Friday, September 26, 2014

The Sweet Edge by Alison Pick

In my quest for books set in Toronto I often come across those set only partially in the city, which can sometimes make it hard to capture the vibe of this place. Pick's novel, which is set half in Toronto and half in the wilderness of the Northwest Territories, actually manages to be more imbued with the essence of the city in the latter half, through its absence.

The story follows two halves of an imploding couple - Adam, a classic bro-gressive type who moved to Toronto for university and is itching to find himself slash get out of uncomfortable personal situations he's created through his selfishness (my interpretation!), and Ellen, a beautiful, financially stable young woman who lacks purpose, and who follows Adam to Toronto and is now floundering in the city without him. The relationship is falling apart when Adam decides to go on a two month canoe trip in the north. On the first day, he writes Ellen a letter saying things are over between them. At the halfway point, he writes her another one to say that he has reconsidered.

Meanwhile Ellen spends a sticky hot summer working in a small gallery, of which there are about eleven million in my neighbourhood alone, so this definitely rings true. She is devastated and lost without Adam, but eventually meets some older queer women who take her in and begin to try to encourage her to claim some independence and fall in love with the city. Part of this consists of meditation classes (meetings?), where Ellen slowly prepares herself to face true emptiness. As she does, Adam is also beginning to understand emptiness - the question is will this understanding bring them back together, or provide the closure they need to move apart?

The conclusion is less important, I think, than the journey. I wasn't thrilled with how it ended but I did love how it got there, and the characters certainly rang true. As an exploration of a breakup, the novel felt very honest, and the theme that really emerged for me was that there existed more than just Ellen's truth and Adam's truth, that the real story had many facets. That said, I still found Adam to be an unconscionable douche. However, I never found Ellen's feelings for him unbelievable, so that's something.

As I said, I found Toronto had more presence in Adam's story than in Ellen's, just from its absence. The story wasn't totally my cup of tea, but Pick is a beautiful writer and I would definitely read her work again.

Three CN Towers out of five.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Murder on the Run by Medora Sale

I think that there is something to be said for switching perspectives in a novel, but it is a choice that can be screwed up when one is not a good writer, and I think that was part of the problem with this book. Medora Sale seems to be a technically competent writer but could have constructed a much more compelling story by sticking with one protagonist throughout.

The story is a forgettable tale of a series of rapes and murders of female joggers in various parks and ravines around Toronto, with one murder mixed in that doesn't quite fit the pattern. John Sanders is the police detective investigating the murders, who stumbles into some much bigger questions once the teacher, Jane Conway, is killed and it doesn't look to be the work of the park rapist.

As John and his partner Dubinsky investigate, we also get a little peek into the world of Eleanor, a real-estate agent who is John's love interest; the girls' school where the teacher worked; the strange world of Jane Conway that seems to consist of a lot of drugs and partying; and the disturbing mind of the actual park rapist. The author is clearly trying to only give us a little bit of information in each of these pockets of the story, so that the whole thing will unravel slowly, but there is nothing compelling about the mystery, honestly. At no point did I feel really worried that anyone important was in danger, or curious about who killed Jane.

I'm not sure what it is about this book that makes it so dull compared to other mysteries. It is a police procedural, a genre which generally holds some interest for me, but it sort of plods along in a somewhat predictable way and there really never feels like there is any risk involved.

I also had a hard time with how little background the reader is given for the Eleanor/John relationship. I felt like perhaps there was an earlier book in the John Sanders series that I would have to read to understand what was going on here, which is sloppy - a quick paragraph explaining where we're at in this relationship is not hard to include and would really help the reader to be emotionally involved with the characters. As it was I could take or leave that whole plotline.

The use of Toronto was good, and I liked the ongoing placement of where we actually were in the city at that point in the story.

Overall I wouldn't be compelled to read this author again and I'm pretty sure I will soon forget this book, so I'm giving it two CN Towers out of five.