The Giller Prize Book Club: Book One

womenOne down and twelve to go… I’m off to an unimpressive start to my task of reading all thirteen longlisted novels by November 5th, but nonetheless, I am pressing on.

My first choice, Elisabeth De Maraffi’s book of short stories, How to Get Along with Women, was a page turner. I probably would have gotten through it a lot faster if I hadn’t just begun a new job at a cool place and if I didn’t care about keeping the job.

Despite the press in my time, what little I had to spare, was not wasted with Elisabeth’s book (I feel like I can call her by her first name because we have that in common and so when we meet some day, we will almost surely have the kinship that all Gemini and people named Elizabeth do).

The subject of women has been on my mind lately and not just because I am one. However, to my great irritation, my thoughts on the subject are not at all original. I’ve been thinking about the way that women are portrayed in media and how stupid that reality is. I’ve been thinking that there are not enough women teaching in universities, in politics, and business. I’ve been thinking about my experience with women and how shocking, terrifying and intense some of the stories I could tell are. I have known some real characters in my modest amount of time on the planet and have been witness to a lot of very powerful women.

Elisabeth’s collection made me feel nostalgic for the women that I used to know. Her tone is honest and strives for a plain understanding of what life is really like in the company of women. She explores motivations with a sense of objectivity that makes it safe for the characters to do what they were going to do anyway. She offers us an account of what’s happening without judgment.

I often felt like a child while reading this book, not quite getting it and still accepting anything the women do, with love. It was like spying on a private conversation between my mother and her friends. My thoughts were perfectly in step with Abercrombie’s in “The Astonishing Abercrombie.” I believed that his mother would come back some day and that she really was wonderful and I hoped that he would impress her with his new bike. Like Abe, I think I could love her.

In other stories, I had to grow up a bit and face the world. While reading stories like “Everything Under Your Feet,” I was forced to confront independence, or the story of oneself as a person, as a girl, as a reader, swimmer or runner. It brought to mind my first time living alone and how I would talk to myself, make rituals and paint self-portraits that changed by the day. All of her characters are exposed to the bone, but not wretched. We accept her characters’ choices because they are reasonable as anything–as reasonable as they can be.

I also read into her stories the burden that both men and women carry as a result of imposed gender roles. In the story, “Field Work”, men are only inches tall and are studied by normal-sized women scientists. The result is sad and sort of romantic. It brings to the surface an emotion that I think we all feel as human beings–that we are all studying each other, separated by a glass wall.

I’ve found that a certain level of simple honesty can be missing from literary accounts of women and their exploits. The myriad of reasons for lacking female representation are old and rotten and hopefully on their way out. Elisabeth does a respectable job of making me forget that I am reading a book called, How to Get Along With Women. The book was about life and women are a big part of life, and books.

Next up on the reading list is: Extraordinary by David Gilmour. I picked it because I liked the Kobo synopsis. Ironically, he’s currently caught up in an obnoxious-sounding PR misunderstanding about possibly being sexist. I don’t know him, but I have read a few of the reports and I feel for him. He’s a writer and writer’s are inherently emphatic about everything. That’s a problem. Here’s a pretty funny article about it all.

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