this is not a review: ‘mitzi bytes’, by kerry clare

 
Whether reading her blog Pickle Me This, her essays or short fiction, The M Word  or trash writing... I’m never disappointed with Kerry Clare’s style… that kind of literary voice that feels conversational, as if what you’re reading is something you could also be hearing over lunch with a friend.

Mitzi Bytes  is no exception. You lean forward into the pages, waiting for the next thing, the next laugh (Oh my god, the No Angle tatoo!), the yes yes, I get that!,  or the next bit of outrage and when it comes you lean back, take a breath and wonder how you’ll figure it out, this problem, this mess of a situation, whatever it happens to be, because by this point you are totally signed on.

Pass the bread.

Order some wine.

Keep talking.

Clare excels at writing about the ordinary, which happens to be one of my favourite subjects. She draws the reader in with wide open, honest emotions and isn’t afraid to say this is the truth as I see it  in exactly the way you hope the best of your friends will always say things.

In Mitzi Bytes  she writes about blogging, which is really about noticing.

Sarah Lundy is someone who notices. She’s the person behind a popular blog called Mitzi Bytes. She’s also the author of some very successful books, compilations of her “domestic tales”. But it’s the blog where her notoriety lives, along with her candid, often bitchy posts, which she writes anonymously and which mostly centre around the people in her life, none of whom, including her husband, have any idea that Sarah and Mitzi are one and the same.

Until a comment comes through the site saying she’s been found out.

This is where we meet Sarah, on the verge of her world imploding. She has no idea who would want to do such a vile thing… no idea mainly because the options are many. After all, she’s made a career, literally, of mocking and judging others. (But to be fair, she has also mocked and judged herself in the process.) The *who* of this threat is only one part of the mystery the book sets out to solve. The other is how Sarah’s world became this vulnerable to attack in the first place… not to mention what, exactly, she’s hiding, protecting, and afraid of losing.

But, really, it’s about so much more. It’s about living online, the need to share every thought through a keyboard, the way of virtual friendship and the reality of remaining angry, afraid and alone IRL.

It’s about children and marriage and the effort of not losing oneself (or one’s melon baller). It’s about the history of blogging and the way history is recorded.

“She was thinking of the mother of the baby in the bathtub… Of all the men in towers supposing they were conducting the business of the world, imagining themselves to be the foundation civilization was resting upon–financial markets, circuit boards, and machine guns. Systems to which libraries of multi-volume encyclopedias had been devoted…. while women’s real lives, the stuff of life itself–blood, milk, sweat, tears, and the burn of fevered foreheads–was deemed inconsequential, or even worse, these stories weren’t acknowledged, weren’t even written down, let alone read, reviewed, history continuing on as it had ever been, delivered by the pens of men.”

And it’s about the kind of insecurity society breeds and the way the internet is a place to pretend we’re someone other than we are. Sarah Lundy represents all of us in a way, the part of us that’s just trying to clunk its way through life. What Clare does so well is show us this process in a way that we see Sarah and also see ourselves in  Sarah. We recognize the insecurity in her railing, know that it’s the frustration of powerlessness. The question then becomes: why do we give our power away?

A lovely read. And so discussable. Book club or lunch, you choose.

Mitzi Bytes is available online

at Blue Heron Books and at Hunter Street Books.

Two of my favourites. (Support indies!)

 

 

 

 

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this is not a review: ‘this is not my life’, by diane schoemperlen

 
I confess I pretty much enjoy everything Diane Schoemperlen writes. I’m fond of structure and she plays with it like nobody’s business but never in a way that sacrifices story. I can’t figure out if her approach is egg or chicken first but, either way, she manages to create the perfect stage for each book, each story, each telling, so that you cannot imagine each book or story being told another way. (Is she post modern in a way that isn’t post modern at all?
I haven’t a clue what post modern is so I wouldn’t know… but possibly.)

This is Not My Life,  is told more or less chronologically about the years between 2006 and 2012 when she met and fell in love with a man serving a life sentence for second degree murder. So deeply personal is this story that very often I’d stop reading and actually think: good lord, how is she able to share this and this and this??

“How long did it take me to understand that he thought it was perfectly okay to come into my formerly peaceful home and turn it into a battleground? How much longer did it take me to understand that he was proud of himself for having won the contest, torn away my dignity and self-respect, reduced me to the lowest common denominator, and driven me into a violent rage?”

