The Beggar's Garden Hardcover – Jan 17 2011
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Quill & Quire
Michael Christie’s debut collection of nine linked stories is dazzling. Drawing on his experience working in a homeless shelter in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Christie explores the intense humanity of people living on the margins of society. His characters include addicts, homeless people, hospital patients, and those who interact with the city’s outcasts.
That these stories are so compelling is due, in part, to Christie’s ability to describe the broken lives of people who are often the architects of their own suffering. In “Emergency Contact,” a woman calls 911 because she thinks she is in love with one of the city’s paramedics. Perhaps she is, but her loneliness and need for contact are painfully evident. And Christie makes clear that just because she is troubled, she is not without insight into the human heart: “If someone tells you they love you for you, it means they will love you as long as you act like who they love – that is who they want to love.”
The stories eschew wrist-slapping retreats into tidy morality. Christie manages to create sympathy for his characters, no matter how damaged or drug-addled. In the title story, a man’s marriage unravels and he befriends a panhandler who has been incarcerated in a mental hospital for most of his life. Several characters engage in begging and dumpster diving; in “Discard,” a man leaves food in dumpsters for his homeless grandson to find.
Employing straightforward, disarming prose, Christie gives voice to the disaffected and unwanted figures in our society, forcing readers to pay attention to a class of humans they would most often ignore.
"Impressive . . . . filled with keenly observed detail and lively characterization . . . . Every person in this book, no matter what their age, gender or peculiarity, is convincing and vivid. Their thoughts, perceptions and interactions are drawn in language so precise that they stand out in full colour in all their wisdom and foolishness, tragedy and absurdity. The more you read this, the better it gets."
? Winnipeg Free Press ()
Top Customer Reviews
"...and my heart felt like four different hearts who were all best friends, pumping away in unison for a good and noble cause."
That last one is Christie.
This is a book worth buying.
"The Beggar's Garden" compels the reader with tough, lucid prose as it chronicles broken lives and self-inflicted suffering. A lonely woman calls 911 thinking she's in love with one of the city's paramedics; a man whose marriage has just ended befriends a panhandler; a psychiatric patient tries to convince the Ministry that one of his orderlies works as an assassin.
Christie treats his characters tenderly and manages to create genuine sympathy for the damaged and disaffected. Ultimately and most impressively, he gives voice to the unwanted figures of society, shining attention onto a largely ignored population.
This is a small volume of nine short stories (262pages) that take place on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. To the author's credit, the stories are told without judgement, morality, or sentimentality. The author worked on the Vancouver Downtown Eastside for a time as a homeless shelter, reaching out to those in need, so I'm sure he knows his subject.
However, I found that I was left a bit cold by some of the short stories. I found the book to be uneven, which I suppose is not unexpected in book of short stories. Some tales really grabbed me - like "Discard" - the story of a widower left on his own, who decides to seek out his long forgotten grandson by going to live in the alleys where unbeknowst to his grandson, he meets up with him and they join forces." Good Bye PorkPie Hat" was a look into rooming houses in the downtown Eastside and a man addicted to crack. " King Me" was a fascinating look into the lives - one in particular - of those still left in Vancouver's Mental Hospital, Riverview. That story was quite heartbreaking -and yet - those people probably have it better than those who have been turned out of Riverview Hospital to the Downtown Eastside. Another story tugged at my heartstrings -" The Queen of Cans and Jars". In summary, it's the tale of a woman who worked in the shoe department of Woodwards. After losing her job at Woodwards she choses to run and live in within the premises of a second hand thrift shop in the Downtown Eastside. Another stab at the heart concerns the story of a mentally disabled man, who relies on a somewhat dishonest buddy to manage his affairs, rather than live in a boarding house.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is a collection of nine interrelated stories. The characters include a Bank Manager, web designer, drug addict,retired Samaritan to car thief. The mentally-ill human beings who have fallen between the cracks can be found in any large city. They are searching for shelter, drugs, love and forgiveness. Loneliness and a lack of affection is what they miss the most in their lives.
The first of the nine stories is titled EMERGENCY CONTACT. Maya is a social person. She's had guyfriends, but never called them "boyfriends", because she is not a "pedophile." She likes MEN.
She called 911 several times that month. The last time the paramedics came, one of the paramedics stood out. He was kind and took the time to listen to what she had to say. Maya has him on her mind. She has a plan. She is looking for LOVE. Maya calls 911 hoping to see the same "kind" paramedic. She is not feeling too well either, but she cannot take her mind off that "kind" man. The paramedics arrive and Maya saw that the "kind" one wasn't one of them. There is an older paramedic, who Maya feels needs a paramedic himself. She refuses to go to the hospital and so she must sign a paper of refusal. As the paramedics begin to leave, she has a change of heart. She remembers that the "kind" paramedic is on duty that night, so she tells the paramedics that she wants to take her life. When they ask her how she plans on doing this, she says, "by forcing myself to stop breathing." That does it and off she goes to the Emergency. She throws some clothes and a greeting card , that she bought earlier at the 1$ store, in a bag to take with her. Maya arrives at the hospital. She sees a doctor in the examining room and after questioning her, he tells her that someone will come to take her to the Psychiatric Unit. The intake nurse arrives and asks Maya, "who can the hospital notify in case something transpires?" Maya was thinking hard - the truth is she has nobody. She then asks, "can mine be 911?'
She is left alone for a few minutes and she sneaks out in search of the "kind" paramedic. Finally, she spots him and wants to give him the card she wrote especially for him. The card she chose says "Love is in the air." On the front of the card is a picture of two teddy bears riding in a biplane with hearts on its wings. On the inside, she wrote:
You saved my life! (just kidding) But I just want to say you are the best and most caring paramedic on the force. (Are you a force?) I appreciate everything you did for me. I'm very interested to get to know you better. Coffee? Airplane ride? (more kidding)
She didn't write her phone number because she didn't want to sound pushy. The paramedic refused to take the card.
As she heads back to the examining room, Tragedy Strikes! This is a bittersweet and funny story.
Michael Christie does a fine job of illustrating the lives of those imprisoned by mental illness.This book is written with heart and respect for those lost souls and he is never judgmental.
I loved this book with its humour and reality. You will not be able to put this book down, because it is all that good and more.
This book merits my highest recommendation of FIVE OUT OF FIVE STARS.
P.S. The Beggar's Garden won the City of Vancouver Book Award and was longlisted for the Giller Prize.
It was longlisted for the Frank O'Conner International Short Story Award to name a few.