The Casual Vacancy - Review

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm. Tricky one, this. And this was my first experience with J.K. Rowling, so no howling about Harry Potter here.
Three stars because it was a fast and engaging read and I can't deny that. Three stars because Rowling is great at character sketches and drawing a pretty clear picture of a world and the people in it, and every now and then she turns a nice phrase though the mostly very plain speak is ok too.

But this book feels mainly like two things: 1) a dare and 2) an act of supreme self-indulgence. I say a dare because as the most successful children's author ever in the universe ever, it must be daunting to think that you must prove yourself a writer of more mature tomes. This book felt like it had something to prove, with pretty much every 'adult' theme you could imagine thrown in to the narrative. Politics? Check. Death? Check. Poverty? Check. Rasicm, classism, neglect, sex, drugs, apathy, scandal, adultery, abuse, mental illness? Check check check check check check check check check check. Oh, and a character roster larger than Genesis that took a quarter of the book to finally keep straight, but like I said earlier, at least the characters are well defined.

So, on to number two, the supreme self-indulgence. It's not a stretch to guess that J.K. Rowling writes with impunity. Are you going to tell the most commercially successful British author of all time how or what to write? Somebody should have. The editing is just so .... non-existent. From the length (503 pages) and the pages-long parenthetical statements (seriously - it got so bad that I would come to a passage that ended in a parenthesis and had to scan backwards for paragraphs to find the beginning of the parenthetical statement and then refocus my thinking to once again disclude that narrative from the story arc because it wasn't a new scene or even pertinent to the plot, it was simply a digression presented in the most annoying of ways possible. See what I did there?) to the repetition of ideas and quite simply, the mistakes. A sentence that actually begins, "Dreadful swooping sensations of dread..." is a mistake. A mistake that an editor should catch, but like I said, I'm not sure there was one. That's really too bad.

There were no darlings murdered in this book, and quite frankly, the amount of time it took to reach the climax was not worth the payoff.

So, in the end 3 stars, because it was a page turner, though ultimately I was disappointed with what was on the pages, and because if Jonathan Fucking Franzen had written it, people would cry that it should be nominated for a Pulitzer.

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Blissdom Canada: a long, honest recap

I like to head to conferences with a goal or two in mind. Not only does this help me focus during what can be a frenetic few days, but it makes a difference when explaining to my husband (and my accountant) why spending money and time away from my family is worth the investment. And it almost always is. Blissdom Canada this past weekend was no exception.

My goals were simple, but to me, important:

  1.   Reconnect with old friends and meet new ones
  2. Gain some very practical tips to apply to my blogging
  3. Wow people with our kick-ass group costume
  4. Find that elusive nugget of inspiration from whatever source it may present itself to further fuel my writing and resolve, so that I keep at it for another year and not give up in a puddle of my own tears.

Simple, right?

I arrived in Toronto Friday afternoon (still so weird that I have to arrive in Toronto. One year in to life in the cornfield and I still forget that I am no longer a local) and almost immediately launched into achieving Goal #1. The lobby of a conference hotel is a fun place, and I was rewarded with hugs, chats and friendly faces immediately. The rest of Friday was a blur of activity, between a visit to the Naot store to connect with my very favourite brand in the whole wide world, a visit with my sister – one of my favourite people in the whole wide world, the Chevy Road Rally Challenge (waaaaay more fun than I thought it was going to be, thanks in large part to my crazy awesome teammates) and the kick-off party at The Courthouse.

I was thoroughly exhausted by time I got back to Emma’s place for a sleepover, but excitement had me awake at 5:45 the next morning anyway. I would regret that later.

*Sidenote funny story: Two minutes after we jumped in a cab to head back to the conference Saturday morning, Emma’s phone rang. It was her husband, informing us that one of us had forgotten a bag in the hallway. Oh no! Should we turn around and go get it? What’s in it, we asked.

Jumper cables and Febreze, answered Emma’s huz; was it Emma’s, or mine?

We exchanged confused looks. I assured Emma that I did not bring jumper cables and Febreze on the train. To Toronto. For Blissdom. She assured her husband that the jumper cables and Febreze were not hers either. No, not part of our Halloween costume (that was last year’s, I snorted).

So where did the bag full of jumper cables and Febreze come from and why was it in the hallway, messing up Emma’s house?

Because we inadvertently stole it out of the back of the cab removing our things the previous night, natch.

