Of Echoes Born by ‘Nathan Burgoine

Read: 7 October, 2018

This collection absolutely blew me away. I tend to struggle a lot with short stories – by the time I’ve found my footing with the characters and the setting, it’s already all over. Things happen to characters and I just don’t really feel what I know I’m supposed to be feeling because they are still strangers.

But Of Echoes Born was more like Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. The characters were so strong that I got an immediate sense of them. Burgoine will give me a whole love story in a handful of pages and I will feel it – I will feel that attraction the characters have for each other, I will understand their little inside jokes, I will totally buy into the love that they share.

Which, of course, just made my heart so much easier to break – which Burgoine did, again and again throughout the book. It never felt gratuitous or manipulative, though. Burgoine breaks, but he also heals, and nearly every story feels redemptive.

I really love that characters and locations come back through the stories, giving the collection a feeling of community. I’m pretty sure I also recognised at least one character from Triad Blood, though it’s been a while.

I  also love the way that art is used in these stories – and not just one type of art, but everything from painting to clothing design.

There & Then

I’m not a terribly huge fan of rape being used as a plot point, and I do think that this story could have worked without it. That said, I did really enjoy the story. I loved the magic system, and the way that the story taught me to feel for characters just based on what colours were named. I also enjoyed the origin story aspect of having the character discover what his powers mean and what he can choose to do with them.

Time and Tide

There’s a romance trope where a character comes home and is forced to confront a love from the past. I didn’t like this story as much as others in the collection, mostly because the magic and the art didn’t blend into the story the way they do in the other stories.

Pentimento

This isn’t a story where the characters happen to be gay, but a story where the homosexuality is the story. There’s the enforced closet, all the relationships that were never given a chance out of fear, and the complicated relationship between generations. But instead of being a sad, dark story – which it got very close to being – this is a story about magic art that heals history. I felt so uplifted when I got to the end, which was a wonderful feeling after a story that had, up until then, been so dark.

A Little Village Magic

Pentimento moved me, Village Magic outright had me blubbering. There’s the surface story about budding magical powers and a romantic relationship, but the backdrop is the restoration of a defaced LGBTQ+ monument. I love the message of found family.

The Psychometry of Snow

A twist on the ‘going home’ romance story, but again with the addition of magic. I liked this one a lot more than “Time and Tide”, if only because the magic system worked a bit better for me. I felt like “Time and Tide” needed too much exposition, which bogged the story down a bit, whereas the magic in “Psychometry” was pretty easy to grasp and then we had time to get on with things.

The Finish

This one was intense. Right from the beginning, we know that something will go terribly wrong, and that anticipation just gets ramped up with the time skipping and the frantic sex. The payoff was upsetting, of course, but it worked.

Here Be Dragons

Another one that had me crying. This might be a book written by a young(-ish?) author, but the sensitivity and feeling of what mental loss does to a couple is all there.

Struck

This one is a kinda funny story with a creepily laughable character, but then it sneaks in this delightfully heartfelt story about finding love and I really enjoyed it.

Heart

Burgoine is fantastic at evoking deep emotions in the limited format of a short story. I really fell for Miah and Aiden, and I bought them as a couple. Within a handful of pages, I cared enough for them to be really struck by their loss.

Negative Space

This could have been just another urban fantasy story about solving crime through magic. But Burgoine focuses all the attention on the main character, André, instead. So what we get instead is a story about suffering turned outward to help others.

Elsewhen

The main “character” in this one is Ottawa, as the protagonist helps spirits “cross over”. It was neat to see some of the city’s history. Mostly, though, this is another story about the queer community, and all those relationships that were stifled by bigotry. Like “Pentimento”, Burgoine doesn’t just wallow in the sadness of it, but rather redeems his lovers. It’s beautiful, and sweet, and sad, and it’s healing in a way.

Here & Now

A book end story, we come back to Christian (now Ian) and Dawn from “There & Then”. There’s enough here for the story to stand on its own, but it works beautifully as a sequel – answering questions that had been raised in “There & Then”, and finishing off the arcs for each character. I particularly loved that, while Ian was healing for Christian in “There & Then”, that very same interaction is shown to be healing for Ian, too. Both versions of himself needed help, and they were there for each other. Which is just such a wonderful metaphor.

The Troop by Nick Cutter

Did not finish: 21 April, 2018

This is my first “did not finish” in quite a while! I normally know within a page or two if I’m even going to bother with a book, but I made it a whole 240 pages with this one.

