The Theory of Light at Midnight

The Theory of Light at Midnight book Elizabeth Ukrainetz
By 
Elizabeth Ukrainetz
Tightrope Books, 266 pages, $19.95
2016
Reviewed by 
Ava Homa

Elizabeth Ukrainetz’s writing shows brief glimpses of life on the other side of a window painted with vivid colours and designs. Language in her work is at the forefront. In The Theory of Light at Midnight, the poetic prose draws the reader’s attention more than the story of Magda, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. 

Like Magda herself, the storyline is fragmented. It takes the reader, as well as the protagonist, about 250 pages to piece together the puzzle and understand how her experience of violence continues to tear her apart decades after the event, how she has to relive the trauma time and again.

The violence Magda experienced as a young girl is pushed into her subconscious, buried under forgetfulness. When an emotional earthquake shakes her up, the book does not clarify what triggered the memories, but it lets the reader explore the interconnections of violence, body, psyche, and language.

When her struggle is at its peak, Magda is left alone with her silent and invisible torment, a war whose casualty is Magda’s ability to make sense of her surroundings and function within them. Time is Magda’s only friend and the saviour that slowly and gradually heals her pain. 

“Day by day, month by month, I have begun to find my place in the world again. I watch, listen, try to re-learn the correct behaviours, interactions, wants, of normal people. Gesture, tone, mannerism. I pick up bits and pieces of their ways, trying to mimic—to shrug, giggle, roll my eyes, as people do—fit this together to a coherence. Hints, signs, pathways back to the ordinary.” 

Magda as an adult has to navigate her way back to a world in which she is suddenly a stranger.

The Theory of Light at Midnight is Elizabeth Ukrainetz’s second novel and third book. She is a poet based in Toronto. 

Bearskin Diary

By 
Carol Daniels
Nightwood Editions, 253 pages, $21.95
2016
Reviewed by 
Alissa McArthur

From the 1960s to the late ’80s, the Canadian government forcibly removed over twenty thousand Indigenous children from their families, sending them to be fostered or adopted by white middle-class families. As with the residential school tragedy, the children taken in the “Sixties Scoop” grew up severed from their Indigenous families and culture. In Carol Daniels’s debut novel, Bearskin Diary, Sandy Pelly, a survivor of the Scoop, embarks on a career as a news reporter in 1980s Saskatchewan. As she connects to local Indigenous people through her reporting, Sandy begins to yearn for a deeper connection to her Cree heritage.

Daniels, a former journalist and Canada’s first Indigenous national news anchor (as Carol Morin), portrays the broadcasting world as a noxious environment for a young Cree woman. But Sandy’s fierce desire to tell stories draws her closer to the Indigenous communities she was cut off from as a child. Daniels convincingly conveys Sandy’s struggle to cover stories about Indigenous people with compassion while battling racism from coworkers and her own internalized prejudices. Thrust into the role of cultural mediator in a largely white newsroom, Sandy finds herself being treated as a “cigar-store Indian, here for show but expected to stay silent.” When Sandy meets an elder named Joe, who encourages her both to investigate the disappearance of local Indigenous women and to explore her own cultural identity, she finally begins to meaningfully engage with her community.

However, most of the novel’s characters aside from Sandy are flat, especially the antagonists, who are portrayed as irredeemable villains. And though Daniels juggles many intriguing storylines, she grants a lot of space to a melodramatic love story that ultimately fizzles. As a result, some of the novel’s most engrossing aspects—such as Sandy’s reunion with her family and her investigation into the missing women—are given somewhat short shrift.

As well, the novel is hampered by Daniels’s decision to write extensively in the present tense. While it lends a sense of immediacy, the use of the present tense clutters the narrative with ponderous details of the characters’ daily lives. Furthermore, the frequent shifts from the present to Sandy’s memories in the past tense are clunky and become tedious to read.

Still, Daniels has created a compelling character in Sandy, and does not shy away from depicting her weaknesses. Though the writing doesn’t always support the many narrative threads Daniels explores, Bearskin Diary is a humane, unflinching portrayal of a woman asserting her voice and claiming space in an often hostile nation.

