Review: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

Nicholas and Nouschka grew up in the public eye as the gorgeous twin children of Etienne Tremblay, a folk-singing Lothario, and Quebec’s answer to Serge Gainsbourg. He fathered the twins with a 14-year-old girl after a show one night in Val-de-Loups. Now 18, the twins are living life in Montreal as mostly-forgotten former celebrities, dragging behind them a train of emotional baggage left over from their unhinged upbringing.

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If you enjoyed 2007’s Lullabies for Little Criminals, you will love The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. I read both books back to back, so I noticed a lot of similarities between the two (in an interview, O’Neill said both books take place across the street from one another!). Both stories are filled to the brim with melancholy. And just like Lullabies, O’Neill builds up a romantic young, city life made up of loveable degenerates who revel in their abilities to evade stability, while still longing for the support they never had. Nouschka is a spellbinding protagonist, and quite reminiscent of Lullabies‘ Baby. The female half of the infamous Tremblay twins, Nouschka is curious and creative, with ambitions that are often stunted by the dependency on her twin brother Nicholas. Nicholas is funny, and wild, and charismatic. He made me laugh out loud many times and seems like the kind of guy you could love/hate forever. The twins together are extraordinary and tragic and worrisome; obsessed with the myth of their birth mother, the disappointment in their absent father, the pain of failed relationships, and the simultaneous need for each other and an identity all their own. It’s urban whimsy done in the best way, full of hope and loneliness. Also, cats. Stray cats everywhere.

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New Tab by Guillaume Morissette

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“I didn’t know what I wanted, all I knew was how poorly I felt without it.”

New Tab, Guillaume Morissette’s sophomore release from Esplanade (Vehicule Press) follows Thomas, a video game designer and (slightly older) undergrad in Montreal for a year of his life while he works at figuring things out. Meeting new people. Dealing with a mishmash of roommates. Going to house parties and feeling awkward. Speaking French. Going to bars and feeling awkward… The novel is not about action, drama, or that perfect eureka moment of adulthood. Not really. Rather, Thomas sorts through the impending boredom of his life in a very reflective and critical way, and with humorous insight. He is thoughtful, self-depricating, unsure, self-involved, but mostly he finds a way to translate the culturally-acute 20something emotional psyche into a story that is relatable. The novel is precise about revealing the blurred out down time in between the big stuff. Like day-after regrets or almost moments that didn’t amount to anything, but made you really question yourself and everything around you.

Image 2What I found especially interesting was Morissette’s seemingly random asides. The story is speckled with single statements that don’t connect to anything before it. Little islands of thought in Thomas’ narrative showing us, even more so, his introspective headspace. It also echoes the feeling of wanting to be heard, of developing personal philosophies out of sheer boredom or despair with no one to share it with. Morissette has a background in poetry, and this style can be seen in his previous collection I am My Own Betrayal (Maison Kasini). The more I think about it the more I wonder if it’s actually a stylistic symptom of expressing ourselves primarily via (online) status, which is large theme in Morrisette’s work. Either way, it’s wonderfully relatable and amusing. Kind of like thinking up the perfect tweet (a modern day eureka moment in itself)

Image 3Morissette is the poet Eeyore. A modern technical-intellectual who has captured the millennial undergrad and all his distinctive insecurities. But instead of launching his protagonist into an idealized scenario, full of true callings and real love, he explores the perennial rut of dissatisfaction. Is it a generational thing? Maybe. But I think the mood is something everyone can understand. It’s not easy to be an internet champion and have it translate onto the page in a literary way, but New Tab reads like abstract Snapchat (snapstract?) : a short moment in our lives that disappears as quickly as it came, but leaves us with all the feelings. The good and the bad.

Review: Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz

I have a sister.  She’s three years younger and we couldn’t be more different from one another. It’s always fascinating to think about how two people with the same parents and identical upbringings can turn out on opposite sides of the personality umbrella: one quiet, one outgoing, one social, one homebodied…and so on. The bond however, between sibling are the kind of thing that often can only be described accurately by the other half.  You’re lucky if you end up with a sibling you can get along with, even remotely. Or you’re paired with one who seems to have been born solely to serve as your opposition. Either way, it gets complicated on that little island between family and friendship.
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The novel Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz is about two sisters. Beena and Sadhana  grew up 2 years apart in an apartment above their family-owned bagel shop in Montreal. Beena and Sadhana’s life is plagued with tragedies right from the beginning. Their father dies suddenly when they are young children. Then their mother’s passes away when both are still teenagers, leaving them orphaned and under the guardianship of their uncle. After her death, the sisters both begin divergent paths into adulthood. Sadhana develops severe anorexia, while Beena is faced with an unexpected pregnancy at 16. Both sisters become glued together in solace, though this takes turns as being both a blessing and a strain on their relationship. The novel opens with the revelation of Sadhana’s death at 32 and her sister Beena’s search for meaning in it’s wake. The present-day is a platform for flashback into the sisters’ lives as we come to understand every little bit about their unique and rich familial history.

Bone and Bread follows the ebb and flow of a life-lived between sisters.  It encapsulates the need for connection and the desperation for space, the speculative jealousy of other relationships, and the unconditional loyalty that runs alongside unavoidable spite.  It is the constant connecting and pulling apart between two separate pieces.

Beena and Sadhana’s story really grabs a hold of you by the exquisite depth of emotional history layered throughout the novel. I feel like I’ve known these two women my whole life. Saleena Nawaz’s writing and use of metaphor is especially wonderful.  She has a way of salting the lives of the characters that is worth all the hours in bed with sore eyes for my inability to put this novel down.