Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Nam Le wins 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize

Nam Le has won this year’s £60,000 Dylan Thomas Prize. It recognizes the best young writer in the English-speaking world with the goal of ensuring that the inspirational nature of Dylan’s writing lives on.

I reviewed Nam Le's The Boat in August and as I said then,
The strongest story in my opinion is “Tehran Calling.” In a few short pages, Le produces many fully realized characters that all have incredibly distinct voices. The sense of menace experienced by Sarah during her visit to Tehran leaks from the page and affects the reader’s mood and pace of reading. I became jumpy while reading and the feeling of unease remained even when I returned to the story a second reading. The characters are sympathetic yet repulsive at the same time, a difficult feat for any writer and astonishing in one as young as Le.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Church of the Dog by Kaya McLaren

Mara O’Shaunnessy, ever-so-slightly magical, is a free spirit who sees people’s auras, heals through touch and communicates with her grandmother nightly in her dreams. So when her mundane fiancée charges her $10.00 for a ride to the hospital, Mara breaks their engagement, packs up and moves to rural Oregon where she accepts a position teaching art. Soon after her arrival in town, Mara buys a hog at a livestock auction to save it from slaughter but now needs a place to live that takes pigs. Town residents direct her to Edith and Earl McRae who may be willing to offer both her and the hog lodging in exchange for work on their farm.

Edith and Earl have been married for fifty years but sadness still clings to them like a cloud. They lost their only child in a tragic car accident many years earlier and their grandson Daniel left the farm as early as possible to spend his days fishing in the arctic. The arrival of Mara on the farm precipitates many changes and as Earl faces an ending, Mara helps the family find joy in the here and now.

Church of the Dog, Kaya McLaren debut novel, is an intensely personal novel. Told alternately from the points of view of Mara, Edith, Earl, and Daniel, Church of the Dog feels as though you’re reading personal diaries and this viewpoint provides intriguing insights into each character’s thoughts, emotions and motivations. In some novels, varying narrators results in a confusing and disjointed read; however, McLaren has engendered her characters with strong, distinctive voices that lead her readers along her chosen path.

Readers will respond to McLaren’s novel in one of two ways: either becoming deeply invested in each of the characters and the spiritual questions McLaren raises; or by thinking it’s all too flaky and treacly, quickly giving up. Readers who connect with Church of the Dog will find a quiet, inspirational meditation on the nature of love and friendship.

Originally published in 2000 by a now defunct press, this edition of Church of the Dog was revised by author and reprinted by Penguin Books.

ISBN10: 0143113429
ISBN13: 9780143113423

Trade Paperback
225 Pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: June 2008
Author's Website:


Monday, November 10, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Contagion by Patrick M. Garry

Thirty-eight year old Walt Honerman is drifting through life in Billings, Montana. Still reeling from the death of his girlfriend decades earlier, Walt exists in this small town for Friday night movies with his uncle and the rest of the seniors at the local nursing home. His placid life ends when his uncle dies and Walt is bound by the promise he made, to drive cross-country for a baseball game. Joining him on the journey are Moira Kelly, a young woman who befriended Walt’s uncle, and 76-year-old Izzy Dunleavy who wishes to return to his hometown of Crawfish Bay.

On the journey east Izzy entertains his companions with tales of the grand resort he ran in Crawfish Bay but the veracity of his stories are quickly called into question when Izzy is arrested on embezzlement charges shortly after their arrival. Moira insists on remaining by Izzy’s side to prove his innocence and Walt reluctantly stays as well, increasingly being drawn into Moira’s elaborate schemes.

Contagion, the lastest novel from law professor Patrick M. Garry, follows the template of the hero’s journey (or monomyth); a hero ventures forth from the every day into world where the hero must face tasks and trials, either alone or with assistance. Like many prototypical heroes, Walt initially refuses the call to adventure (traveling east) but is soon overwhelmed with pressure by his uncle’s friends and ventures forth into the unknown joined by Izzy and Moira. By refusing the call, Walt moves from hero to a victim in need of rescue and cedes the journey’s direction to Izzy. The arrest of Izzy, and the resulting mess which must be untangled, is Walt’s road of trials and Izzy becomes the father-figure with whom Walt must reconcile.

While the first half of the novel where Garry sets the stage for Walt’s journey is slow and occasionally begins to drag, the second half quickly kicks into high gear driven by Moira’s determination and Jake’s personality (a young man Walt and Moria meet at Crawfish Bay) which carry readers along in their wake.

In many ways, all of the main characters in Contagion are on journeys, each trying to find their way to a home. Walt must overcome his fears, guilt and start living again and Izzy has to cease living in a dream and accept responsibility for his history. Neither has much connection to reality and their detachment makes it difficult for readers to connect with their characters; however, the strong secondary characters provide enough depth to keep readers turning pages.

ISBN10: 1592992803
ISBN13: 9781592992805

Trade Paperback
272 Pages
Publisher: Inkwater Press
Publication Date: May 2007