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Gisele Baxter (Vancouver, British Columbia Canada)

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Homer's Odyssey
Homer's Odyssey
by Gwen Cooper
Edition: Hardcover
51 used & new from CDN$ 0.17

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and Adventure, with Cats, Oct. 22 2009
This review is from: Homer's Odyssey (Hardcover)
There are a lot of stories about animals, both fact and fiction, and their immense popularity is consistent: they are mostly heartwarming and sentimental, and remind us of what our "best selves" can accomplish. Gwen Cooper's story, of the 12 year journey shared with Homer, an abandoned kitten rendered blind by life-saving surgery, stands out, for approach and style. Cooper is a born storyteller with a deep appreciation for the whole history of storytelling and a keen sense of detail, so that Homer is named for the blind poet of the Odyssey, the great epic story of adventure and homecoming, and passages from that epic introduce each chapter. And Homer's tale is vividly, broadly referential: he is also Daredevil, the blind Marvel superhero and the Man Without Fear. The pathos of his situation quickly gives way to consistent emphasis on his strengths: his courage (he foils a burglar, and leaps tall bookcases in a single bound), his keen senses (he detects tuna and turkey even from great distances, and through firm packaging), his consistent friendliness and "good attitude" (most people would envy Homer's ability to make friends and influence people), and his consistent fierce devotion to Gwen. And yet the story is really as much Gwen's odyssey, and this is a witty, strikingly observant tale of becoming an adult at the turn of the 21st century; as the old certainty about rites of passage breaks down, and education doesn't guarantee a job for life, and numerous failed relationships precede finding the right one, maybe being an adult doesn't mean finding a job or buying a house or getting married and having children but more, as Gwen concludes, taking on responsibility for someone other than yourself. The story follows Gwen, Homer, and the two cats she already had, Scarlett and Vashti, from Miami on a "leap of faith" excursion to New York to look for work; in fact, this story shatters so many of the cliches about single ladies who have multiple cats (though its author does express her fears about becoming those cliches): Gwen Cooper is outgoing, ambitious, well connected to the world around her. She is unafraid to enlist a little help from her friends (even to transport three cats via air in the cabin); she is a generous, shrewd, smart "people person" as much as she is a "cat lady", and her dissection of the dating scene is something many readers will wish they'd read a long time ago. By the time she meets Laurence and eventually marries him, you feel not so much that she's been swept off her feet as that she's found someone whose standards are hers. Years ago, I asked an advanced composition course if there were any universal qualities of "good writing": my students identified clarity and wit. Homer's Odyssey has both. The precision of detail brings everything to vivid life: cats and people, all are real. You're right there with them, on the Pussy Galore Tour through frustratingly designed highways and airport terminals. You follow Gwen through the ashen streets of Manhattan after 9/11, and hear both the silence and the sound of a thousand fire truck sirens. And at the very beginning, as impossibly tiny Homer puts his paws between the cables of Gwen's sweater, you realize that each has imprinted on the other, that the journey is beginning, and by the end, you realize it is ongoing, that there are still adventures to be pursued.

Touching From A Distance Updated Edition
Touching From A Distance Updated Edition
by Deborah Curtis
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars parallel lives, Oct. 19 2003
20+ years ago, I reviewed Closer for a university newspaper. I've recently been rediscovering Joy Division, and so have read Deborah Curtis's memoir of her life with Ian. This is a remarkable book. Deborah was never an industry insider, a musician or a groupie; she seems to have been a sensitive yet very practical girl, who mostly wanted a conventional sort of marriage where they would raise children and maintain their house. Yet she was also really drawn to Ian's ambitious taste in music and his brooding romantic singularity, and she genuinely supported his desire to be a musician and believed in his genius. The book mostly follows the period from their marriage through the formation of Warsaw (later Joy Division), with extensive discussion of tours and recording sessions, through to Ian's suicide shortly before the band was to embark on its first American tour. At the same time, it describes the medical crises following Ian's diagnosis with a severe, virtually untreatable form of epilepsy, the birth of their daughter Natalie, and Deborah's discovery of her husband's affair with Annik Honore. To her credit, Deborah keeps her perspective consistent, refusing to speculate on others' responses. This makes more heartbreaking the extent to which she was gradually shut out of Ian's life, with the apparent complicity of the band and its management, as she became apparently insufficiently glamorous for the role of rock star consort. Yet while this book both deconstructs and humanizes the myth, rendering Ian Curtis an often viciously callous husband, Deborah never comes across as spiteful herself: she did what she could, and more, and always realized she'd have to learn to live on her own, and she never gave up on him, so that the glimmerings of mutual tenderness in their final difficult days are almost unbearably sad. Inadvertantly perhaps, she reveals a very young man whose visions were almost too great for him to bear, and whose loss of control over his life and health terrified him into severe depression, and she reveals a taciturn community in which she and Ian felt driven into an unspoken compact to cope by themselves. This isn't a depressing book; it isn't over-analytical, and there is real wit in her episodic treatment of their courtship, and her outsider's perspective on the Manchester music scene (such as when they go see the Sex Pistols, with Ian excited at the prospect of a band who 'fought on stage'). This book should be required reading for anyone whose introduction to Joy Division was the film 24 Hour Party People, whose history of the band is severely truncated and takes great liberties with the facts. Actually, I'd love to see the players in that part of the film in a film of Deborah Curtis's book. This is a brave and wonderful, incredibly intimate memoir, straightforward and unpretentious. It also includes an introduction by stellar punk historian Jon Savage, lyrics, as well as performance and recording information, and there is a centre section of photographs, some official (including an incandescent colour picture of Ian singing with his eyes closed in April 1980), some family snapshots (including a very cute engagement picture, and Ian with Natalie a few days before his death).