Falling in Love with Hominids

By 
Nalo Hopkinson
Tachyon Publications, 234 pages, $15.95
2016
Reviewed by 
Rachel Thompson

Falling in Love with Hominids is a collection of fantastical short stories filled with an innovatory mix of characters grappling with existential and everyday questions—what’s for breakfast? should I bring a child into the world? how did that elephant land in my living room? Written over  the course of a decade, many of the stories play well together, sharing a succulent, earthy-otherworldliness that Nalo Hopkinson’s fans know and adore.

Character is king here. Hopkinson always imbues her narratives with awareness of race, class, gender, and privilege that never gets in the way of the story—yet it’s remarkable because it underscores the lack of this awareness in most media. A fierce opening story, “The Easthound” has post-apocalyptic teenagers so fleshed out and intriguing that they blow away the paper-thin “heroes” dominating most YA books and cinema.

Though it’s not a YA book, there are quite a few young characters given the compassionate Hopkinson treatment: notably in a hamadryad-myth based tale, where a “fat” teen fuses with a tree spirit to triumph at a cruel party game. In the book’s introduction, Hopkinson describes her development from despondent teen to a fifty-something optimist who learned to “trust humans in general will strive to make things better for themselves and their communities . . . despite the fact that sometimes I just need to shake my fist at a mofo.”

There are occasions in this book where there isn’t enough room to establish an alternate world and tell a story there, particularly in the micro-fiction pieces. This and a few devices that feel forced, such as the story entirely narrated to a rat-orchid hybrid, are the only things not to fall in love with in this otherwise adoration-worthy collection.

Hopkinson’s reframing of The Tempest uses a dual narrative and themes of internallized racism told by now-siblings Ariel and Caliban: “The real storm? Is our mother Sycorax; his and mine. If you ever see her hair flying around her head when she dash at you in anger.” And the story “Old Habits,” situated in a ghost mall, where in the first paragraph the narrator tells us, “This is not going to be one of those stories where the surprise twist is and he was dead!

All in all, Falling in Love with Hominids is an entertaining and humane book that affirms why Junot Díaz refers to Hopkinson as “one of our most important writers.”

Darker Moods: An Interview with Anne Maizia, Cover Artist for 39.3 Canadian Gothic

Originally from Belgium, Anne Maizia has spent much of her life in the art centres of the world, developing her artistic style. During her seventeen years living in the New York, she studied mainly at the Art Students League of New York City. Now based in Toronto, Anne is a figurative and abstract painter, who had her first solo show in 2011. Lindsay Glauser Kwan, Room’s art coordinator, spoke to Anne about the many moods of her work.

Deep Salt Water: Month Three

Following the success of the first two months, Room is pleased to bring you the third installment of the captivating and thought-provoking Deep Salt Water, an interdisciplinary collaboration among four artists—author Marianne Apostolides, collage artist Catherine Mellinger, photographer Melanie Gordon, and composer Paul Swoger-Ruston—based on the forthcoming book by Apostolides of the same title.

Congratulations to the winners of our Annual Poetry and Fiction Contest 2016!

The results of our Poetry and Fiction Contest 2016 are finally out! Congratulations to the following authors who shared their work with us and our judges. We are always thankful for the willingness of writers to share their work with us, and the generosity of our esteemed judges―Doretta Lau for fiction and Marilyn Dumont for poetry―with their time and judgement.

Garbage Girl

I’d been hoping for a kitchen full of balloons, a bouquet of flowers, all my favourite food. A hand-drawn banner: Welcome Home Tasha. Maybe even a Happy 14th Birthday, though my birthday wasn’t until tomorrow. I’d been away from my family all summer.

10 Picture Books Written by Canadian Women of Colour

I am so pleased to have been given the chance to write this post for Room about some of the talented women behind Canadian picturebooks. Most of my academic and non-academic pursuits revolve around children’s literature, but it’s not often that I get to focus on picturebooks. I took this chance to introduce you to ten truly wonderful works of art and storytelling, all as vibrant as they are entertaining.

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