Whoops. Sorry, Mr. Cab Driver.

(The jumper cables and Febreze have been returned to their rightful owner)

Saturday morning, the energy was high at the conference, but I needed coffee. Too bad that, with 45 minutes to go in the breakfast service, there was no coffee left. So I shamelessly pushed my way to the front of the Starbucks Verisimo demonstration and got my java fix. I think I was rude. In fact, I’m quite sure I was. I budded. I’m sorry. No I’m not. There should have been more coffee.

Anyway, breakfast did not improve during the Dove infomercial. It was brutal. It might have been improved with more readily available coffee. And bacon. Where was the bacon? I don’t want yogurt and water to fuel me for a full day of conference-going. I want bacon.

In all seriousness, here’s why the Dove breakfast was brutal: Because I don’t want to sit through a demonstration of why their body wash is the best when they have so many other interesting, relevant things going on that will actually make me like the brand instead of leave, which is what I did. We could have been truly engaged. Where was the Real Beauty campaign? Where was the inspiration? I had expected that, not a pitch for body wash, which I will never use anyway, now that Dee has shown me the way and the light. (Can’t wait to send my huz out to buy my new favourite product.)

The good news is, there was nowhere to go but up. The bad news is, I missed the first microsession after fleeing from Dove.

But very quickly, achievement of goal #2 was in full swing.

I feel at a bit of an impasse with blogging. After BlogHer, I was sure that blogging was interfering with my writing, and with my writing goals. But then I revisited the advice that my mentor at The Humber School for Writers gave me this summer, and realized that blogging keeps my juices flowing, my brain thinking and my fingers typing. I need it, as an outlet personally and creatively.

So I am looking at my blog a little differently now; I want my blog to be as good as the writing; I want my effort to be a full-package effort. So I need to step up my game. I need to remove my head from the sand when it comes to things like analytics and SEO – even if I continue to not give a shit about them, I feel like I should at least have a clear idea of what it is I am not giving a shit about. I want my posts to look good, be user-friendly and have the entire medium, not just the message, be engaging. I want blogging to be fun again.

So first, I sat with the lovely and talented C.L. as she offered great tips for using photos in blog posts. As you may notice, I rarely add photos, because I don’t know my way around photos or cameras or lights or anything like that. And I don’t have a phone with a fancy camera, so I can’t rely on my BB. But C.L. helped raise my confidence enough to at least give it a try.

Next, I sat with the amazing Aidan and got the 411 on vlogging, something that I think could be fun. Me and my crew have some ideas, so it was (again, goal #2) practical, useful information. My huz is a tv editor and producer and will be a good resource for me too, but I’d like to try to steer this ship myself. So thank you, Aidan, for giving me the tools to give vlogging a try!

I could have sat in on at least 3 more microsessions. More next year, please!

The afternoon was speaker time. First up, Jian Ghomeshi, talking about his work and his book, 1982. I am a Q fan and a Jian fan, so I enjoyed his presentation immensely. We went to the same elementary school and high school (though a few years apart), so you know, we have a connection. We’re tight. He just doesn’t know it. It’s cool.

We did get to chat at the book signing about our shared alma mater. We're BFFs now.

I skipped the next two speakers because I needed some decompression time, but then I was back for Bon Stewart and her talk on identity in the online world. Lots to think about post-talk, especially about the role we allow our children to have online. I’m still mulling it over. But man, I love smart women. Long time.

One of my very favourite authors ended the day, and AmiMcKay was wonderful. She is a master storyteller and even though the room was dim and cozy and I had been up since 5:45 am with not enough coffee fuelling the day, I was rapt by her words. She gave me shivers. It was a privilege to have her address us, and a great pleasure to meet her. Can’t wait for book #3.

Next up, a fabulous dinner with great peeps (see Goal #1), then on to the annual costumes & karaoke party where we could kick ass, take names and achieve Goal #3! … only, at least 50% of the people at the party had absolutely no idea who we were supposed to be, even looking like this and bedecked with FREE PUSSY RIOT buttons.

Read this post  and this post on how to have a feminist Halloween

I will not pretend that I am not disappointed in the women that did not know who Pussy Riot were. This is about the basic rights and freedoms of women. We spend all day online. Flip to a news site for 5 minutes. It’s important.

Anway, I did not have the energy for Saturday night that I usually have, and the bar should never be in the hallway, but we had fun.

