how she does in the debates.

Kaniehtiio Horn

Son of a Trickster starts off in a seemingly normal, albeit tragic and raw, fashion as it details the coming of age of a young First Nation teen named Jared. Despite his fraught and complicated family life he does try his best to do the right thing and has a genuinely good heart and tends to get by with his sarcasm and fantastic pot cookies when shit hits the fan. This part of the story really depicts some of the First Nation’s experiences and traumas while also drawing you into a gripping story. There is also a whimsical and magical aspect to this book that is briefly mentioned in the first chapter that you almost forget about until the last quarter of the book.

When Jared was just a boy, his family move away from his one grandmother because she believes him to be the son of a trickster, a wee’git. Jared thinks little of the incident as he grows older and it’s never brought up again, even after his parent’s separation. However, as Jared’s family life starts to unravel he also begins to see things, things that presumably shouldn’t be there. At first, he starts to brush them off as bad trips and vows to come off hallucinogens but they continue to happen. His mom and nana finally reveal a secret to him that they’ve kept and despite their differences, they might be his only hope in protection as these ‘hallucinations’ become more physical and severe.

I loved the first 75% of this book. Jared’s character is immensely funny, gentle, and resilient, however, when the trickster aspects of the book started to take shape the story started to feel a bit disjointed to me. However, having said that, there are some beautiful and poetic sections of writing that Robinson includes in the opening of some the chapters and during some of Jared’s visions.

“Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath. Remember that you were not always earthbound. Every living creature, every drop of water and every sombre mountain is the by-blow of some bloated, dying star. Deep down, we remember wriggling through the universe as beams of light.”

‘Son of Trickster’ – Eden Robinson

Apparently, this book was meant to be the first in series, which, I could see panning out quite nicely, especially since the magical sections of the book felt like they should have been expanded on more. What I loved about this book was the First Nations experience that it so gracefully touched upon. I felt for Jared and wanted better things for him and his family and was bothered and intrigued by the circumstances that he had to face. The character work on both Jared, his mom, as well as Sarah is amazing as Robinson managed to highlight their traumas without drowning you in it.

Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? It definitely sheds light on the First Nations experience in the same way that We Have Always Been Here highlights the queer Muslim experience in Canada. Both prominent and important issues but which one will come out on top in the debates? Especially when there are three other books to contend with. Guess we’ll have to wait and see!