The Nameless Widow

Needing a change of scenery from my drab writer’s den, I headed to a nearby coffee shop to do the detestable: type away on my name brand laptop with a $5 venti latte. However, providence intervened and my laptop stayed untouched.

After ordering my drink, and settling into a corner table, an older lady approached me with her coffee in hand and asked if she could join. I didn’t know how to respond as there were many empty tables, and I had my laptop open and wanted to, no scratch that, needed to finish a deadline. I hesitate before a polite “sure” escapes my mouth.

“Thanks, dear. The weather today is awful, I feel it seeping right into my bones,” she says as she methodically places her purse on the table followed by her teacup and unwinds the shawl she has around her neck and hair. She is wearing a delicate string of pearls, which beautifully complement her purple dress. Rings decorate every finger except her right pinky, and her blush matches the pink hue of her lipstick. I later learn that she had her hair done, a ritual she has adopted specifically for this date. “Today marks the fifth anniversary of my husband’s passing. I just came back from visiting him and I am not ready to walk into our empty home, even though it has been many years of emptiness.’

“I’m sorry,” I mumble. How else is one suppose to respond to death or death’s anniversary?

“Don’t apologize, dear. Death has a funny way of creeping up on us, stealing those we love, and sometimes acquiring the ones we no longer want.”

I take a sip of my coffee and casually assess my surroundings to see if anyone else in the shop has noticed this woman, or her talk of death. Everyone else is too immersed in their laptop or smart-phone to notice me or this woman.

“Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying, I loved George dearly, but sixty-four years is a long time to be with someone, and after awhile love just starts to feel like a routine. How old are you, my dear?” She asks as she takes her first sip of tea.

“Thirty,” I shyly reply, as if my age will reveal something I am not willing to share. She takes another sip and I am reminded of a fortuneteller I visited years ago in Toronto; she, along with that fortuneteller, appear to have the ability to look past my exterior armour and into my naked soul, to my secrets – secrets that bare no value to strangers.

“So young, but not really,” she states.

“I know,” I sigh. “Lately I have been dealing with my own insecurities of not being the person I envisioned I would be at thirty.”

“And what is that?” She asks.

“I don’t know. I just thought life would be different, it wouldn’t look like this. I’m happy and I’m loved, but there are days when I ask myself, ‘Okay, what is next?’”

“There is that word again, love. Do you let that word define you?”

I lean back into my chair, look directly into her eyes, and say “Yes, I do, but don’t we all?”

“That is where you falter, my dear. Love is ubiquitous – it’s always there inside of you, you just need to know how to ignite it yourself and not be dependent on someone else because sooner or later, that person will diminish that love.”

“I politely disagree,” I rebut. “Yes, you need to love yourself, but a person is allowed to equate happiness by being loved. Isn’t that what we all want: to love and be loved in return? Cliché, but true.”

“I often forget the banalities of love,” she states, almost as if she is pushing aside the significance of the action to love. “My parents arranged my marriage to George, I was eighteen, and he was 21. I was in my prime to marry and conceive,” she emphasized prime, as if prime was the only reason she married. “But nature had a different plan and left me childless for many years. I prayed to a god every night to give me a baby, more for George than for me, as he so badly wanted children and to be a father. I was impartial though, but I knew a man’s legacy must continue and if I didn’t give him children then he would have gone elsewhere, and he did, many times, and I turned a blind-eye, like a good housewife. We stayed married, and eventually my prayers were answered, like god took pity on me for abiding by my husband while he strayed. I gave birth to a girl and boy, exactly two years apart. Do you have any children?” She asks as she glances at my ring finger.

“I do not.”

“Sometimes it’s for the best.”

“My partner and I want children, we just don’t have any yet,” My response is a tad over-zealous, but I don’t want her to assume that we share a similarity, although a part of me feels an affinity towards her, as if our past lives somehow intertwined once.