Sunday was excursion day, and it was fantastic, despite my initial skepticism. I was lucky enough to be on the Foodie excursion, led by Emma Waverman. We began with an amazing breakfast at Caplansky’s. Smoked meat and cream cheese and lox, oh my! It was a Jewish Toronto ex-pat girl’s dream.

Full of deli goodness, we embarked on a culinary tour of Kensington Market, led by Alexa Clark, who is ridiculously good at being a tour guide. I learned a ton of new information, despite a long history of time spent in Kensington.

Next, we headed to the gorgeous new Longo’s in Maple Leaf Square, where Cuisinart and Lucy Waverman hosted a Top Chef-style soup making contest. My awesome team of me, Annie and Ash cooked up a delicious Thai Coconut Curry soup, and we tied for the win! I cannot wait to try out my prize at home, and cannot say enough good things about our Cuisinart host. That is how you represent a brand. (I’m looking at you, DOVE!). I also feel seriously lucky to have been able to speak to Lucy Waverman about cooking, hear her advice on food blogging, and have her taste food that I made. She may be my friend’s mom, but she’s also foodie royalty.

Back to the hotel then for just enough time to have a drink with friends before heading to Union Station and my train back to the cornfield.

Goal #4 was achieved in bits and spurts and special moments that I am still thinking about. I’ll leave that post for another day, because it’s significant, and holy coyotes, this is a long post already.

So Blissdom Canada, I want to thank you, for a real good time. See you back online. 


Things Fall Apart

Last night I had a dream that I was with River Phoenix on the last day of his life. I was me, from the present, so I knew that one of us would not make it to daybreak, and I spent the night with my first desperate crush, desperate to change events that I knew I could not.

We were in a theatre and he was set to perform, but barriers kept revealing themselves, blocking his way to the stage, threatening harm. People with knives, falling set pieces, and I kept thinking, One of these things will kill him before I wake up. And, Why can’t I save him? But even in my abstract, impressionistic dreamland I knew why I couldn’t save him.

We weren’t at The Viper Room, he wasn’t in a corner of the bathroom about to ingest a fatal dose of drugs, but I was lucid enough to know that he was doomed. I kept looking at his perfect face and felt not like a love-struck, pubescent preteen who had stared many hours at a poster on the wall, but like a mother. In my dream it was a maternal crush, an internal crush, of my organs churning against each other that I felt in the hollow of my belly. I could tell that morning was approaching and I turned to look behind me, knowing that my children, my two real beautiful children, would wake up soon, and that they would need me.

I put my hands on his face and whispered, I’m sorry I can’t save you.
I opened my eyes.


My friend just lost her father. Of all the moments of all the days that I have spent thinking about her recently, one thought flashes brighter and more painful than the rest. It is the thought, the moment, residing between the incredible, dizzying realization that the person you love is going to leave you, and the stone-like, definitive understanding that it has happened.

It is the disbelief that death has come and taken away the person you love. The simple, defiant mistrust in simple, horrible information that catapults you into the very centre of the universe and all of its absurdities.

Why should I believe you? Why should I believe that my father is dead just because you say he is?

When you have travelled into the centre of the universe, the surface no longer seems as scary.


They are no longer the youth. They have grown up, married, have had children. They do not set goals and chat dreamily about where and how and will but grit their teeth and in beleaguered whispers accuse when and why and why not?

They see needs wants fears love change and see the space between outreaching hands grow more distant each day. They say yes. They say no. No. No.

At the dissolution of several friends’ marriages, Chris and I cling tighter. We whisper to each other that we’re ok, that we’ve been through our tough years for now and that we are stronger, that we will make it, that we do not want to lose this.

And I tell him that he is stuck with me, because I still don’t really know my way around here without him.



Looper Is Not a Kids' Movie. Like I Had to Tell You. *SPOILERS*

Last Friday night, me and the huz went to see Looper at our local movie theatre. We went to the early show (7:20) and I got popcorn. The theatre was crowded, this being Friday night and the showing of a big movie in a small town. Behind us sat a gaggle of tittering middle-aged women who I think hit the bar before the show, as they had a hard time adhering to even the most basic of polite theatre-going conduct, such as, turn off your phone and do not giggle at love scenes if you are over the age of 14.

Normally, I’d get annoyed with such antics from the crowd, but I was so happy to be out with Chris, eating popcorn and about to watch a movie that wasn’t animated, that I gave the women little more than a cursory snarl. It was going to be a great night!