It’s a wild ride and the honesty of her self-analysis touches a lot of nerves.

The extraordinary thing is that all that sharing, that exposing of private ‘self’ isn’t in the least gratuitous. She tells us what we need to know in order to understand how and why she fell for a murderer. This is, after all, a big question, one she is asked repeatedly by friends, and continues to ask herself. I’m guessing the need to find an answer was a strong motivation in writing the book.

And this is precisely what the best kind of memoir does: it excavates rather than simply reveals.This-is-Not-My-Life-low-res

Schoemperlen avoids the icky places so many memoirists go when they talk too much about themselves (I was born on a dark and stormy night…) which usually amounts to a lot of nothing, more interesting to the author than the reader. Who cares if you were born in the crawl space at the Taj Mahal and your mother was a unicorn if it has zip to do with the story you’re telling? For the record, Schoemperlen was born in Thunder Bay. She tells us this because it’s important we know the vulnerability she felt coming from a small town and a family where thinking too highly of yourself was not encouraged.

Remember: she’s trying to work out why she’s dating a murderer.

And so are we, the readers. We’re trying to understand it too; we’re working it out together because, really, the book speaks to anyone who has ever fallen for the ‘wrong person’. (So, yes, her guy was in for murder. A questionable choice of beau perhaps. But only one version of questionable.)

“Who would we be without the pain we so desperately cling to?”

In every scene, Schoemperlen shares the process of walking the road of this ‘choice’ while teasing out the why  of it. Why has she chosen to spend ‘dates’ in penitentiary visiting rooms and conjugal visits in locked-from-the-outside trailers? (The insider’s view of how prisons work is, by the way, a whole other brilliant element of the book. Short story: it’s insane. For instance, she had to wash her drivers license every time she went because it was scanned and might set off the drug detector if she’d touched it after touching an Aspirin, or something. However, those conjugal visit trailers? They were equipped with kitchens and carving knives.)  An irony to the whole thing is that these ‘prison days’ were the best days of their relationship. Once her chap is released on day passes, then weekends, then moves into her house, things become progressively unmanageable. This is, after all, a guy who’s been inside since he was twenty-something, and prisons aren’t big on teaching you how to function on the outside. The insight she shares in these chapters is heartbreaking.

“This was when I had to go into the bathroom several times a day and look at myself in the mirror, checking to see if I was still me, if the extent to which I felt diminished and demoralized showed in my face. It did.”

Though we know from the beginning the relationship ends, it’s still an edge of your seat ride trying to work out the how and the when, and what will be damaged in the process.

“He’d said often enough in the early days that we would fall in love and become one. By ‘one’, I knew now, he meant him.”

I kept expecting the mushy middle of the story to present itself but there isn’t one. It’s a solid read from start to finish. (I read it over a weekend, taking it everywhere, sometimes reading as I walked from one room to another.)

In a nutshell: This is Not My Life  is Schoemperlen looking back, finally out of the forest, and seeing the madness in a way that was impossible at the time.

“That night I understood that for all those years, I’d been in love with the story—0not the reality—of my life joined to Shane’s. The story of myself as the one who could lead him out of the darkness, the one who could make him whole, healthy, happy. The story of myself as the one who could save him.”

The best memoirs are not a list of who, what, when and where, but are, instead, a study of human nature from the inside out. They tell us about the author while making us think about ourselves as we ask what would we  do in this or that situation…

This is one of the best.

spells, spelled with words…

“I wished I could visit a Museum of Unnatural History, but, even so, I was glad there wasn’t one. Werewolves were wonderful because they could be anything, I knew. If someone actually caught a werewolf, or a dragon, if they tamed a manticore or stabled a unicorn, put them in bottles, dissected them, then they could only be one thing, and they would no longer live in the shadowy places between the things I knew and the world of the impossible, which was, I was certain, the only place that mattered.
          “There was no such museum, not then. But I knew how to visit the creatures who would never be sighted in the zoos or the museum or the woods. They were waiting for me in books and in stories, after all, hiding inside the twenty-six characters and a handful of punctuation marks. These letters and words, when placed in the right order, would conjure all manner of exotic beasts and people from the shadows, would reveal the motives and minds of insects and of cats. They were spells, spelled with words to make worlds, waiting for me, in the pages of books.”  

—Neil Gaiman, from the Introduction to Unnatural Creatures (Harper Collins, 2013)
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