Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Second Rising

Toronto: Blue Butterfly Books, c2009.
191 p.

This prairie girl was instantly sucked in by this cover. I love, love, love it! Plus this story relies heavily on food, cooking, and a grandmother's recipes. Really, Blue Butterfly Books, you don't need to try convince me any more.

This is a small book, only 4.5 x 7, and the print is not tiny. So in one sense it is a quick read. But in another, it is very slow, as it circles back on itself in repeated phrases, in broken up sections of text that don't flow with a fully forward-moving narrative thrust.

This characteristic of the text reflects the very subject matter, and it is an extremely successful interaction between the structure and the content of the story. We meet the narrator, who is the granddaughter of a much-loved, competent grandmother; but as we go along we realize that Alzheimer's is taking over the grandmother's life. Small things are being forgotten -- the procedures to long-familiar recipes, the way to the park, names -- but each forgetting is revealed with tenderness and a sense of sadness.

It is an elegaic story, full of references to memory and to loss and to what each of these mean. I had to read slowly, absorbing the slow progress of the disease and the changes in relationships within the family. Loss, both of memory and its connected sense of love and recognition, is the overreaching emotion in this very moving story. I was touched by the stately progression of the story, and the deep connection that the narrator had with her grandmother, mainly expressed through food and cooking.

Beautifully written, intensely moving, creatively constructed, this book was a surprise to me -- I hadn't heard anything about it before picking it up and was pleased by the physical object (nice cover, nice paper & font, handy size) and by the strength of the emotion in the writing. Here is a sample of the prose:

Your skin will not always fit so perfectly, she says. When you are old, it will sag with the weight of your memory, thoughts that used to be in your mind will seep out through your skin. You will try to catch them as they drip away, making memories from papers and photographs, re-sticking them to the walls of your mind. You will tell stories to others for the benefit of yourself, sure that this telling will make it stay, will make it brighter instead of faint.

Your words cannot save her, continued my mother, only remind you of what was before.

There are always endings, just as there are always beginnings -- both there for those who know (or care) to look. But it would be just as true, she said, to say that there are never endings or beginnings, that what you think is the end is really just the waiting place before you stumble over the horizon. And what you thought was the start of the story is only the place where you came in.

Really, an intense, hypnotic reading experience that brought me nearly to tears in parts. This was an excellent first novel, and a lucky find for me. Highly recommended to anyone interested in memory, the effects of Alzheimer's, or simply an emotional yet deeply respectful read.

Catherine M.A. Wiebe was born in the town of Simcoe, Ontario, and now lives, writes, and tries to recreate her grandmothers' food in Hamilton. She is a recent graduate of the Arts and Science Program at McMaster University, and has been writing (with a few other jobs on the side) since before her graduation.

** this book was printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper; cover stock contains 30% post-consumer fibre and is FSC certified. Energy used in production is offset by wind-power certificates.


  1. Oh, absolutely must make reading time for this one: thanks for recommending it!

  2. I hope you'll find a copy -- would love to hear your thoughts on it. There was only one little part where I thought the repetitive nature of the text was moving into overkill... but that is easily accommodated by my overwhelming liking for the book.


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