And then in walked a man, accompanied by a small child.

Hmm, I thought, this isn’t supposed to be a kids’ movie. And then I thought, Oh hey, I know that kid, he goes to the same school as my girls. He’s in grade one.

Grade one. At most, the kid is six years old. And he’s here to see Looper.

Maybe they made a mistake, I thought. I mean, the theatre was also showing Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania, two movies that are, y’know, kids’ movies. Maybe they walked into the wrong theatre.

They sat down, two rows directly in front of me. Maybe they’ll figure out that they’re in the wrong theatre once they look around and realize that there are no other people sitting in booster seats, I thought.

I pointed the kid out to Chris and wondered aloud why he would be in this theatre. Chris asked if I knew the adult. I did not. I had not seen him before and immediately I decided (whether this was the case or not) that this man was his dad, that he had the kid for the weekend, and that he wanted to see Looper and figured he’d take the kid with him.

The lights went down. Maybe they’ll figure out that they’re in the wrong theatre once the previews start, I hoped.

Except, this was the first preview.

I had to look away, totally scared and freaked out by what I was seeing, but the man and the little boy stayed put.

When I was six or seven years old, a babysitter let us watch Children of The Corn. I had nightmares because of that movie for years. In fact, I consider our move out here to the cornfield, immersion therapy. And I still can’t watch that movie.

If I were this child’s guardian, I would have run out of the theatre before the preview was over, child under my arm, football style. We would have hightailed it to the toy store where I would have wrapped my kid in fluffy stuffed animals and bright balls and all manner of appropriate childhood artefact to try and erase the previous 145 seconds from his little memory.

Am I projecting? Perhaps. But was this (and the next several previews) a clue that Looper, despite an AA 14, and therefore unrestricted, rating might not be appropriate for small children?


And then the movie began with a stark and unemotional assassination that set the tone for the following two hours.  

Joseph Gordon-Levitt does Bruce Willis even better than Bruce Willis does Bruce Willis, and it did take me a while to get used to his Dick Tracy prosthesis. What I never got used to was the fact that there was a kid two rows ahead of me, watching things on screen that he simply shouldn’t have been watching.

There is sexualized nudity.
There is drug use.
There is profane language.
There is violence.
There is a desolate, post-apocalyptic environment.
There is murder. Lots of murder.
There are deaths of mothers, implied and realized.
And there is a cold-blooded, fully intentional murder of a five-year-old boy.

The tone of the movie was Inception meets Bladerunner. Would you sit down and watch either of those movies with your six year old? Undoubtedly, they would not understand the nuances, or maybe even the basic plotlines of either of those movies, as I’m sure this child did not understand Looper. But left without understanding or context, the movie was simply a series of disturbing images.

I was angry at this man for bringing this child into this theatre.

We all have a different level of comfort when it comes to exposing our children to pop culture and media. I sometimes think I’m lucky that my kids still like the innocent stuff, but mostly I think that they are kids, and there is plenty of time to be exposed to the not so innocent stuff.

And our children each have a different level of tolerance and interest when it comes to the more ‘grown up’ media that we expose them to. I’m not into showing my kids Star Wars, and my kids have never expressed interest in seeing it. But I know other 7 year olds that have, and when watching with a parent that was weaned on this stuff, it can be a nice rite of passage.

One night my 7 year old couldn’t sleep, and came to lay on the couch with me while I was watching Into the Wild. She watched a scene that featured a topless woman and I was ok with that, because the nudity was not sexualized at all, and my kids are being raised to be comfortable with and respectful of the human body.

As parents, we measure these things with our own yardsticks, plus a mix of understanding our child and our responsibilities to them.

Children are sometimes exposed to situations we would ideally not expose them to. Sometimes, it is inevitable. As parents, we have to guide them through these situations as best we can, and then hope that we have guided them clearly enough that the impact it has on our child is, in the end, a positive one. Or at least, not a harmful one. Sometimes we have no choice in the matter.

But a six year old being brought to a movie theatre at night to see Looper is a choice.

Legal, yes, but completely misguided. That the child was brought to see this movie was a mistake. That the man did not take the child and leave when it was apparent that this movie was not going to get any gentler, was an abuse of his power as guardian over his child. 

And unlike in the movie, it is a mistake that he cannot travel back through time to undo.