Archives for posts with tag: Calgary

EM Keeler BookSide Table Monoceros book cover

“The Unicorns Are Coming.”

As you can probably guess from the title, and the immensely enjoyable book trailer, Monoceros has something to do with Unicorns. And it does. But that something, the something that Suzette Mayr is doing with Unicorns, has nothing to do with meme culture, with juvenalia, or with twee. Instead, Mayr’s talking about anatomically correct Unicorns. These are desirous and righteous beasts, and they rampage through the novel with all of the swagger and anxiety of adolescent libido.

The novel begins with the end of a young man’s life: Patrick Furery hangs himself after being tormented, threatened, and encountering the unendurable pain of having his small world refuse to recognize in him the complicated and shimmering dignity of his personhood. As a gay teen enrolled in a Catholic high school in Calgary, Furey is victimized by his immediate enviornment, and the opening chapter of Monoceros paints his portrait with a delicate hand, even as the character launches himself right¬† out of frame.

The rest of the novel takes the real shape of human life. Mayr decentres the story of the cruelties and injustices that battered Patrick, and instead explores the community at the margins of this tragedy. Classmates who never knew him, his secret lover, the girl with the history of assaulting him, his teacher, his principal, his guidance councilor… By engaging with so many voices Mayr has managed to diffuse the isolation and immobilization of the trauma of teen suicide and homophobia and create a space for empathy, intimacy, and even comedy. Monoceros evinces the kind of comedy that brings you closer, the kind of comedy that reminds you of the way that a great story deftly told is an invitation to commune with that which makes us our most human, our frailty, and, of course and always, our dignity.

Mayr manages to collage together these voices, these characters, as proof that life is more complicated than our over-determinations of each other. Faraday, a young woman obsessed with unicorns as an article of her faith in eventually escaping the prison of adolescence, and Walter, the sweet gay guidance councilor who is still looking for his own guide in life, are particularly heart breaking characters. Mayr has written them honestly and truthfully enough that you simultaneously feel like hugging and smacking them. The voices that make up this unwitting community are evidence that people and circumstances are the tectonic plates shifting deep beneath our conscious lives, unaware that at any moment there could be a fissure. At almost any moment, there could be a tragedy. But then again, at any moment, there could be a unicorn.

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Winter of our discontent, book cover, steinbeck

The last three books I read were in depth explorations of the way that the mind blankets objects and situations with meaning. To the Lighthouse, The Mystery Guest, and The Mezzanine are all beautiful works that rely on objects as the vehicles for emotional content, for hope, for love, and for nostalgia.

In To the Lighthouse, there’s a pivotal scene towards the end of the first book where a character looses a brooch, and gains a lover. The brooch was a family heirloom, or something, but the interesting thing is how Woolf is able to use the object as an anchor for psychological and emotional experiences. Boulliere brings a pricey vintage bottle of wine as a gesture of his faith in the absurd, as a symbolic bridge across time and temperament. And of course there are the infinite close readings of quotidian objects in Baker’s The Mezzanine, the little book of a day in detail. There something about our stuff, the objects that we often touch more than we do our loved ones, something about these things that make up our lives.

I’ve been thinking about books as objects, the tactile book made of paper and glue, especially since I began this project.¬† What would ‘bookish’ mean without physical books? I know that the terrain of paper- vs e-books has been pretty well covered, and I have very little to add to the map. Just that these objects mean something to me.

When I was younger, I went through a pretty serious Steinbeck phase. My favorite was The Winter of Our Discontent, and still is by virtue of how much I loved it then. I have been carrying this object around, moving it from one place to another, from Calgary to Toronto, on buses, on planes, to the beach, to school, the subway, you name it, for over a decade. The edition I have is weathered and worn, the pulp cover having fallen off many times. Somewhere along the way someone taped the cover on upside down and backwards, as a prank, so that when I read the volume in public I look foolish. These memories are grounded in the physical object of the book itself, and no matter how I feel about Ethan Allen Hawley or Ellen or Mr. Marullo, I could never relive so many years of my own life in the same way if I were to read a digital copy.