this is not a review: the fiction of politics

I didn’t intend to read two books back to back where women, politics, and arrogant men figure prominently but then I think if you have the first two ingredients, the last one is often a given.

Interestingly, both books take their stories from real events.

Kerry Clare’s Waiting for a Star to Fall, was the first of the two.

The overall premise having been inspired by Toronto politician Patrick Brown’s undoing. Forgive the pun. Told from the perspective of Brooke, a twenty-three year old political assistant who is smitten with the glossy veneer of politics and the (older) man behind the curtain in a way that may resonate one way with anyone who has long since been twenty-three (i.e. as cringing reminder of youth and the easy influence of someone ‘important’; gratitude for crumbs of attention; status by association; the way innocence walks into moments that experience would recognize for what they are and head for the hills) and resonate another way entirely with anyone who IS currently twenty-three (i.e. as fair warning). At its heart, a story about the abuse of power, both heartbreaking for what we recognize in Brooke’s naivete, and inspiring for the realization that this is how we learn. Sometimes it hurts.

Petra, by Shaena Lambert, is the little (to me) known story of Petra Kelly, founder and champion of the Green Party. Narrated partly in the voice of a former lover, the book is eye-opening in its account of the party’s origins, initial efforts against nuclear weapons and various other causes being championed such as climate change, feminism, humane treatment of all living things. The book opens in the farmhouse that serves as party headquarters and which beautifully sets the tone for what the party stood for, i.e. no fancy office building necessary. This is grassroots politics at its finest and well portrays the era of the 1980’s, the important work being done, the challenges Kelly, especially, faced, as well as the commitment of those doing the work, all the while revealing relationships and personalities, the struggles, the egos and ultimately, the betrayals.

I won’t spoil the pleasure but I will say that it has one of the best closing scenes I’ve read in a very long time

savoury sentences from several sources, part 4


“On her lapel was a gilt brooch large enough to be a small sculpture.”
—’The Things You Know’, Lemon Table,  by Julian Barnes.


“Why is it that in every relationship a dismal moment arrives when one’s lover suggests the seaside?”

—‘Little Bird’, Oh, My Darling, by Shaena Lambert.


“Omens are for example hearing someone say victory as they pass you in the street/ or to be staring/ at the little sulfur lamps in the grass/ all around the edge of the hotel garden/ just as they come on. They come on at dusk.”
The Beauty of the Husband,  by Anne Carson


“If you are offered a plover’s egg as a snack, that, too, is taken with the left hand.”
The Finishing School,  by Muriel Spark


“It was a time when people didn’t ask as many questions. That was the time it was.”

Martin John, by Anakana Schofield


“…vanity isn’t fussy; it’ll eat almost anything.”

Boy, Snow, Bird,  by Helen Oyeyemi


“…he yearned to be in love with the sort of woman who would fall for the kind of man he pretended to be.”
Savage Love,  by Douglas Glover


“I found myself more interested in the dialogue I’d stolen, and wondered if I was better at eavesdropping than writing poetry.”

A Year of Days, by Myrl Coulter


“There is no box to check for not wanting a box at all.”

‘The Rest of My Chest’,Gender Failure, by Ivan Coyote



More sentences here 800px-thumbnail

and here.

And here.

ruins and relics and truth or lies, oh my! (darling)

Imagine picking three books at random—three short story collections—from your ‘favourites’ stack. Imagine having read these books before and this time you just want to read one story from each, to compare styles. Random is the key word here. There’s no rhyme nor reason to any of the choices.

So you open the first to a page that’s part of a story called ‘An Evening in the Cafe’ about a woman from Montreal who is near the end of a teaching term in an unnamed German city. She has a room above a butcher shop, the smell of fleisch is everywhere, even permeating a handkerchief in a dresser drawer. The Chinese restaurant across the road teems with life, while in the café [attached to the butcher shop] where she feels obligated to take her meals, the days and evenings are quiet and predictable—as are the people, including “Oma and Opa… digging into their Schmalz, their broad knives bring up thick portions of seasoned lard from the blue-grey pottery. Now they would be spreading it on their Brot. They would be sipping at their wine and spreading Schmalz on their Brot.”
A letter arrives and creates a stir.

You open the second book at a story called ‘Plum Dumplings’ about a woman in Montreal, anxiously preparing for a [dreaded] visit from her Austrian grandmother, a woman who has nice things to say about Hitler and considers her granddaughter an idiot for living in Canada [she refers to it as keiner da: no one here]. Despite the “fairy wisps of hair” that escape her long braid she remains a tough nut, but then food plays a significant role in shifting attitudes [and is not limited to the title dish]. “Soup in the evening—true gourmandise—brought forth a more expansive Oma. Spooning up broth, folding a slice of bread in half and buttering the end each time she bit…”

Finally, the third book, which you flip open [all still very random] at the story ‘Little Bird’. A young man, an ‘entertainer’ in Berlin, is haunted by his unsettled childhood and his father’s past. He recalls the moment he’s forced to face an awful truth while living in the Caribbean where his Mutti reads Tarot cards and his father sings German folk songs, and where he’s been invited to another’s boy’s house after school, someone he has mistaken as a potential friend. The boys have a snack… “The cook took two slices of white bread from the breadbox and sprinkled them with chocolate, then put the plates in front of us.” 
And then things get ugly.


Imagine your delight at these odds: three exceptional stories, randomly stumbled over and each featuring Germany or Austria, the German language, an Oma or a Mutti,  references to bread and, in two cases, protagonists from Montreal.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

‘An Evening in the Cafe’, from Truth or Lies, by Frances Itani (Oberon Press, 1989)

‘Plum Dumplings’, from Ruins & Relics, by Alice Zorn (NeWest Press, 2009)

‘Little Bird’, from Oh, My Darling, by Shaena Lambert (Harper Collins, 2013)