"The Boat Who Wouldn't Float"

The Boat Who Wouldn't Float by Farley Mowat

Farley Mowat is a wonderfully entertaining writer. His books are more fun than anything I've come across in a long time; if you haven't read them you are missing out on some of the liveliest, and often looniest, reads out there.

 This time he's telling the story of his sailboat and the unbelievably crazy experiences he had with it. If it was fiction I'd say it was overdone, too far fetched to make a credible story, but all these things actually happened, and thankfully he had the urge to write them down so we could share it all with him.

The boat, Happy Adventure, has a personality of it's own and is, in fact, the main character in this story. She is a cranky, stubborn, vindictive old vessel that seems bent on doing exactly what she wants to do, which is usually the opposite of what her captain would have her do. I had to keep reminding myself that a boat is an inanimate object and it could not possibly be thinking on it's own.

Farley Mowat has a genius for finding the comedy in odd people and unpleasant situations. I wish I could see life as he does. It would be so much more fun. All the quirks and foibles that come with being human are examined and used to turn out stories that you wish would go on forever. It's a shame he only has one life to live and write about.

Treat yourself to this or another of Mowat's books soon. They are parties that you've been invited to and you will be glad you decided to go!

"The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz"

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler

Duddy Kravitz is a Jewish boy growing up in Montreal. He and his brother are raised by a single father, a taxi driver, and Duddy has a burning drive to be somebody, to make money and have influence. He will do whatever he must to to get where he wants to be, and it doesn't matter who he has to lie to, take advantage of or hurt. He's a jerk. With a foul mouth. And not much of a conscience.

I didn't enjoy this book. There are a lot of reasons why I should have: it's by a Canadian authour and set in Canada, it got great reviews when it was published (1959), it was made into a movie that was nominated for an Oscar in 1975, and it's been in the back of my mind for decades as a book I should read soon. Somewhere I read that this is "the novel that established Mordecai Richler as one of the world's best comic writers", so I was expecting to laugh. Boy was I disappointed. 

It's a good story in that it's realistic and honest, showing us a slice of life that many would never see otherwise. It's well written with sub-plots enough to be interesting. It's easy to read. I think my problem is that I didn't ever get invested in any of the characters. There are fifteen or so of them, but I didn't like any of them. There were a couple of spots where I was so sick of Duddy's soulless arrogance (and bad language) that I wanted to quit, but this is one of the books I'm reading for the Canadian Thirteen challenge so I stuck it out.

I'm not sorry I read it, but I'm glad I'm done. I can't really recommend it.

"Still Alice"

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice is the amazing story of a Harvard Psychology professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at the age of 50. She is a brilliant teacher and researcher, highly respected in her field, married to another Harvard professor and mother of three grown children. The diagnosis is shattering for Alice and her family and it only gets worse as the disease progresses and deconstructs her life piece by piece.

Genova does an admirable job of taking the reader inside the mind of an Alzheimers' victim, and with a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University, she is qualified to tell the story. The narrator is Alice herself which helps the reader connect the dots between her thoughts and her actions. An effective technique the authour uses toward the end of the book is leaving complete blanks in the story. In the space between sections you know that time has passed, but you don't know what happened. It leaves you stranded, as Alice is, in the present moment. I finished the book understanding more about the illness and more about the thought processes of the person afflicted with it.

In a way there was a kind of relief in reading how the Alzheimers patient's mind works. We have dealt with this disease in my husband's family and it's been hard at times to make any sense of the behaviours we saw. This book suggests that the patient's actions are completely logical to her and rise naturally from what she's been thinking. They may look random and even insane from the outside, but they aren't. The behaviour comes from not having all the information needed for a particular situation and for me that made it a little easier to understand and a little less frightening.

I'm glad I had a chance to read this; it has changed my thinking. It is also a great story and well written, even if you don't have a particular interest in Alzheimers disease. It's beautiful and it's sad, a very impressive first novel. I definitely recommend it.

"The Wise And Foolish Virgins"

The Wise And Foolish Virgins by Don Hannah

This is the second of Hannah's novels I've read, but it is the first one he wrote. Neither leave any doubt as to his story-telling abilities. As soon as you begin reading he grabs your attention with such realism that it's more like watching real people live real lives than reading a book. What a wonderful talent this writer has.

The setting is small town New Brunswick on Canada's east coast. The authour was raised in the area and knows it well, so local details are plentiful and accurate. A Maritimer myself, I love reading books set in my home province.

The story follows four main characters as their lives gradually become increasingly tangled up in each other. There is Margaret, a middle aged single woman, survivor of abuse, living with her sister, Minnie, one of the most annoying (and familiar) characters I've ever read. Then there is Gloria, still living at home with her parents, working as a house cleaner and trying to get her three brothers home for a family reunion none of them want. Chaleur is a teenage boy agonizing over his girlfriends decision to get an abortion and in a strange twist later finds himself the victim of unlawful confinement. The perpetrator of this crime is Sandy, an aging, tortured man living alone after the mother he'd nursed for years passes away. Sandy is.....odd.

All of these characters and many others are portrayed with all the gritty reality you'd ever want. Nothing is romanticized; all the sad, sweet, mean, funny and horrible things human beings do to each other are a part of this story. This is about as real as it gets and I love that about Hannah's character's. I love that I recognize them. I don't love all the cursing or the weird sexual stuff. I realize those things are part of what makes these characters and their stories so real and I know I'm very old fashioned when it comes to these things, but there you have it. I'll never get used to it because I don't want to, even it does reduce the enjoyment I get out of reading some really great books. Like this one.

The thing I enjoy most about Don Hannah's writing is its naturalness. In both The Wise And Foolish Virgins and Ragged Islands it's as though instead of just writing them he breathes the stories out  There is an even rhythm that you never have to stop and think about; for the reader it's a lovely experience.

All in all a great story and great writing, with the one caveat of strong language. My favorite line from the book?  "A shining future was behind him."  A sad fact of life for so many of us and a perfect example of Hannah's capacity for poignant authenticity.