We All Love the Beautiful Girls

From Joanne Proulx, Viking Canada, 324 pages, $24.95

The story of Mia and Michael, and their teenaged son, Finn — that is damaged in a manner that’s both blessedly little and catastrophically enormous by one of the unfortunate choices we caution our kids not to make when they walk outside our doors and away from our view — is pulled and melted down in painful detail by Canadian writer Joanna Proulx in her next novel. What is left in the end reminded me of a fairy tale I read as a kid, the one about the tin soldier in love with the paper ballerina. Bear in mind that red enamel heart found from the ashes and how pure and positive it was, but in addition, under the conditions, how devastating? Love like that is in the nucleus of the novel — between wives and husbands, parents and kids, friends. What forced me the most was Mia’s battle to parent a busted boy who was a man. When our kids are hurt all we want to do is hold them. But kids pass the point of needing to be held by their mothers really quickly; there’s a need to discover ways to mother that do not involve the easiness of touch. This publication taught me that this will take work but is not impossible. There’s also a searing message about the power imbalance which may occur in male/female relationships and the threat that this can pose for everyone — but especially young individuals. Near the finale of this book, Mia sees two moms in a grocery store. She does not know them, however, “She wants to reach out and grab their arms as they pass, let them listen, be diligent, never to stop talking to their sons, to teach their women to roar. No quitting, she would like to tell them. No stopping on the children.” When I finished this novel, I wanted to inform everyone I knew to read it. It is among the best, most important books I have read in a really long time.

Hum Should You Do Not Know the Words

By Bianca Marais, Putnam, 420 pages, $24

This debut novel by Toronto resident Bianca Marais — that had been born in South Africa — presents a nation torn asunder by apartheid in a moment when it is too easy to see how violence and violence could take over if left unattended. The background of racial unrest contrasts with a touching relationship that develops between an unlikely pair: a nine-year-old English woman named Robin Conrad, who has just lost her parents at the bloodshed surrounding the 1976 Soweto uprisings, and her Xhosa caregiver, Beauty, whose daughter has gone missing from the frontlines of the very same protest. By all rights, both of these are on opposite sides of a battle which has careened their own lives into chaos, but they do not see it like that. The motherless child and the daughterless mommy gravitate towards one another in a publication that’s both a lulling portrait of relaxation found in an unlikely place and an exhilarating page-turner. The stakes get progressively higher when the external world can’t be kept from threatening the bond Robin and Beauty share. The only weakness here is well-meaning: Subplots involving a homosexual couple and a Jewish family with a kid Robin’s age veer the story a little too near sermonizing land — but it is all so heartfelt. And at the present time, we probably need more of this sort of writing when it comes in the ideal location. Comparisons to The Help and The Secret Life of Bees are apt, and fans of these two books should immediately add this one to their “to read” lists.

Class Mom

By Laurie Gelman, Henry Holt, 304 pages, $24

I was laughing out loud at Laurie Gelman’s rebellious humour before I had completed the first page of her debut novel. Gelman lived in Toronto and worked on The Mom Show before going to Manhattan (read this novel and even the phrase “Manhattan” will make you giggle, incidentally), and also the inspiration for the book seemingly came out of her own experiences as a course mother. She had me protagonist Jen Dixon’s opening letter as course mother to a Kansas City kindergarten. “Read the school’s weekly {}#$%amp; email!” , she flippantly educates the fellow moms and dads, wrongly assuming they believe there’s anything funny about parenting. “It may seem boring but it really gives good advice and prevents me from having to answer questions such as ‘When is program night?’ ” (For the record, I never read the faculty e-mails and so never know when program night is. Jen Dixon would despise me.) This unapologetic character is reminiscent of Maria Semple’s Eleanor Flood in Today Will Be Different — meaning, she is not going to be for everybody, but I found myself admiring her capacity for telling the entire truth, even as I winced every time she went too far. Unfortunately, those moments of overshooting the comedic mark occurred too frequently. I’d laugh till I cried, but then find myself suddenly sobered by a remark I could not really get past the inappropriateness of — and I am not sure appropriate amends were constantly made, even in a fictional universe. Nonetheless, there’s probably no better time than fall to see a rollicking slapstick about the absurdity of schoolyard life. You’re likely to see yourself and, hopefully, you will be able to laugh about it. I know I did. And I have now resolved to read the school’s @#$%amp; weekly email!

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

Review: Joanne Proulx’s We All Love the Beautiful Girls, Bianca Marais’s Hum Should You Do Not Know the Words and Laurie Gelman’s Class Mother

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