Tag Archives: Trillium Prize

The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown

Winner of the 2010 Trillium Award

Winner of the 2010 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction

Winner of the 2010 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction

Finalist for the 2010 Governor-General’s Award for Non-Fiction

A Globe and Mail Best Book – 2009

A Coast Best Book – 2009

An eye Weekly Favorite Book – 2009

As a journalist for The Globe and Mail, Ian Brown has built a reputation for bitingly honest and in-depth reporting. The Boy in the Moon is his memoir on raising his disabled son and the circumstances that surround it and come from it. This is not the usual type of book I read but my expectations were very high when I picked up this memoir; it had beaten out Anne Michaels, Alice Munro, and Margaret Atwood for the 2010 Trillium Prize, no small feat. My expectations were not only met but were greatly exceeded. Brown weaves an incredible roller coaster of a narrative about his son Walker with a great coherency that is so often absent from a memoir.  The Boy in the Moon would rival any thriller or action story as a fierce page-turner.

The central figure in the book, Walker Brown, suffers from Cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, often shortened to CFC; a very rare genetic disorder with roughly around 100 confirmed cases worldwide. CFC affects many aspects of a child’s life: the sufferers have physical deformities, it causes cardiac and intestinal problems, and it also causes developmental delays. One thing that is focused on very heavily in the book is just how little is known about this disorder. You will never find two CFC children who are alike and have the same disabilities. Throughout Brown’s journey we are exposed to the sometimes frightening routine of day-to-day life for a parent of a severely disabled child, how the system tends to shirk their responsibility of helping the families of those children, various support systems around the world, Walker’s eventual move into a group home, the lives of other CFC children around the continent, and the science behind the disorder.

Ian Brown’s prose are truly superior to what I am used to seeing in this type of piece. This book is written with literary yet accessible language. You are immediately absorbed into the joys and nightmares of this family’s experience. Page after page is filled with revelations that someone like myself has never really had to contemplate; whether it is the difficulty in getting a small government grant to purchase necessary medical equipment, the huge struggles to find an adequate group home, or the story behind the legendary L’Arche communities around the globe you feel what I believe the author wants you to feel. In looking through the book for a few passages to make my point I couldn’t narrow it down to one or two; every single paragraph is filled with wisdom that can only be gained through the hardships and joys that the Browns endured.

At first glance different people may make different assumptions about this memoir. In the end I look at this book as two things: first it is a tale of hope, of how this broken child, disabled because of a slight spelling mistake in the massive human genetic code, brought so much happiness to everyone around him; second this is a book about how the Canadian social system can so easily, and frequently does, fail the families of special-needs children. Great literature in my opinion should leave a lasting impression on the reader. There are only a few pieces that have that incredible ability to change the reader, change their outlook or their perspective on certain issues: “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro, The Diviners by Margaret Laurence, and Let Us Compare Mythologies by Leonard Cohen were really the only literary works that I could genuinely say had this affect on me; The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown is without a doubt now on this list.

Cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome

The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

Winner of the 1998 Giller Prize

Winner of the 1998 National Book Critics’ Circle Top Fiction Award

Winner of the 1998 Trillium Award

Winner of the 1999 Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Fiction Book of the Year

New York Times Book Review Best Book – 1998

Shortlisted for the 1998 Roger’s Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

Selected for Canada Reads 2004

Alice Munro is almost universally known as one of, if not the single, greatest living writer(s) in English and a true master of the short story. She has won countless awards, 3 Governor-Generals, 2 Gillers, numerous O. Henry awards, Commonwealth prizes, Trillium prizes, and the Man Booker International Prize. The only prize missing from her resume is the Nobel Prize which will hopefully one day be bestowed upon Ms. Munro if the Nobel committee ever gets past its Eurocentric mindset. I have read several Munro books and I can say without any hesitation that The Love of a Good Woman is the best of what I have seen. Like many of Munro’s later works, this book’s stories has a wide  array of characters ranging in age from young adolescence to old age. We are taken deep into Munro county (also known as Huron County) in her typical and magical Southern Ontario Gothic style. This collection, perhaps more than any of her others, showcases Alice Munro’s ability to write so subtly that without even realizing, you as a reader are drawn into the lives of these seemingly ordinary people experiencing extraordinary circumstances.

The Love of a Good Woman is a very fitting title for this collection. While it is the first story, or arguably, novella,  in the book, the title describes the overall themes of almost all of the stories. Whether it is a widow loving memories of her dead husband, a daughter loving her parents, a nurse caring for her patient, or a caretaker loving someone else’s child, the idea of a woman’s love permeates this collection down to its epicenter.

The stories themselves are filled with Munro’s classic reserved style. She never gives you all the details; like many great classic story tellers Munro does not lay all of her cards out on the table at once. Little pieces are given and all of the details unfold before your eyes in a natural course of events. Often times the narration is not completely linear and the characters lives are revealed in bits and pieces while the story’s endings quietly approach.

