When I was at Banff, last month, the Wired Writing Studio group met on Friday afternoons to read from work we admired. I loathe readings. At least, I thought I did. These, I enjoyed.
There was a great sense of camaraderie, humility, and smart and funny conversation about books and writing. Fiction writers, non-fiction writers, poets and mentors sat in a circle in a small room whose windows offered a view of snow-topped mountains and a quiet crowd of evergreens. Each person shared a piece of writing from a book they wanted to recommend to the group. We drank South American wine, ate kale chips (magnificent treats made by one of the participants), and were very kind to one another. I’m too self-conscious to relax when reading, so taking my turn was fraught, but I liked to listen, and I learned about many writers I’d not heard of before.
One of the mentors at Wired Writing was the Canadian novelist Marina Endicott. In addition to writing exceptional books, Ms Endicott is an engaging reader. She has a background in performance to call upon, and a voice that pulls you right into the story. I found myself leaning forward, wide-eyed, like a child when she read from Helen Oyeyemi‘s new book Mr Fox.
Mr Fox is the next title I will purchase. Here is an excerpt from the novel:
There was a brief but heavy silence, which Mary broke by saying: ‘You kill women. You’re a serial killer. Can you grasp that?’
Of all the—
I hadn’t seen that one coming.
She walked up to my desk and picked up one of my notepads, read a few lines to herself. ‘Can you tell me why it’s necessary for Roberta to saw off a hand and a foot and bleed to death at the church altar?’ She flipped through a couple more pages.
‘Especially given that this other story ends with Louise falling to the ground riddled with bullets, the mountain rebels having mistaken her for her traitorous brother. And must Mrs McGuire hang herself from a door handle because she’s so afraid of what Mr McGuire will do when he gets home and finds out that she’s burnt dinner? From a door handle? Really, Mr Fox?’
A review in the New York Times offers a winning line from the book in which a character takes to writing only to discover: ‘The words didn’t come easily… She put large spaces between some of them for fear they would attack one another.’ I read that line half a dozen times because it made me feel so happy.
Almost every day I hear about the death of publishing, the dusty pointlessness of books, the collective mental atrophy and arrogance that means we cannot tolerate or even understand long-form writing, but while people are offering characters like Mr Fox and sentences like those above I don’t see the end of stories, or books.