Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March's Reading in Review

As the Earth Turns SilverAs The Earth Turns Silver by Alison Wong (novel, NZ)

“She put down the lantern, suddenly wishing she’d blown out the flame. The hatpin. Her fingers felt thick, clumsy. She was pulling the pin from her hair, feeling that this was an extreme act of intimacy, like taking off one’s clothes, petticoat by petticoat, like being caught in moonlight naked. She dropped the hat, her hair falling over the back of her neck, over her face, felt his lips on her forehead, his hand cup and lift her chin, her mouth towards him…”

Yung and Katherine come from different worlds… after 144 pages, they rendezvous at the Basin Reserve in the middle of the night...

I once lived in an apartment overlooking Haining Street. I found it hard to reconcile this quiet side-street circa 2004 with the bustling hub of Chinese settlement in Wellington a century before. Wong’s novel deals with this era and features Haining Street prominently – so I came to the book with great anticipation…

But this is a historical romance at heart – not my favourite genre. No surprise then that I have mixed feelings. I respect many aspects of it, but can’t say I ever enjoyed it.

The Worm in the Tequila
The Worm in the Tequila by Geoff Cochrane (poetry, NZ)
See my review.

by Barry Hannah (short stories)
I blogged at the beginning of the month about Hannah’s death, and the fact I was two stories in to re-reading Airships. Well, I finished. I have to say, I remembered the collection differently. I still feel there are some great stories (‘Water Liars’, ‘Testimony of Pilot’…), but some I really didn’t care for this time around (‘Return to Return’ anyone?). The strength of the collection I remembered was its variety: the off-kilter realism of ‘Love Too Long’ to the the dystopias of ‘Eating Wife and Friends’, and ‘Escape to Newark’; the Civil War-era gore-fests (now I know what Wells Towers ‘Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned’ from the collection of the same name reminded me of) and the similar-but-different stories about, or tainted by, Vietnam. But there are some bum notes. And is it wrong that I’m now bothered by the frequent use of the ‘N word’ and all those race-y questions? Surely I’m just being oversensitive and should trust it was Hannah’s intention to disquiet and discombobulate… but still.

(This is why I don’t re-read a lot of books.)

The Faber Book of Contemporary Australian Short Stories edited by Murray Bail (short stories)

I lived in Australia for almost four years and yet I could probably count the number of Australian books I’ve read on my fingers. (Murray Bail’s Eucalyptus is one of them).

So it’s something I’m conscious of, but I’m not exactly being systematic about addressing my near-ignorance of Australian fiction. This collection dates from 1988, the year I started primary school, so let’s asterisk the ‘contemporary’ in the title. I picked it up at the bookfair at TSB Arena back in September, along with The Penguin Book of Modern Canadian Short Stories (1982).

I enjoyed some stories in Bail’s selection. It is probably more telling about my perverse taste that the most memorable story for me was Dal Stiven’s ‘The Wonderfully Intelligent Sheep Dog’, about a kelpie with superhuman (let alone supercanine) abilities. The story is formulaic, lags in parts and is beyond laughable in others, but sitting as it does amongst serious story stories, this yarn is both a breath of fresh air and captures an aspect of the Australian experience (if there is such a thing) that its contemporaries did not.

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