Thursday, October 3, 2019

Canadian Reading Log - Every Little Piece of Me, by Amy Jones

There’s something exciting and nostalgic about reading a book that’s not available in the United States. It brings me back to trips to Toronto, where I would buy books from Pages and This Ain’t The Rosedale Library and The World’s Biggest Bookstore. I was reading a lot of Canadian authors then – Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro before she caught fire stateside. But there was Bonnie Burnard and David Adams Richards, who later had books published in the United States, and Audrey Thomas, who I don’t think ever did. I was also intent on reading Patrick Gale’s books, who was published here intermittently. I found a whole bunch of them at Glad Day on one visit.

Despite our ever-more-porous cultural borders, there's are still clear differences. I will never forget reading this Canadian novel called The Secret Fruit of Peter Paddington. Not only did they change the title from Fruit, they decided that American readers wouldn't understand all the Canadian candy bars so they replaced them with American ones. And yet they kept Sam the Record Man, a popular Canadian record store of the time. Huh?

I don’t really get the chance to go to Toronto anymore*, but Canada came to me when our sales rep Jason told me about We’re All in This Together, a raucous family dysfunction novel from, 2016 written by Torontonian Amy Jones, but mostly set in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It never quite got published here, but McClelland & Stewart decided to do American distribution because no American imprint picked her up. They are owned by Penguin Random House and have an import agreement. PRH Canada books are distributed through the Maryland warehouse but you can only get them if rights are aligned in the sky. We used to have to jump through several hoops to get Shauna Singh Baldwin’s most recent novels, but that’s now a bit easier.

Our rep Jason convinced Chris to read We’re All in This Together and he convinced me, and both of us have convinced a whole bunch of other people. And then I led a discussion for our In-Store Lit Group, which you can read more about here. Around that time, McClelland & Stewart released Every Little Piece of Me, her follow-up novel which is about not one, but two pairs of feuding sisters, which is sort of my unofficial theme of 2019. But it’s really a friendship novel, despite the two protagonists meeting for more than a chance interaction until towards the end of the book. Ava is a reluctant reality show star, a manufactured setup - her two actor dads and her two adopted siblings leave New York to run a bed and breakfast in Nova Scotia, which is actually owned by the production company – for a manufactured family. Slowly it becomes clear that Ava’s sister Eden is destined to become the star of Where the Hart Is, while Ava and her brother Val will be footnotes.

Mags has been abandoned by her family – father missing, mom dad, sister Frankie tossed her out – and winds up living in the basement of a wealthy high school friend Sam. Sam’s in a band, but they need a singer, and maybe they need to stop writing their lyrics in Klingon, and they found the missing element in Mags. When the story opens, we know that Align Above is doing well, but we also know that Sam, pretty much Mags’s only rock in this whole business, has died very young of bone cancer.

The story alternates between the two, and while it does that contemporary thing where social media is woven into the story, it’s really the old-fashioned narrative voices that swept me in. I’ve read a lot of music books over the years, both fiction and nonfiction, and I love the way that Mags’s old-school journey to unwanted not-really success contrasts with the newer reality show route to notoriety. I’d like to say one is the cracked mirror version of the other, but they are both pretty cracked. By the way, I still think the most music memoir I ever read was by someone who didn’t quite make it, Jen Trynin’s Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be. It’s out of print, but that’s par for the course when you’re writing about a book that officially isn’t available.

Like so many international books, they are available with the tap of a button, which is the difference between then, when I drove ten hours to pick out a Canadian author, and now. I’m not sure why I have to follow territory rights laws, but consumers do not, and I will not solve that dilemma here. Fortunately, many Canadian writers do get published here. Miriam Toews's All My Puny Sorrows is still on my rec shelf (the new Bloomsbury edition comes out later this month) and in addition to Jones, our In-Store Book Club also read Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black. We also hosted Torontonians Karma Brown (new book in January) and Bianca Marais. For a while, we were going through a phase where American publishers would tour Canadian authors through the Northern tier – Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee – but that trend has died down.

The Giller Prize finalists have been announced, which gives me six more books to put on my reading list. Jones did not make it, but she did get some nice reviews, including Sue Carter's write up in The Star and a review in the Globe and Mail that called the novel "addictive," only I can't tell you more because it's behind a paywall.

I'm hoping one day Amy Jones's latest will be officially available in America (but please keep the Aero bars), and I'm hoping, despite my attempt to sell you on it, that you hold off until then. For now, if you haven't read We're All in This Together, I'd love for you to pick one up, if not from us then from you're local indie. And if they don't have it, consider ordering it from them. I continue to hear back from folks I recommended it to who loved it. My favorite was when I was giving a book club talk to around a dozen readers. I mentioned it and half of them had already read it. How? It turns out that I'd hand-sold it to one of them and she talked it up to everyone else.

*Being that my niece and one of our former booksellers are both living in Vancouver, that seems a bit more likely. So I can still get a Nanaimo Bar, right?

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