“These days, you can never tell with women.” She takes another sip of her tea, which must now be lukewarm. She glances around the room and studies those around us, as if she’s looking for someone. “When I was your age we were married, our children were in school and our afternoons were spent drinking vodka martinis gossiping about the latest Hollywood scandal. Our only worry was making sure we were home in time to fetch the kids from school and to make sure that a proper meal was placed on the table for our husbands.”

“Do you regret it?” As soon as the words slip out of my mouth, I fear that I went too far.

“Not at all. That was the way of life; it was what we knew and how we lived. Mind you, it would have been fun if the roles were reversed and I was the one that left for work in the morning, shagged who I wanted in the afternoon, and returned home in the evening to my dotting family. But that’s just a lascivious dream.”

The bell over the café door chimes and we both turn to look.

“Oh, would you look at that, it’s Max, my driver. He must have been wondering what was taking me so long.”

She quickly gathers her things as Max walks towards us.

“It has been a pleasure talking to you, my dear,” she says as she stands up.

I mirror her actions and stand as well. “You too,” I politely respond.

I look down at my mug of coffee, half empty, and cold since it sat mostly untouched as I was too engrossed with the conversation to move my body to something so mundane as sipping coffee. I glance up and see the back of my acquaintance.

“Wait, I didn’t get your name.”

“That’s the funny thing about names, they ruin a person’s aura.” And with that she walked out of the door.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

“Fiction is about readers. Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. But often the only way to see what a reader thought, how they lived when they were reading, is to examine what they left behind.”

Claire Fuller’s latest novel, Swimming Lessons, imbues a catharsis of emotions as one family attempts to piece together the mystery of their missing mother and wife, Ingrid. In what is described as a spine-tingling tale, this novel lacks that nail-biting instant thriller, but slowly unravels a dark family secret. Told through alternating literary techniques (epistolary and prose), the reader is swept back in time by reading past letters and then quickly brought to the present with each new chapter.

The novel begins with Gil Coleman seeing his long-lost wife, Ingrid, walking on the street, he follows her, but to no avail, and while walking  back he takes a near fatal-fall. Nan, the eldest daughter, is on-hand at the hospital with her father, while Flora is enjoying an intimate foray with a lover, which we later learn is a similar trait of her father’s. What follows is an ebb and flow of heart-aching stories told through letters Ingrid wrote to her husband that she sporadically places in novels strewn throughout their home, while the other thread follows present day daughters, Flora and Nan, as they deal with their dying father and the true history of their parents’ relationship.

I did not love this book (I gave it three stars on my Goodreads account), however I did enjoy the unconventional way this story was told, and the references to the other books that Ingrid hid her letters in. Each letter  is hidden in a book that mirrors the letter’s theme. It’s a short read, only 295 pages, but I found the storyline too slow, and the dark family secret a bit too predictable.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

Imagine witnessing your two best friends being killed: one caused by a drive-by shooting in a public park and the second by a trigger pulled by a cop. Can you imagine it? I can’t either, but for 16-year-old Starr Carter, this is her reality. New York Times bestseller, The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas, follows Starr’s story after the unjustly death of her best friend, Khahlil, who was murdered by a cop, “Officer One-Fifteen.” As the only witness to this crime, Starr has to bear the outrage from her community and of her race.

Starr lives a stable life that is divided by two worlds: the poor black neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy predominately white prep school in the suburbs that she attends. Her father owns a local convenience store and her mother is a nurse. Starr wears expensive name-brand clothes, is a devote basketball player, has two brothers, and unbeknown to her dad, is dating a white guy from her school.

The inner conflict in the novel is the dilemma of right and wrong: Starr wants to do what is right – tell the cops, tell the jury, tell her community what she saw, but telling the truth could also endanger her life. Finally, she summons up the courage to tell the truth to the grand jury, and as the world outside of the courtroom waits to hear if the officer will face charges, tension mounts as the reader suffers with Starr, her family and the community.

