Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press)
Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly)
The Eileen in Moshfegh's EILEEN is a real piece of work. Obsessive and mean, she hates herself as much as she does others. Of course, she comes by this naturally, her father's a pathetic, widowed, housebound alcoholic ex-cop, who keeps his relationships distant and his gun close. Only ever reaching out to snatch a bottle of gin from her hands, his disdain for his youngest daughter is only matched by her's for him.
When twenty-something Eileen isn't fantasizing about killing her father -or herself- she busies herself mentally tearing down her co-workers at the boys reformatory she works at. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she has more tolerance for the boys than for the warden and the guards (and even, almost, affection for one). "There's nothing I detest more than men with happy childhoods", she says. Her obsession with one guard (who she sometimes stalks at night after the movies and a little shoplifting) peters out once a new woman starts working at the reformatory and Eileen's attention turns her way.
Moshfegh's EILEEN delivers with mood and character. It's about how place affects identity. Taking place in some nowhere place that reminded me of where I spent my childhood years: in an old house on a highway between two towns, where I was most lonely and self-absorbed. Eileen herself is completely fascinating and Moshfegh's writing is remarkable in that she's able to make this character - as nasty and obsessive as she is - relatable. One of the best books I've read in awhile. Funny and dark. Big rec from me.
I was, of course, already pretty familiar with KILLING AND DYING but, earlier this month, it was my turn to host the D+Q Graphic Novel Club and Tomine's latest was my choice so it was time for a close read. Real cool times, it was the biggest turn-out yet for our book club and we all talked about the short story vs. the novel, and how well the stories in K+D adhere to the form. We also spent a lot of time discussing favourites in the collection, with a lot of attention focused on the book's centerpiece, its namesake story. I was relieved to find out was considered a heartbreaker to all the non-dads in the room as well.
Oh, and he's going to be here too, with Leanne Shapton. Friday, February 5th at the Rialto Hall. Tickets are $5 or free with a purchase of the book at 211 Bernard Ouest or online. Doors at 6pm, event at 7pm. Adrian and Leanne will be presenting, answering questions and signing. It would awesome to see you there.
—Jason Grimmer, Librairie D+Q marketing director
The Big Green Tent by Lyudmila Ulitskaya (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
THE BIG GREEN TENT (more like Big Green Hat, amirite?) is a novel about people: it starts by following three bosom buddies—a poet, and pianist, and a photographer, loners until they find each other—bound by a love for Russian literature, as they begin to turn from boys to men, in a county full of turmoil (Stalin has just died). They are shaped intellectually by their english teacher, who takes them on walking tours of Moscow, to famous literary sites, and generally just supports them in a truly wonderful way. I fell in love with the book in these first six chapters, which act as the groundwork for the novel, these three characters supporting the vast web spun around them by the unbearably talented Lyudmila Ulitskaya. After this base is built, the book branches out, still following the three friends, now men, but exploring the characters around them, almost manically, so that by the end you're acquainted with family, friends, lovers, acquaintances, strangers, as if Ulitskaya were attempting to create a portrait of an entire nation spanning almost a full century, a century ruled by the KGB and inhabited by dissidents, academics, doctors, wives, children, prisoners, peasants. Ambitious, I know. But somehow, no matter how small the character, Ulitskaya weaves them back in, creating full portraits of a colossal cast, writing them so richly that you're able to keep it all straight, no matter how slight the connection.
It's a six hundred page book and I am certainly coming no where close to summing it up. And maybe I'll take back what I said in my first sentence: it's certainly about people, but maybe it's more about stories. Written from real life, this is a world Ulitskaya has inhabited, and the richness of the stories her characters tell is captivating beyond anything I can write here. I adored this book. I immediately started rereading it the second I finished because I hated the idea of being done with it. You should all read it. And then call me because I want to talk about it. Damn.
Bonus: In case you read the first twenty pages of Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers a year ago and then got distracted and then got it confused with that other book you started at the same time and hated, I would recommend trying it again. I'm working on this boy now and I can't believe I waited so long. What a treat it is <3
- Tracy Hurren, managing editor
Playing the Whore by Melissa Gira Grant (Verso Books)
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (Riverhead)
Much like the rest of the office, I read an obscene amount over the break and by golly it was glorious. Something that I read after impulsively partaking in Verso Books’ holiday sale was PLAYING THE WHORE by Melissa Gira Grant, a deceptively slim book that serves to brush the ground clean of our warped and truly awful worldwide policies and intuitions on sex work and sex workers. I was shocked at the misconceptions and unknowingly crappy beliefs I still held about sex work, despite my assumption that I was a 100% sex positive person before reading this book (news flash, I can always still be better!). While I struggled, at times, with the writing style, I thought Gira Grant had some of the most well constructed comments I have ever read on sex work positivity, clearly framed and consistently well articulated. I highly recommend it for use in discussion when your friends say, “Stripping/prostitution/etc is messed up, man!” Oy. Two thumbs up, and as a bonus, I feel more ready for Chester Brown’s upcoming events!
