Inspired by his experience volunteering in Vancouver's notorious Downtown East Side, Michael Christie explores the humanity of people living on the fringes of society in his debut collection of nine linked stories. Indeed, his characters include the drug addicted, the homeless, the mentally ill, as well as those who interact with the city's outcasts.
"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.
on April 22, 2011
In The Art of Recklessness, Dean Young writes "Let us laugh so hard we disrupt the tragedy!" and "We are making birds, not birdcages." Michael Christie's stories are birds, made from a language free from artifice and social obligation; the characters are humans trying their hardest. Christie writes, to borrow from DFW, "from the part of [himself] that loves, rather than the part that just wants to be loved."
"...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.
on April 8, 2011
I really wanted to love this book! After all, I have lived in Vancouver for many years, and I am familiar with the plight of those in Vancouver Downtown Eastside.
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. I don't want to say to much more - so as not to spoil the book for any of you. The last story is an interesting twist of a tale.
While this book did not grab me the way I expected - in retrospect, I supppose the majority of the stories were worthwhile reads. This author did particulary well in portraying the poor, the marginalized, and the mentally ill -and how so many of us could be but a short step from those on the street. For that reason alone, perhaps this is an important read.