Loving It and Losing It
- Ivan E. Coyote (Author)
Bow Grip. Arsenal Pulp Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Alan Cumyn (Author)
The Famished Lover. Goose Lane Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Karen Crossley
Love: what’s it all about? That’s the common question that lies at the root of two wildly different novels-Ivan E. Coyote’s Bow Grip and Alan Cumyn’s The Famished Lover. Though set in different Canadian cities, at different times, and focusing on vastly different characters, the books are united by their shared interest in the journey of the fallible and failed lover who learns, through heartbreak, that there is some comfort to be had when one stops yearning for the impossible and learns to focus on the possibilities of life left unexplored.
Coyote’s Bow Grip, a first novel, is set in the here and now, in and around Drumheller and Calgary, Alberta. A light and easy read, Bow Grip features a cast of likeable, quirky characters, including a sensitive mechanic, a suicidal drifter, a pair of lesbian lovers, a punk rock cellist, an air crash survivor, and a single mom working two jobs and living out of a motel. The story follows a few days in the life of Joseph Cooper (the sensitive mechanic) as he takes some time off work to deal with the crises in his life, among which are unravelling the mystery of the suicidal drifter, facing his ex-wife in her new life with her new lover, and finding someone to teach him how to play the cello. The several threads of Joseph’s story are linked together thematically as Coyote explores the various ways in which human beings strive to find harmony in life, to make music out of the cacophony of circumstance and fate. Just as Joseph must eventually learn how to properly grip a cello bow, so he must learn how to get a new grip on his life. It’s a gentle, human story, both sweet and engaging, and if it doesn’t leave its readers feeling as if we have discovered a new truth about life, we at least leave its pages with the realization that there are some truths in our lives we have probably been ignoring.
Cumyn’s The Famished Lover, set largely in the period between the world wars (1929-1937) in and around Montreal, Quebec, is complicated where Coyote’s novel is simple, but some of its themes are strikingly the same. The Famished Lover covers many years and many lands as it traces artist Ramsay Crome’s journey from newlywed to unfaithful husband, with flashbacks into Ramsay’s sufferings as a prisoner during the Great War -- sufferings that, Cumyn seems to suggest, are largely responsible for the mess he has made of the rest of his life. A quiet man, prone to silence and secrets, Ramsay seems as baffled by life outside of the chaos of war as he was by the logic of life lived inside the prison camp. But regardless of where he has been and what he has suffered, Ramsay, like Joseph, is one who seeks solace, and who finds at last that it may not lie in the past, as he thought, but in the future after all.
Where Bow Grip is organized around music and harmony, The Famished Lover is organized around the idea of hunger and satisfaction as it explores the attractions, the dangers, and the occasional necessity of a life lived outside of reality. Perhaps because of its large scope, or because its story is so much about Ramsay’s physical, spiritual, and artistic starvation, none of the other characters of The Famished Lover, including Ramsay’s wife and other lovers, real and imagined, have the depth or development of the Ramsay character, and as a result the remaining cast seem a little sketchy - their characters only roughed-in and ill-defined. But Cumyn has painted Ramsay in rich oils, creating a compelling portrait of suffering and hope, and if Ramsay and his friends are not as likeable a group as Joseph and his friends are, they are certainly no less human in their desire to have and to hold onto something - whatever "it" is.
- L'Artiste et la réception by Grazia Merler
Books reviewed: Artistes immigrants, societé québécoise: un bateau sur le fleuve by Juan C. Aguirre and De l'interprétation en arts visuels by Nycole Paquin
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Books reviewed: Last Water Song by Patrick Lane, The Apprentice's Masterpiece: A Story of Medieval Spain by Melanie Little, and The Watchmaker's Table by Brian Bartlett
- Whose Canada? by Carole Gerson
Books reviewed: The Museum Called Canada by Sara Angel and Charlotte Gray
- In the City by Maggie Helwig
Books reviewed: Girls Fall Down by Maggie Helwig and The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
- Quebec Political Ideas by Kenneth Munro
Books reviewed: Le rouge et le bleu: une anthologie de la pensée politique au Québec de la Conquête à la Révolution tranquille by Claude Corbo and Yvan Lamonde
MLA: Crossley, Karen. Loving It and Losing It. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #200 (Spring 2009), Strategic Nationalisms. (pg. 136 - 137)
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