The Hate U Give, named for a Tupac’s song, (Thug Life – the hate U give little infants f*cks everybody) is a novel that exposes the injustices of the judicial system, systemic racism, and police violence but it is told with care, intelligence, and honesty. The reader falls in love with Starr, and is connected to her through the use of first-person narration. Starr allows the reader into her world: she is funny, she is authentic; she’s a 16-year-old girl who is faced with a reality that is different from her prep-school peers

As a book found in the YA section of a bookstore, The Hate U Give reminds readers that radicalized violence does not limit itself to one age group, but is everywhere. Not too long ago I was sitting in front of my computer, tears streaming down my face, as I watched the live feed of the injustice, the gob-smackingly blatant racism that tragically ended Michael Brown’s life way too soon. This event opened my eyes to the horrendous and unjust acts people with ‘power’ inflict on the ‘other.’ I know events like that happened before, and they continue to happen,  but this novel, albeit fictitious, mirrored a life that my white privilege shelters me from, yet it served as a tool that cultivated an emotional understanding. This book won’t make racism disappear overnight, but it does have the potential to make one think and reassess their own personal judgments.

Read it! Even if you think you’re too old for YA, do yourself a favour and read it. I’ll even lend you my copy.

On a side note: Have you been watching “Dear White People” on Netflix? A show clueless white people (talking to myself) should watch and learn. Synopsis from Netflix: “Students of color navigate the daily slights and slippery politics of life at an Ivy League college that’s not nearly as “post-racial” as it thinks.”

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Always an Anne Admirer

Anne

Have you been watching CBC’s Anne with an E, the wonderful story of the effervescent orphan, Anne Shirley? The same Anne Shirley preteens fell in love with growing up, the same Anne from the 1908 classic, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Unlike the much-loved classic, this adaptation, written by Moira Walley-Beckett, is darker in tone and threads together new narratives, while creating a visceral show that is both real and intimate.

In CBC’s adaptation, viewers are introduced to the red-headed freckled and feisty feminist that Montgomery brought to life, while Walley-Beckett adds a deeper history to the main characters that are not conceived in the original story. However, this addition with its mixed-bag of emotions, adds a beautiful layer to each character: a layer of realness.

The shows intimacy is captured through the flashbacks viewers are exposed to – I use the word exposed, because that is what it feels like. The characters are exposed on a new level to the viewers, a level that we shouldn’t be allowed to see: Viewers witness flashbacks to physical abuse on a young girl; lovers that were unable to unify their love; to regret of words unspoken and actions not acted upon. These past portrayals give viewers an in-depth idea of who each character was before they became who they are in the novel, further solidifying the intimacy of the show. In the novel, readers grow with Anne and share a kinship to her need of belonging, love, friendship and growing up, but while watching the adaptation, viewers share in the universal pain of heartache that is caused by growing up.

I grew up reading Anne of Green Gables and savouring every morsel of her imaginative world that each new chapter brought; after the novel, the movie boxset became an annual movie-a-thon tradition between my mom and I, and I dreamed (still do) of visiting Green Gables in P.E.I and pretending that I am Anne for one day.

In my second year of university, I studied Children’s Literature, to be honest, I registered for the class because Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables was on the syllabus, and like every wanna-be avant-garde feminst student, I decided to write my final paper on Anne of Green Gables. It was a terrible essay on gender-normativity and how Montgomery transcends the ideologies of gender in the form of a Bildungsroman (just a fancy literary term for ‘coming of age’) novel. I may have also argued the homoerotic undertones between Anne and Diana, which contradict the conventional heterosexual binary prevalent of the era. Now you know why I said terrible! If you want to read it, let me know!

Unlike my awful essay, which no one should read, this is a series that everyone should watch, especially if you grew up reading and loving Anne of Green Gables.

If you are watching the show, let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the show.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unriped secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season. But we didn’t. We shared this secret, a secret that began the spring Nadia Turner got knocked up by the pastor’s son and went to the abortion clinic downtown to take care of it”.

Britt Bennett’s debut novel The Mothers centers around a young woman grieving the recent suicide of her mother, falls into a forbidden relationship with the church pastor’s son, has an abortion and then has to live with the consequences. However, these repercussions aren’t necessarily what one might think — and therein lies the brilliant beauty of this book, which challenges the judgments we make about women’s choices, and the people who make those judgments to begin with.

