Book Review: Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

 

Harmless Like You – Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (Sceptre, 2016)

I’ll start off by saying that I almost gave up on this book halfway through. I’m glad I didn’t but it isn’t a long novel and it took me most of it to feel truly engaged.

The story is divided between two characters and times. Yuki is a teenager in New York in the 1970s. Her family is Japanese, living a fairly isolated life in America due to her father’s job. Yuki is shy and lonely but just before her family is supposed to return to Japan, she makes her first friend. Somehow (and somewhat unbelievably) she convinced her parents to let her stay in Japan, living with her friend Odile and her inattentive mother. We follow Yuki over the next years of her life, as she struggles with her desire to be an artist, drops out of school, and falls into a sort of love.

The other section is narrated by Jay, whose father has just died. Jay and his wife have recently had a baby and Jay hates it. Both the lifestyle of parenthood and, seemingly, the baby itself. This is where the book lost me. I recognize that not everyone enjoys parenthood, that the early months are especially hard and that transition doesn’t always come easily. My problem with Jay is that he’s so completely unlikeable in his dislike of his daughter. He tells the reader that he loves his wife but his thoughts (and actions) surrounding her are so negative and unforgiving. His attitude seems to be one of having no idea how he ended up with a baby, as if he were tricked into the entire endeavour. He really doesn’t have a single redeeming characters and I didn’t care a bit what happened to him.

It’s clear from early on that Yuki is Jay’s mother, the mother who ran off from Jay and his father when Jay was very young. This brings me to my other problem with the novel. The author apparently cannot conceive that anyone would ever enjoy having children. The book is populated only with characters who are happy to be separated from their offspring. It’s pretty depressing.

Yuki, at least, is imbued with greater depth than Jay and while her reasons for abandonment are never entirely clear, she is portrayed as at least loving him. Something Jay seems unable to feel for his child.

For a first time writer, Buchanan has some strong work here. While occasionally guilty of over-writing and using four words where one would do, there are also glimmers of real talent and story-telling here. My main problem overall is really that the author feels very young to me and I can’t help but wonder if this story would be different coming from someone with more life experience. Only time can tell.

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Book Review: When She Was Electric by Andrea MacPherson

When She Was Electric - Andrea MacPherson (Polestar, 2003)

When She Was Electric – Andrea MacPherson (Polestar, 2003)

This is a story strong on description, full of characters with hidden depths and normal secrets. It is a story about a mother-daughter relationship (and not one to aspire to).

The story is primarily told from Ana’s point of view, though we also get glimpses into her mother, Min. We are introduced to Ana as an adult and then taken back to her teenage years and one crucial summer in the small British Columbia town of Merrit. The 1940s, there’s a war going on but it mostly feels far away. Ana and Min, along with Ana’s brother Theo have returned to Min’s mother’s farm where Min grew up and her mother and her sister still live. They are escaping the recent death of Min’s youngest child, a death we learn more about as the novel progresses. Unbeknownst to Ana and Theo, Min has also decided to leave her husband behind.

As Ana works through her own grief over her sister’s death, feeling continually more estranged from her mother, the reader watches her follow in her mother’s footsteps in some unexpected (and some expected) ways. Min is a strange and somewhat ethereal character. A woman who seems to float through life thinking only of herself, brushing against the lives of others without fear or care of how she hurts them. The novel shows two drastically different ways of reacting to this as we watch Ana and Theo struggle to gain Min’s love and attention.

While the novel isn’t heavy on plot or action, it somehow still manages to be a fascinating read. Almost more of a character study than a full-blown novel. At times, it leans toward the overly descriptive and some of the description do start to feel repetitive but many of them are beautiful and often startling. MacPherson has a gift for making the reader look at something familiar in a new way. This gives the whole novel a sense of the otherworldly, as if set in an Earth that is not quite our own.

There is a sort of half-plot of racial tension between the people of Merrit and the indigenous peoples who live on the outskirts of town. There’s a lot of potential there and a decent amount of page time given over to it but it’s never fully developed and so ends up feeling a little tacked-on. There is, however, a reveal that I found surprising and throws parts of the book into a different perspective. I just wish MacPherson had expanded on this aspect of the novel further.

While not a perfect novel, there is plenty to admire in When She Was Electric.

 

Book Review: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

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Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates (Vintage Contemporaries, 2008)

Unhappy suburban families in the 1950s has become something of a cliche, but it’s easy to imagine that Richard Yates before the cliches began. He certainly is able to avoid them.

Frank and April Wheeler are in their late twenties, have two children, and live in Connecticut. Frank works in New York City and April stays home to take care of the house and kids. They’ve settled down to the domestic life expected of them, even if it’s not the life they thought they would live.

