Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Marianne Apostolides

Being a graduate of East York Collegiate Institute (1987), I feel like I ought to have known Marianne Apostolides or at least the protagonist of her novel Swim (Book Thug, 2009).

Kat is the main character's name and swim is what she does, 39 laps to be exact, her age. While she swims, she contemplates a question: Whether to leave her husband. Meanwhile, her teenage daughter sits poolside and starts a conversation with an attractive young man.

This action takes place in Greece, where Kat has taken her daughter following the death of her father (the girl's grandfather). Back to the home country, is the purpose of the journey. Back also, perhaps, to a place of fundamental truth and stability.

Because instability is all around Kat. Her swimming is the central metaphor for this; she is in constant process, constant motion. But the details she reveals of her life are also highly uncertain. Her marriage is not strong. She has an affair. She is studying literary theory.

Of that triumvirate, literary theory may be the most destabilizing of them all!

Kat swims and plans by the end of 39 laps to make a decision about the fate of her marriage. While she swims, she thinks about her life and quotes Julia Kristeva and Jacques Lacan.

At this point, I interrupt this post to say where the hell was the internet when I was an undergraduate?! Where was Google?! Look at what you can find out now with only a simple one, two, click.... And people are wasting their time downloading fucking ringtones?

I learned today that 40 per cent of Canadians have bought a book online. That makes book buying the most pervasive online activity. Which should be good news for books like Swim, because good luck finding any book published by the glorious little Book Thug on the shelves of Chapters-Indigo. At the big John and Richmond store, I couldn't even find a copy of Barry Hannah's Airships.

But I digress.

Swim is only 93 pages long. One is tempted to call it a poetic novel, but it's more of a theory novel. My mother, for that reason, wouldn't like it. I thought it was charming, though it reminded me of being an undergraduate (the last time I read any significant amount of theory). I would like Apostolides to write something without quoting others. To ingest the theory and spit out something that is completely her own.

I recognize that that request may be unfair.

The author has given us something unique with her debut novel. I'm glad to have read it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Derek Weiler

I probably met Derek Weiler first at the University of Waterloo in the late-1980s, when we both studied English there and wrote for the student newspaper, Imprint. Strangely, I have no recollection of meeting him then. I knew his byline, though, and took note when I started to see it again a decade later in Quill and Quire, where he would become editor, and other places.

Weiler passed away yesterday at the age of 40. I met him a few times in the past decade and corresponded on occasion. We were Facebook "friends," but I don't have any claim to have known him. As has been universally reported upon the news of his death, Weiler was highly professional, courteous, inquisitive, sensitive, generous, articulate, interesting, well-read, funny, and skeptical. In short, just about everything one could ever ask for in a fellow human being.

Many others knew him in greater specificity, and their tributes are beginning to tell us a little bit more about this remarkable man. He had seemed to me to be a contemporary, which he was, and part of an open-ended future, which is never a sure thing for any of us. This is a hard fact that shocks us every time someone dies who shouldn't, even though we know that time will come for each of us.

Weiler apparently had been the subject of serious medical concerns for some time. Knowing this now (only learning it today), I am all the more amazed at what he was able to accomplish. By which I don't mean the volume of his work, or the position he attained, but the persistent clarity of his critical prose. I enjoyed reading his editorial and reviews and interviews for the pleasure of being walked through his thoughts. He gave good read, Weiler did.

It goes without saying that he will be missed. Those who knew him best will know most how much has now gone. The rest of us can be saddened and shocked and reminded again of the pain of loss and be befuddled by what it all means to lose someone so clearly marked as a leader and mentor. There are many socks now needing pulling up, more questions to ask and decorum to uphold. Life, in its mystery, will go on.

To the student journalists out there, at this moment I envy you. What roaring balls of fire you must be. Dig for the truth, be relentless, learn your trade inside and out. But please, in the end, don't forget how to be nice. To gain the world, you needn't lose your soul.

Derek, you've caused a sensation. I wish you were here to see it.