Friday, August 29, 2008

A Small Gem: Mistik Lake by Martha Brooks

Martha Brooks has a gift for writing such quiet, lovely stories. It's like they just come floating out of her. She's like if Chekhov were Canadian and wrote stories for teen girls.

Mistik Lake is primarily about family, although there is a story of first love woven into it as well. More precisely, it's about the unravelling of secrets that have broken three generations of a family apart. It's also about compassion and forgiveness. Rich themes which Brooks anchors in the city of Winnipeg and the small town of Mistik Lake, particularly in its Icelandic community.

The three main characters are Sally Thornsteinsson, her daughter Odella, and her Aunt Gloria. Sally is emotionally scarred by her involvement in a serious accident that took place when she was 16; she and three friends crashed through the ice on Mistik Lake in a car, and only Sally made it out. Sally bears a poisonous, hidden guilt which leads her to make some poor choices with her life, and which eventually lead her to abandon her husband and three daughters. Odella, her oldest child, takes on the task of looking after her sisters, but eventually breaks away to a cabin on Mistik Lake where she finds insight into her mother's past as well as first love. Also involved in the story is Gloria, Sally's aunt and Odella's great-aunt, who lives far away from the family in order to hide her relationship with another woman, but who always returns when she is needed.

It's amazing how Brooks manages to convey such nuances of emotion with prose that always feels so unencumbered. The stories of Odella and Jimmy's love, and Gloria and Violet's, are sweet and even a little sexy in a way that is implied rather than shown, and serve as a counterpoint to Sally's more sombre story. This is a book that rewards rereading, and lingers on when you are done.

Monday, August 25, 2008

If Woody Allen Were Undead: Life Sucks by Jessica Abel and Friends

"I'm a geek. I'm participating in a geek activity with my geek friends, checking out the cute geeky girl I like, and what the hell are you and your goddamn cheekbones doing here?"

Good lord. A geeky vampire loser. Just what the vampire genre needs to compensate for Stephenie Meyer.

Life Sucks is a campy, ironic take on goth vampire romance. Test question: there is a vampire on the cover. Which one is it? Nooo, not any of the stylish goth people in the's the store clerk gazing out the window who's the undead mensch. Unlike Rosa, the love interest (she's the one in the black bikini top and skull-and-crossbones handbag) and her swanky boyfriend (right behind her), Dave actually has to live the life. And it turns out your career options are limited when you can't expose yourself to sunlight. Not to mention when your undead master "created" you for the sole purpose of gaining a cheap, unkillable employee at his 24-hour convenience store. ("Iss not for nossing I have vampire for night manager! Iss part of business plan! Convenience store night shift very dangerous for mortal. At Last Stop iss dangerous for creemeenal! ")

Dave's master, Lord Radu Arisztidescu, is disgusted with the fact that Dave refuses to hunt people and exists on plasma stolen from blood banks. (Pre-vampire Dave was a vegetarian). Because of his anemic diet, Dave lacks normal vampire powers such as super strength, and he also lacks the vamp mentality to practise vampire hypnotism and make vampire brides. Despite Dave's being such a "vooss", as Lord Radu brands him, he ends up challenging ghoulish vampire hotshot Wes (who already has three bleached-blonde vampire brides but wouldn't mind adding a brunette to his collection) over the heart of the lovely Rosa.

There's a lot of dry humour in this book, and while it flirts with blackness, it only really gets ugly in one scene. The dialogue is full of snappy repartee. And there is some wistfulness at the end. Considering that almost all the story takes place at night, the art is relatively bright and snappy too. Definitely a hip teen read.