This book is entirely unexpected. While Frank and April engage in some of the cliches you might expect – affairs, vicious fights, unplanned pregnancies – they are far from cliches themselves. The story slowly unfolds their personalities, their histories, and Yates draws their lives so that what begins to happen to them and between them seems inevitable.

Frank and April met when they were young, rebelling against the societal expectations surrounding them and enjoying that – mentally at least – they hadn’t bought into it all. An unexpected pregnancy sets them on a more domestic course and within a few years they find themselves living in the suburbs, wondering if change is possible anymore. It’s a question most of us have asked at one time or another in our lives. When do the daily boring things you do and dislike – your job, your household chores – become all there is to you? When your inner life stops effecting your outer life, does it still count? Does it still matter? And is it too late?

The Wheelers hatch a plan to change their lives and here the tension of the novel only grows. Because it seems clear that this will never succeed. Not because the plan is unreasonable but because Yates steadily creates two characters who are undeniably unstable. You can’t help reading in a state of unease, waiting for the inevitable downfall and implosion. Yet even while it feels expected, that implosion has some pretty shocking consequences. Yates manages to be both true to the characters he’s created and still show us brand new things about them.

The book is bleak and sad and beautifully written. It won’t make you want to buy a house in the ‘burbs but it might make you more thankful for your own simple life.

30 Day Dress Challenge 2016 – Day 20

IMG_7205See this dress in 2014 here and in 2013 here. I haven’t exactly mixed it up in terms of styling this dress.

The dress is H&M. The belt is my one belt that I use for all dresses. I’ve been trying (not that hard) to find a belt that fits and that can go with a few different things but no luck so far. My cardigan is the same one I wore on Day 1.

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This was a work day/outfit for me and it was just fine for that. I changed to shorts and a t-shirt in the afternoon in order to introduce Pearl to sidewalk chalk. (It was a hit.)

30 Day Dress Challenge 2016 – Day 18

We’re back to rain today so I went with a comfortable repeat. I wore the same Old Navy dress that I wore just a few days ago on Day 12. Though today I wore it without the belt because I was even more casual.

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I took some pictures. Pearl photobombed a lot of them.

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(She really enjoyed playing with that hanger this afternoon.)

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All I did outside of my house today was grocery shopping but I wore my Aigle boots when we went. (I just love the way Pearl’s hair fluffs up in the back. Also, everybody at the grocery store thought she was a boy.)

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And then I realized that these pictures were all terrible so I tried to jump right out of them.

Happy Saturday!

30 Day Dress Challenge – Day 17

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BCBG dress purchased at an outlet in California years and years ago. See it in 2014 here and in 2013 here.

I don’t wear this dress much anymore and when I got dressed this morning I thought it’s probably time to let it go. I like the sort of shapelessness to it but I’m not crazy about the pattern anymore. I feel like polka dots are kind of out of favour currently. Of course, then I got three separate compliments on it while out today so I’m re-thinking. I’m a sucker for a compliment. Maybe I’ll wait and see how much I actually wear this dress this summer.

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My cardigan is well past its prime but I haven’t found another to fill its spot in my wardrobe so I’m holding on to it for now.

This is my regular day-to-day bag. I bought it from Aldo while I was pregnant as a big, general bag that I could use with a baby and it’s worked well for that.

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And then I thought, just for fun, I’d show you what’s in my bag on a typical day when I’m out and about with Pearl.

  • Receiving blanket. (This one’s from Lulujo and I love them. The Aden and Anais ones are also fantastic. I don’t use the receiving blankets quite as much as I did when Pearl was a newborn but they are super versatile. Nursing cover, cover from the sun in the car seat or stroller, a blanket for a little extra warmth, a blanket for a game of peek-a-boo, a napkin for dirty hands, or a handkerchief for snotty noses. These have many uses.)
  • Package of Kleenex (Because I don’t like wiping my nose on a receiving blanket.)
  • Two bobby pins (For me, not Pearl.)
  • A small piece of wood (Pearl picked this up somewhere and I have been carrying it around for weeks for some reason.)
  • A toonie (aka a Canadian two dollar coin)
  • A water bottle (I try to make sure Pearl and I both drink lots of water. This has a flip up straw so it’s easy for Pearl to drink from and it doesn’t leak in my purse.)
  • Emergency baby biscuit (These are basically cookies for Pearl. They’re pretty tasteless but she loves them so I generally have a package in my purse for snack emergencies or when she really needs to be distracted.)
  • Lightweight sweater for Pearl (She was wearing this when we left the house and it was in my purse when we got home.)
  • Pearl’s flip flops (Ditto for these.)
  • Harmonica (Because sometimes you just gotta make music! Seriously, Pearl loves playing the harmonica. I always have a toy or book or both when I’m out with her. Obviously, a harmonica is not always appropriate but today it worked.)
  • My clutch/wallet (the blue one) (This is where I keep everything that’s mine. Cards, cash, lip gloss, a pen, more bobby pins. It makes it easy to transfer between bags and it keeps Pearl out of things when she gets into my purse.)
  • Dayplanner (Any semblance I have of organization is because of this planner. I’ve been using the same style (weekly, horizontal) of Moleskine planner for the last three years. I keep track of everything in here. Appointments, birthdays, meal planning, bills, everything.)
  • Diaper bag (The pink one) (This is where the magic happens. In here I have a fold-up change pad, extra diapers, wipes, and a wet bag. I like being able to pull this out and have everything I need rather than fumbling through my purse. Bonus is that if Peter and I are out together with Pearl, he can just take this smaller bag to change her rather than my whole purse.
  • Not pictured: my phone and my keys. When I get home those have places they live. Also, today we had Pudders the Bear along with us who was sometimes in my purse and sometimes in the stroller with Pearl. When I took this picture he was having a nap with Pearl.

