The Wars by Timothy Findley

“1915. The year itself looks sepia and soiled-muddied like its pictures. In the snapshots everyone at first seems timid-lost-irresolute. Boys and men squinting at the camera.”

1915. The year itself looks sepia and soiled-muddied like its pictures. In the snapshots everyone at first seems timid-lost-irresolute. Boys and men squinting at the camera.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 216 pages.
Read from November 28 to December 02, 2016.

I stumbled across this book while browsing Goodreads one day. I have read a few books by Findley and after reading the description of the book I was hooked and knew I had to read it. I am a sucker for WWI  stories and poetry. There was something so personal about this war. Men fought in closer combat and gas was used as prominent and horrific tactic. The trauma from this war was intimate and I find the stories about this war very moving.

Robert Ross is only seventeen years old when he leaves Canada to join the war. Out of sheer luck and by managing to stay alive, Robert is promoted and  is responsible for the lives of other men. Despite his youth, Robert has witnessed and experienced things that absolutely no one should ever have to. In an attempt to to save his sanity and humanity, Robert makes a brazen decision with substantial consequence. Some call him a villain, others a hero but ultimately there are none when it comes to the realities of war.

I still maintain that an ordinary human being has the right to be horrified by a mangled body seen on an afternoon walk.”

The book draws you in right from the beginning in that it opens with the last scene and then takes you back before Robert left Canada. The story also had a few narrators, which I found jarring, but it did lend to interesting perspectives about Robert. Some of the scenes people are actually being interviewed about Robert and the act that he committed and of course you will not know exactly what Robert did until the very end.

Findley is great at descriptions. Whether it is a character or a scene, he makes it very easy to envision. There was one particular scene that made my heart race and my jaw drop. Robert is leading a group of men out in the open when he spots some chlorine gas that is about to hit them. He orders his men to put on their gas mask but the men inform him that despite them being standard issue, their group was not give one. With only seconds to make a decision, Robert orders his men to pee on pieces of fabric and hold them to their mouths while lying face down in the mud until the gas passes. This act of brilliance on Robert’s part saved all of his men. I was absolutely glued to the pages reading this scene. While this one was my favourite there are many others that are also captivating.

In terms of the act that Robert committed, I sympathize with his decision. After everything that Robert had been through, it almost made sense to do what he did. It was an act of humanity to prove that he still had it in him but it was also at the cost of humanity, which, is the epitome of war.

I would highly recommend this novel for drama, historical-fiction, and for those that enjoy war time plots and dynamic characters.

Stones by Timothy Findley

4/5 stars.
Hardcover, 221 pages.
Read from December 08 to 13, 2014.

There were a lot of mixed reviews on this collaboration of short stories, especially from Findley fans, but as this is my first collaboration by Findley, I stand impressed. Stones is a novel about relationships and how the effect our lives, especially some of the harder aspects in life like death and loss. One thing I particularly enjoyed about this novel was how Findley wrote a few different stories on the same characters. What one short story lacked, the next one would pick up on, whether that was a plot detail or elaborating on a part of the character’s personality or relationships.

This book has depth. I found myself thinking about the characters long after I put the book down. The book blurb on Goodreads mentions something about relationships and urban settings in the 1980’s but I don’t feel that any of these stories relate to a specific time frame but rather it’s more about the context of relationships and how they change our lives.

“Bragg and Minna” is the name of the first story in the book and of the two main characters. Their story is one of the most potent. The story opens with how Minna has died and Bragg is going to pick up her ashes. Bragg is bisexual, potentially a homosexual, but he loves Minna The two of them have their own quirks but that is what brought them together. The couple splits up shortly after they had children, one with severe mental disabilities. Bragg never wanted children but Minna came to a breaking point with the matter. After the birth of their mentally disabled daughter, Minna took the children and moved away Australia, which is where, years later, she dies . The story is filled with nostalgia and regret as Bragg makes the long trip over to claim her ashes.

The following story, “Gifts of Mercy”, detail how Minna and Bragg met. This story makes the last one even more tragic.

From here, each story revolves around a new tragic character. From a professor inspecting a mask, a man suffering from PTSD as a result of WWII and the effects it has on his family, to a disturbing but fascinating read about a pair of married psychiatrists whose patient’s dreams start to become a horrifying reality for one of them.

The stories are so different in tone. Some are tragic, some border on horror and others are more nostalgic but all of them revolve around the intrinsic relationships that we make in our daily lives.  Overall a great compilation of short stories that I’d recommend to just about anyone.