The Mothers explores the concept of motherhood while transgressing the conventional definition of ‘mother’ by examining the idea that mothering is an act and not the static notion that one is a mother because they bore a child. Mothering is the main theme throughout the novel even though the ‘mother’ character is absent: Nadia and her best friend, Aubrey, are both motherless and Nadia aborts becoming a mother. Yet the act of mothering is portrayed through secondary characters: A nurse at the hospital, Aubrey’s older sister, and the women at the community church.

Delving deeper into the undertones of this novel, I will also argue that the ‘body’ imagery is also an integral part of novel’s theme, from the physical descriptions of the main characters bodies, to the actions of human destruction on the body, and the role the church body inflicts and/or empowers on the community. The Church is a significant character in The Mothers as its body represents the older and somewhat hypocritical women whose authoritative voices are heard throughout the novel, it is is also a symbol of security for Nadia’s father after her mother’s suicide, and it is a place where secrets are told and hidden within its walls.

I finished this novel over a week ago, and am still thinking about the story and the characters who Bennett makes so human. This is a powerful, evocative, and sad novel about the actions and repercussions of love, friendship, family and loss.

I highly recommend this novel and once you read it, let me know what you think!

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The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

“Imagine the person you love and trust becoming a different person overnight. What would you do?”

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall is a novel about a sheltered and privileged family (WASP), living in an upper-class small town community. Life appears perfect for the Woodbury family: George, a loveable family man, likeable teacher, and respected in the community, lives in a picturesque home with his doting wife, Joan, and their daughter, Sadie, a popular A+ high school student; their son Andrew, is a lawyer living in New York with his boyfriend. That is until George is taken into custody under multiple allegations of sexual assault involving several young female students causing the Woodbury’s happy-go-lucky life to instantly turn upside down.

Readers follow the aftermath that these accusations have on Joan, Sadie and Andrew, and are provided a glimpse into their minds through third-person narration as their stories are told in alternate chapters. However, George’s character is silenced, causing readers to speculate and form their own opinions based on the facts and accusations that come to light throughout the novel.

The Best Kind of People explores the nuances around rape culture, blaming the victim, and the ‘what if’ debate. What if George was innocent and these girls lied; what if the girls told the truth but there was not enough evidence to support their statements; what if he did sexually assault these young girls?

This is an important read, now more than ever, as the Jian Ghomeshis and Brock Turners are found to be ‘innocent’ or face minimal sentencing for their horrific actions, while the women who bravely come forward are labeled attention whores and slut-shamed. Victim blaming is real. Rape denial is real. Rape culture is real.

Read this gripping and thought-provoking novel and let me know your thoughts! Do you think George is innocent or guilty? What are your thoughts on the novel’s ending, and Joan’s actions?

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is a multigenerational saga that follows the lives of two half sisters and their descendants from Ghana, Africa to America over three hundred years.

Born in different villages in the 1700s, half sisters Effie and Esi live two completely separate lives; Effie marries a wealthy Englishman and lives a life of grandeur in the Cape Coast Castle, while Esi, unbeknownst to her sister, is imprisoned in the castle’s dungeon to be sold as a slave. Told in two threads, with alternating chapters between the sisters’ offsprings. One thread follows Effie’s multiracial offspring and the warfare in Ghana, as the nation wrestles with slave trade and British colonization, and the other thread, Esi’s, follows her generations as they settle in America, from the plantations, coal mines, jazz clubs, to the present day. Throughout the generations, both bloodlines endure hardship as they establish their lives and their identities.

Readers don’t spend much time with each individual character, but the breadth and scope of the story is mind-blowing. With each new chapter, the reader gets a glimpse of how the injustices of the past, whether they’re rooted in American slavery or African colonialism, build on each other to affect the future.

Gyasi’s debut novel is beautifully written, a stark contrast to the harsh injustices her characters endure. This is a powerful story that gives readers a new perspective on racial history.

(This was a difficult read on the ugliness our African American ancestors had to endure, however I highly recommend this novel.)

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