The writing is fine – the gross-outs are legitimately gross, and the characterisations are solid if pessimistic. But then there are the intrusive flashbacks. The characters see something. What do they see? Well, it looked like the balloons they make animals out of at the fair. Little Timmy could remember the last time he went to the fair, it was… Oh my ghawd, just tell me what they see!

The plot reminded me a lot of Lord of the Flies. It had the same savagery.

Which was part of the reason why I didn’t finish. I’m in the beginning stage of one of my week-long anxiety attacks, and I just can’t handle the total lack of likeable characters. Especially combined with the contagion threat, which just hits every single one of my buttons. So it’s not that this is a bad book – as I said, I did make it about 2/3rds of the way through – it’s just a difficult book. And that’s just not something I’m up for these days.

A few content notes: One of the characters is a violent psychopath who literally gets off on causing pain to others. He kills animals (including a kitten, in a rather graphic scene), and deliberately manipulates other characters. Also, Big Bad of the story is a worm-like parasite, so there’s all the content warnings about contagion, infestation, parasitism, and the body-horror that accompanies these things. Also, it’s set in Canada.

Triad Blood #1: Triad Blood by ‘Nathan Burgoine

Read: 21 November, 2017

Full disclosure: Burgoine is a friend of a friend. I met him at a birthday party and looked him up after he was introduced as an author. That said, I would have picked this book to read if I’d heard of it through other means anyway: It’s my genre, it’s not the straight white cis male fiction my reading list has historically been horridly over-saturated with, and it’s set right here in Ottawa. If there’s one thing I love more than anything, it’s local fiction!

One cool thing about reading local authors – library copies are often signed!

That said, the clunky writing in the first few pages had me questioning my choice. Given that the dialogue gets much better later on, I have to assume that the author was trying to use the speech tags to introduce the characters, but it very hard to get into.

Still, I powered through, and I’m very glad of it. The writing quickly loosens up as the plot takes over. There’s another rough patch in the final climax, but that’s not exactly uncommon.

Other than those two portions, I loved the book. The characters are interesting, the sex scenes are steamy, there’s tone-appropriate bits of humour, and the plot is intriguing. This may be a fairly genre-standard urban fantasy novel, but it’s a good one. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel.

Continue reading

Fruits of the Earth by Frederick Philip Grove

Read: 2004

Fruits of the Earth is the chronicle of Abe Spalding, a farmer possessed by “land hunger.” He leaves his stony and untillable farm in Ontario to start a new farm in the prairies, leaving his wife behind until he has established himself in their new home. The story is as much of his land as it is of Abe, following the two through the years as they shape each other.

Grove masterfully captures his subject, even in his writing style. The novel is slow and plodding, as it watches the passage of years. If you need a faster pace and action, this is absolutely not the novel for you. Instead, Fruits of the Earth draws the reader in to the life of a Prairie farmer, with its struggles, tragedies, successes, and endless cycles. It’s a beautiful novel, and by the end I knew more about wheat growing than I ever thought I would.

It’s a Canadian classic that helps the reader experience – it only vicariously – a part of the country’s history. This isn’t the story of great wars or grand political gestures, but rather of the “little people” who shaped the country with their hands. As an immigrant to Canada, I feel that Fruits of the Earth helped me understand the country a little betters.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Read: 6 March, 2009

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert have decided, in their old age, to adopt a young orphan boy of about eleven years old to help take of the farm. When a miscommunication leaves them with little red-headed Anne Shirley, they must decide whether to keep this fiery-tempered and talkative girl, who is decidedly not what they had in mind.

POSITIVE: The writing style is superb and truly carried the narrative. Even when the plot dulled, the narrative voice kept me chained to my rocking chair, eagerly turning the page. The characters are often quite funny, especially Mrs. Lynde, and even Anne – who could get really annoying in her self-centredness – grew on me.

NEGATIVE: Some may feel that the plodding and episodic plot is a bit much, though I felt that this made for a very pleasant and unchallenging read. As I mentioned above, Anne could be infuriatingly self-absorbed, even near the end when she had supposedly outgrown her selfishness. This is a very minor point, though.

All in all, I found this to be a very relaxing and pleasant read. It is funny at times, sad at others, and always interesting. I would definitely be open to reading the next in the series.

Thank you, Pat, for this great gift. Does this mean I get to be a Canadian now?

Buy The Complete Anne of Green Gables Boxed Set from Amazon to support this blog!