Price: CDN$ 12.40
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5.0 out of 5 stars breathtaking, Sept. 24 2003
The day Warren Zevon died, I looked up some lines from "The Indifference of Heaven" to post on my website, and found en route those to "Mr. Bad Example" and I smiled; that song always makes me smile. And yet I've felt such inconsolable grief at the loss, so young, of someone whose mordant wit and exquisite sense of melody have provided a significant part of the soundtrack of my life for over 20 years. Like so many others here, I cried so much listening to The Wind, especially to "Keep Me in Your Heart" and a cover of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" so pure as to be definitive. Yet when we can all gain perspective, this will stand as a brilliant record in its own regard, as well as a testament to Warren Zevon's almost incredible bravery in making it. Already I find the songs sticking in my head ("Disorder in the House" and "Dirty Life and Times" spend a lot of time there), and the lyrics do make me smile (any man who can sing about being thrown across the davenport of despair while literally standing on death's doorstep gets a major tip of the hat), and "Rub Me Raw" makes me want to get out my guitar again. If I have one tiny criticism it's one I've sometimes felt before: that the illustrious guests, no matter how wonderful their contributions, sometimes needlessly intrude on the man's own space. This is why I love Learning to Flinch, which let him indulge his voice and arrangement skills all by himself on the highwire of the live setting. Death has cheated us of the chance to hear these songs evolve towards a next live recording. This record blasts fresh air through the dross of so much "popular" music; Warren Zevon *was* the real deal, and for all the apparent cynicism of his lyrics, he understood what Malcolm Lowry used as a sort of epigraph/epitaph for his novel Under the Volcano (I wonder if WZ ever read this....): no se puede vivir sin amar (no one can live without love). I hope he realized/realizes how much loved he is.

DVD ~ David Paymer
Offered by discounts
Price: CDN$ 34.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars i would prefer a little air, July 20 2003
This review is from: Bartleby (DVD)
Bartleby is a wonderful little film, ironic and provocative, very funny and yet incredibly sad, and an intelligent modernization of Melville's story. I'm fascinated by office culture, by work culture in general, because the economic system demands that to a great extent we define ourselves by our work, and insists we believe that our sense of worth derives from our work. There's a reason people like Scott Adams manage to strike such a chord with the very people they seem to be ridiculing, the people inside office culture. This movie is Melville's post-Industrial critique of capitalism filtered through Adams' post-Technological satire, and appropriately the film looks like a comic strip: notice the use of flat "off" colours, so that the film seems very bright but the colours are wrong: sickly greens and browns and weird reds. The colour also heightens the contrast with Bartleby; Crispin Glover's natural pallor has been enhanced, so that he seems to be rendered in black and white. The acting style, too, is not naturalistic: each character finds a note and plays it: the oversexed secretary, the alpha male, the sensitive guy. (Indeed my only quibble with this film is what seems less deliberate ambiguity than indecision over what to do with the peripheral characters, so that the point about how office culture generates them is not as well explored as it might be: the coda also seems a little hastily tacked on.) The closest we come to complexity is the boss (the splendid David Paymer); Bartleby is way beyond such issues in his realm of existential despair. Crispin Glover, who has never worked in an office, inhabits the title role with the scary perfection with which he inhabits any role he plays; there's a startling similarity between this and the recent, underrated Willard, except that Willard finds some sort of warped outlet for what emotions he has and Bartleby doesn't even find that (the most poignant scene in the film is the one in which the boss discovers Bartleby has been sleeping in the office, and finds the one old photograph of what is probably Bartleby's mother amongst his things). Both cling to their horrible existences because they can see nothing else and have been warped past the ability to contemplate change (one of the most telling moments in Willard is the one in which he pleads with Martin to let him keep his job). Watching this movie I was struck yet again that Crispin Glover is one of the great truly original actors of his generation. The dvd includes features on the making of the film, including the clever device of interviews with the ensemble cast who answer questions in character, with the notable exception of Crispin Glover, who answers as his inimitable self.

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