Another incredible book I read, not pictured above (but you know it’s probably under my cat’s butt): AN BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS by Marlon James. Librairie D+Q store staffer and fantasy dreamgirl Helen and I were basically in an informal two-person book club over this epic tome, one that is as sweeping as they come. Never have I read a book with so many people doing so many bad things where I still felt such huge loss when they bit it. James is a master at relatable-unlikeable, at people that are not quite anti-heroes because they’re not quite heroes. And I feel like normally a book with only one female protagonist in a absolute crew of angry men is not my jam, but damn is Nina Burgess a compelling character, a consummate survivor who knows that part of surviving is constant reinvention. I loved this book; it perfectly and subtly captures the cascading effects of colonialism in a way that is engaging and emotionally cathartic.
- Marcela Huerta, production assistant
Popkiss by Michael White (Bloomsbury)
POPKISS is Michael White's loving obsessive look at the obscure British record label Sarah Records from the mid-80s that either created obsessive devotion or bile-spewing revulsion from those exposed to the music it published. Sarah was the brainchild of two young Brits who both came out of the British post-punk indie pop movement and the Zine scene that surrounded it. Fiercely independent and anti-corporate in every sense, the label ran out of a small flat in Bristol for many years, it received few reviews from the British music press and when it did, the reviews were more concerned about their feelings against what the music and labeled represented than what was actually on the vinyl. White writes the kind of tribute that every small arts business deserves. There are always those who align themselves with these truly underground entities and find their identities within its creations. It's a beautiful thing. You've likely never heard a note of this music (there were 150 releases by the end) but it really doesn't matter. The people who needed to hear it found it and it changed their lives. Michael White is one of those people and this is his glorious paean to the most beautiful thing he ever witnessed.
—Tom Devlin, executive editor
Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood (McClelland & Stewart)
—Julia Pohl-Miranda, marketing director
The Sad Passions by Veronica Gonzalez Peña (Semiotext(e))
I am reading THE SAD PASSIONS by Veronica Gonzalez Pena. It's one of those reads I purchased awhile ago and only just found the time to pick off my way too tall book pile. It tells the story from the perspective of six different women in one family, but is centered around Claudia, a mother of four (also known as four of the women from whom we read from), whose challenges with mental illness comes to take its toll on all members of the family. I read about the book a couple of months ago, and in this reading, the text told me it would be one of the "saddest books to ever read" which of course made me real excited. Sad stories are usually the best kind, or is it just me? The book is beautifully written and tender, while simultaneously raw with loss and the rippling affect of madness. I've only just begun and am very excited to see the rest through. Highly recommended for girls who like pink and gray books and pink and gray feelings.
—Sruti Islam, marketing assistant
Never Goodnight by Coco Moodysson (HarperCollins)
Crickets No. 5 by Sammy Harkham (self-published)
You might recognize this comic from its popular 2013 film adaption We Are the Best!, but even if you have seen the movie, you should give this book a read. Originally published in Swedish in 2008, NEVER GOODNIGHT is a coming-of-age memoir by Coco Moodysson, who with her two best friends Klara and Matilda, decides to start a punk band. Sure, they're only eleven or twelve years old, have no clue how to play music, or even own instruments, but that doesn't stop them from sticking it to the man. Practicing drums on pots and pans and begging for money in the streets to buy a guitar are only a few schemes by which the trio finally get to play a show (in a youth center where they get booed off stage no less). I really liked the movie adaptation, but enjoyed Moodysson's crude drawings and punk DIY attitude even more, which complimented the story so well it had me grinning throughout.
Next is Sammy Harkham's CRICKETS No. 5. Harkham's Summersaulting was one of the first comics I read as an adult, and it has left a huge impression on me to this day. Until then, I had no knowledge of comics (aside from a few Mafaldas I had as a kid), and was immediately struck by the cinematic quality of the work. I’ve been following Harkham's career since, and am always amazed by his ability to create complex atmospheres through pacing, lighting, and composition (there's a particular scene in Crickets 5 where he uses moving lighting inside a car to emphasis the mounting tension of a fighting couple which just floors me). In terms of story, this latest installment of Crickets is anything but pleasant, continuing the Blood of the Virgin storyline with the same exceptionally unsympathetic and angry characters, and cringe-worthy sex scenes that will make anyone uncomfortable. This will likely lead certain readers to dismiss the work as smut, but also serves as a parallel for the main character's obsession with exploitation films and B movies. What makes Crickets so interesting to me is the fact that these awful scenes are presented in tandem to scenes of beauty or everyday life, making for one complex and bleak take on life. As one of the main characters says in the opening page: "It's annoying. Even at its best, life is just really annoying."
—Marie-Jade Menni, production assistant
The First Bad Man by Miranda July (Simon & Schuster)
I was hooked early on in this novel: “she gave me a betrayed look, because she's a working mom, feminism, etc. I gave her the same look back, because I’m a woman in a senior position, she’s taking advantage, feminism, etc.” And that really may be the most straightforward line in this delightfully funny and just plain weird-in the best way possible-novel. The first part of the book is pretty direct, we meet Cheryl whose a bit of an oddball in love with a man who she feels she is her destiny. She is pretty lonely, lives alone, no close friends, has a standard job at a non-profit until her bosses ask her to take in their 20-something daughter. And oh god, does all hell break loose after that! Miranda’s prose is just plain a live wire of emotion. It’s dark, funny, erotic, funny, feminist, funny, unsettling, maternal. And, for as odd as the second part of the book is, Miranda’s approach is so unpretentious that in a way it all works and makes sense. Totally bananas in that you feel every emotion known to man in the course of reading the book.
—Peggy Burns, publisher