My favorite story in the collection is the second-to-last one, “Before the Change.” Like many of Munro’s stories following this collection, this piece looks at what happens when old world values meet new world sensibilities at at time when society is not ready to accept this change. “Before the Change” centres on a young woman who comes home from college and stays with her father. Through a series of letters to her professor boyfriend it is revealed that her doctor father is performing abortions which are illegal at the time this is set. This story best demonstrates my previous point about the subtle narration guiding you. At first we are led to believe that the father has a cold disregard for his daughter but as we learn more and more details and additional graphic details are revealed we see what is really going on; and, like all of the other pieces, when you finish this story you will see why the “love of a good woman” is the underlying theme. Other stories, notably, “Cortes Island”, “Rich as Stink”, “My Mother’s Dream”, and the title story, exemplify Munro’s ability to topically look at relationships but brutally dissect them with the understated tone of a master writer.

This book was an absolute pleasure to read. The amount of critical acclaim this book has received is without a doubt well deserved. The Love of a Good Woman exemplifies what makes Canadian Literature unique in the wider canon of English literature. This book looks at the family, relationships, and of course being the eternal Northrop Frye apologist that I am, this book exposes our insular need to play the victim and survive in the Canadian societal vacuum. I was always amazed at the lack of attention that Hollywood has paid to Alice Munro. This of course changed slightly when Sarah Polley adapted “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” into the Oscar nominated film Away From Her. From what I have read the story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” is being adapted into a film to be released next year starring Julianne Moore. There are at least 3 stories in this collection that could easily be made into great films. The Love of a Good Woman has earned a place in my Top 10 favorite list; not an easy feat.

Testament by Nino Ricci

Co-Winner of the 2002 Trillium Award

Shortlisted for the 2002 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

Shortlisted for the 2002 Commonwealth Prize, Canada and Caribbean Region

A Vancouver Sun Book of the Year ~ 2002

A Booklist Choice for Top Ten Historical Novels of the Year ~ 2002

A Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year ~ 2002

This is the third time I have read Testament and each time I always notice something new and amazing. Nino Ricci’s fourth novel, Testament, tells the story of Jesus Christ but with a twist; Jesus, or Yeshua as he is known through most of the book, is simply a very charismatic ordinary human being who’s legacy has been skewed and mystified. The story is told through four different narrators in four different “books” (seeing a connection?): Yihuda of Qiryat, Miryam of Migdal, Miryam his Mother, and Simon of Gergesa. To add a bit of humanism of the character of Jesus, Ricci, in the first three books, choses to use the ancient Aramaic names that would have been used in the historical time frame. The reader is challenged on several different points in the gospel narrative and some very inventive explanations on how the stories evolved into what we know today.

Much like the Gospels, there is a lot of overlap in Ricci’s four books with each giving their own piece of the puzzle. Some of the traditional ideas that Testament turns around includes the Virgin Birth, in which is explained by Miryam his Mother being raped by a Roman soldier and impregnating her; Judas’s (Yihuda’s) betrayal and that is was not against Yeshua but his group of Judean rebels; the healing powers and miracles of Jesus; and finally, or course, the resurrection. When you read this book you will be thinking one of two things (or two if you are good critical reader), you will either think that Ricci is a genius for possibly decoding how the story of the historical Jesus came to be; on the other side of the coin you may think that this book is a complete work of blasphemy.

But that being said, while you are reading this book you have to remember one thing, this is a novel, a work of fiction. Nino Ricci is not trying to turn anyone against their faith of discredit one of the most important historical figures in Western Civilization. This book is ultimately about our perceptions and how our interpretations of any event or person can be swayed or skewed by our perception. On one side of the coin you have the narrator of the fourth book, the pagan Simon of Gergesa, who has heard many fantastic stories about the man he knows as Jesus and witnesses what he believes to be Jesus raising someone from the dead when in fact it is very obvious that this was just an example of great medical treatment. You are left thinking that Simon really does believe in the preternatural abilities of this man. But as the book opens, Yihuda has seen the man he knows as Yeshua as a tortured ordinary man who is a great orator and conciliator; Yihuda has a great deal of inner turmoil caused by his relationship with Yeshua but from my reading of the story I do not see him at any point believing that Yeshua is divine in anyway. In his eyes Yeshua is a charismatic and strong man who simply wants to make his part of the world a better place for anyone who believes in the one true God.

Nino Ricci is without a doubt one of Canada’s newest rising literary stars. With only five novels he has won two Governor General’s Awards, a Trillium prize, been shortlist and longlisted for the Giller Prize, and the list goes on. Testament has long been on of my favorite novels. The language that Ricci uses to put the reader back into the ancient world of 2000 years ago is simply poetic and mesmerizing. This is a very long book. I have the fairly large first edition hardcover and it is over 450 pages; but that being said it is almost like reading 4 books in one because of the shifting narrators, perspectives, and style. This book deserves to be listed amongst the worlds greatest biblical meta-fiction. If you read this book and enjoyed it I would strongly recommend you also check out The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis; this is another narrative about the life of Jesus but with its own unique perspective.

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