30 Day Dress Challenge – Day 15

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(See the dress in 2013 here and in 2014 here.)

Last night we had a crazy thunder storm (a rarity for our part of the world though something that’s happened a few times recently) and it poured rain all morning. Pearl and Bella and I went for a rain walk in the morning, splashing in puddles and getting thoroughly soaked and lasted a little while at the park until Pearl got too cold. Pearl had a three hour (three hours!) nap while Bella and I did some solid couch spooning/reading. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t wearing a dress for any of this. I definitely changed clothes as soon as we got back from the park.

But in the afternoon Pearl and Bella and I headed to Gibsons to meet Peter for a barbecue and so I changed out of sweats and a t-shirt to this dress. Fortunately the sun had come out by this time.

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This is the Pink Martini dress I wore the night Peter asked me to marry him. (I said yes.) My K necklace is Pyrrha and my shoes are from Winners. Since we were outdoors, I threw on a cardigan, from Joe Fresh.

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(And, um, no you didn’t miss Day 14. The weather’s been lousy, I had a headache, I was home with Pearl and I, um, well, I skipped it.)

30 Day Dress Challenge 2016 – Day 13

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There’s our lawn mower!

(See the dress in previous years here.)

This was really a day when I should have taken pictures before I went to work/spent the day blowing my nose. But I don’t exactly need one more task to accomplish before I leave my house on workdays. (Parents who work full-time, I salute you!)

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If I tell you that it rained again, are you getting a good sense of what spring on the West Coast is like?

My sweater was handmade by my Oma before I was ever born.

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Here’s one of those blogger pictures where I’m looking to the side and laughing. But I promise I’m actually looking at Pearl who squeals and points at the camera when the timer makes its sound. She thinks its amazing, especially when the light starts to flash.

30 Day Dress Challenge 2016 – Day 12

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I purchased this tunic style dress in the fall from Old Navy* as an easy item to wear around home or to work. I love the pattern and I often get compliments on it. Today I added a belt (thrifted) to wear this outfit to church. My cardigan was bought in Rome.

*(90% of the reason I shop from Old Navy is because they have free shipping and free returns. There aren’t a lot of places in our small town to buy clothes for Pearl so every now and then I trawl through the sale section of a few on-line shops and sometimes find something for myself too.)

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This morning we had our church’s annual outdoor service (well, in an outdoor pavilion in the middle of town). It continue to be grey and chilly so I actually wore this plus a jacket over top plus a scarf.

After church (and Pearl’s nap) we went for a short hike in the trails near our house (Pearl fell in a puddle), followed by a trip to Canadian Tire. We got a bunch of things we needed (and some we didn’t) and generally escaped unscathed. Canadian Tire is such a strange hodgepodge of items and every single one I’ve ever been to seems to be understaffed and have the item I want way up high.

30 Day Dress Challenge 2016 – Day 11

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See it in 2013 here and in 2014 here. (Strangely enough, I also wore it on Day 11 in 2014.)

Okay, so I’m aware that this is a bit of cheating. I would never wear this without leggings so does it actually count as a dress? I’m pushing the definition here because we had yet another day of rain and it’s Saturday. We ran errands in the morning and then Peter had some work to get done so Pearl and I (and Bella) spent the day trying not to be too distracting.

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I tried to take a side shot so you can see how this is longer in the back, which totally qualifies it as a dress. But Bella got curious about what I was doing.

Peter bought me this dress for my birthday a couple of years ago, purchased at a local store, as was my scarf. My sweater was also a gift and also from a (different) local store. My boots are my Aigle gumboots again. I’ve just had them since November but they’ve definitely been worth the price. My purse was bought online from Shop Ruche.

Some good puddle-stomping weather today.

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