Recommended reading and listening – Spring-Summer 2014
by Adam Sternbergh, BA’93
Are you a fan of dystopian cyberpunk? How about hard-boiled detective fiction? Or maybe bleak political satire is more your thing. Well, with Shovel Ready, the debut novel from New York Times Magazine culture editor Adam Sternbergh, you’re in luck. All of you.
Shovel Ready focuses on Spademan, a garbage man turned assassin-for-hire in a near-future New York. In Spademan’s Big Apple, a dirty bomb strike in Times Square caused all of the city’s rich and powerful to either abandon Manhattan for the suburbs or hole up in their fortified penthouses, connected to virtual reality ‘beds’ where they are kept alive by nurses and IV nutrients. Though Spademan turns to contract killings to survive, he adheres to a strict moral code. He won’t kill children, for instance.
That code is tested when Spademan is hired to kill the runaway daughter of a rich televangelist. When he discovers that she is pregnant, he turns into her reluctant protector. Careening from the “limnoshere” (the virtual reality world exploited by the villainous televangelist) to the mean streets of the real-world five boroughs, Sternbergh keeps his narrative foot firmly on the gas of the novel’s supercharged plot, offering readers an exciting escape from whatever reality they might be living in.
Dianne Fagan, MA’97
by Dominique Fortier, PhD’03 (translated by Sheila Fischman)
A literary triptych of a read, Wonder weaves together three novella-like stories with interrelated themes and imagery, spinning out a curious cast of complex and richly drawn characters – some completely fictitious, some drawn from history.
Wonder is Quebec writer Dominique Fortier’s second novel. Her first, The Proper Use of Stars, was a finalist for a slew of prizes, including the Governor General’s Literary Award.
The new book introduces us to Baptiste Cyparis, the sole survivor of a volcanic eruption that destroyed Martinique on May 8, 1902 (his underground prison cell kept him safe), who is added to the Barnum & Bailey Circus as “The Man Who Lived through Doomsday.”
We also meet Garance, a musician whose finely tuned ears pick up sounds coming from rocks and trees. Edward, her beloved, is a scientist intent on solving the mysteries of the trembling earth. Their willful personalities are eclipsed only by their eccentric bond, “suspended between heaven and earth, between music and mineral.”
Fortier has a gift for transporting readers to other lands and other times in a manner that feels entirely fresh. An enthralling and touching novel, the book spans Victorian England and modern-day Montreal, with Fortier’s evocative voice (deftly translated by Fischman) serving as an unwavering guidepost.
This One Summer
by Mariko Tamaki, BA’98, and Jillian Tamaki
Following up on the award-winning success of their previous graphic novel Skim, author Mariko Tamaki and her illustrator cousin Jillian are establishing themselves as masters at chronicling the confused curiosity that engulfs adolescent girls as they grapple with growing up.
Their latest book focuses on Rose, who is spending yet another lazy summer with her parents in sleepy Awago Beach, where a trip to the local convenience store for gummies, twizzlers and an age-inappropriate horror movie represents the high point in excitement.
But this isn’t proving to be a typical summer. Rose develops a crush on the store clerk (dismissively nicknamed “the Dud” by her younger friend Windy), who becomes entangled in a thorny predicament. More importantly, something is going on between her mom and dad. Her father’s attempts to dismiss the tension – “It’s all just adult junk that doesn’t mean anything” – provide little consolation.
The book captures the rhythms of a small beach town – the unnerving spookiness of a cicada soundtrack on a dark night walk, the venom in the gossip where the locals all know one another.
Mariko has a knack for authentic-sounding dialogue and her writing pairs well with Jillian’s graceful, evocative illustrations. Heading to the cottage with a teen? Bring along This One Summer.
Daniel McCabe, BA’89
Notes on Montréal
by Mike Rud, BMus’92, MMus’98
Winner of the 2014 Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, Notes on Montréal isn’t your typical jazz record. Montreal-based jazz guitarist Mike Rud has teamed with vocalist Sienna Dahlen, BMus’97, a string quartet and a top-notch rhythm section to produce what must surely be the first Montreal-themed jazz vocal concept album. Rud demonstrates he’s not just a guitar ace, but a songwriter of depth and talent, with refined CanLit tastes to boot. Songs take inspiration from the words of Québécois and Canadian writers like Mordecai Richler, Michel Tremblay, Gabrielle Roy, Nicolas Dickner, and Leonard Cohen, making this is a record to be explored on many different levels, both lyrical and musical. Odes to the Main, smoked meat, Parc La Fontaine, and more – all set to arrangements that take you by surprise.