The Spoon Asylum: A Book Review

“The Spoon Asylum”
by Caroline Misner
Published by Thistledown Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$15.95 ISBN: 9781771871556

The Spoon Asylum, written by Caroline Misner and published by Thistledown Press is a fun and thoughtful piece of historical fiction that lets the reader laugh, while also reflecting on the ugly parts of Canada’s past that modern Canadians do not like to think about.

Set in the 1930s at the peak of the Great Depression in the small Ontario town of Davisville, The Spoon Asylum follows the story of young Haven Cattrell, a precocious seventeen-year-old boy who is struggling find his identity and is hungry to prove his worth as a man to his family and to the world. While working as a farmhand on his grandmother’s farm, Haven comes across a vagrant who is looking for work in exchange for some food and shelter, although the man is met with downright hostility by his grandmother, Haven cannot help but be enthralled by the man, and even more so by his harmonica and the sweet music that he plays through it. This exchange with the mysterious vagrant inspires Haven to go into town in search of work, himself. Perhaps this decision was the product of youthful pride, or perhaps to allow Haven to enter a piece of his father’s world, who like many Canadians at the time was also a desperate drifter in search of employment.

Haven’s noble journey is soon sidetracked by the brash, soaring melodies of a trumpet. It is here that Haven meets Wetherby Moss, an African-American jazz musician working as a cook with his son Jude, who is also a musician, for a prestigious girl’s camp near Haven’s home. The camp is run by Miss Nokomis, a “real Ojibwa priestess” who oversees the camp with a stern grasp and is not all that she appears to be.

The novel continues to follow Haven’s summer working with the musicians and learning to play and love jazz music with the help of his two new, dear friends. It is not just of jazz that Haven learns at this camp, but also of the sad, unjust treatment that African Americans of his time suffered. Haven, being the naïve boy that he is, does not understand how his friends could be subject to such treatment. As Haven learns of the implications of racism, he also traverses the uncertainty and pain of love and heartbreak as the reader watches him develop into a young man.

Misner crafts this story with dialogue that is chock-full of wit and intellect. Despite its heavy topics, it was a book that made me laugh out loud on several occasions. In addition to this, I found it to be quite a light read, with perfect pacing and a coherent storyline never bogged down by unnecessary details or pedantic writing. It is a book that both the twelve-year-old and the sixty-year-old in your family can both enjoy equally. In conclusion, The Spoon Asylum is Canadian historical fiction at its finest and a beautifully crafted story from start to finish.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings (A Book Review)

“The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings”
by Victor Carl Friesen
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$25.00 ISBN: 9781988783222

The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings is the latest publication from legendary Saskatchewan poet Victor Carl Friesen and his fourth collection of poems and accompanying paintings, both of which produce warm, nostalgic, and detailed recollections of the beautiful nature found in Saskatchewan and of life on the farm.

Printed in July of 2018 and published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing, this riveting collection of fifty-five poems is separated into two portions that each illustrates different themes in the author’s life. The first section, titled “A Burgeoning”, is comprised mainly of descriptive, traditional poetry that, as mentioned, describes the natural phenomenon and rural life in Saskatchewan. The latter section, titled “The World Illuminated”, is far more abstract and delves into the emotions, opinions, and outlooks on life of the author. In both segments, Friesen showcases his uncanny descriptive abilities that immediately transport the reader to the bountiful natural beauty found in Saskatchewan. While reading such poems as “A Leaf in the Wind” or “Spring’s Regalia”, I was reminded of times being out in the fields while hiking or hunting, appreciating the beauty of rural Saskatchewan, myself. Through Friesen’s words, I could clearly see the fields, the deer, and the grouse. I could feel the crunch of yellow leaves under my feet and felt the sweet scent of autumn in my nose.

On the surface, many of the settings that Friesen covers may seem mundane, but through his brilliant, quirky, insightful wordsmithing and incredibly detailed paintings to complement them he animates these times and places to life. In my opinion, this is best showcased in the poem, “A Bird of His Own Feather”, in which Friesen engages in a one-way conversation with a simple crow.  Most Saskatchewanians would view crows as a dime-a-dozen, but Friesen instead comments on their mischief and their undeniable essence to Saskatchewan winters.

To conclude, The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings is an extraordinary piece of literature that belongs in any poetry or art fanatic’s collection. Through both the pen and the brush Friesen has truly immortalized the beauty found in our great province. I hope that whoever reads this piece next gets even half of the enjoyment I did from it, and that it inspires them to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of our natural world that Friesen sees.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

Planes

As a boy, I would look up to the clear, blue skies
mesmerized
by the screaming white lines and triangle silhouettes.
Miniature and mysterious.
White and grey.

Crawling through the abyss
in slow motion
at blistering speeds
they march,
at altitudes as high as my ungrounded dreams.

 

My head in the clouds.
The pristine cerulean brilliance, once arrogant in its own awe
is now cyan. Tainted by envy.
I longed to pierce the heights, to damn Nature’s law.

 

My head in the clouds.
Someday I would be there.
I would be on one.

One turned to two.
Two became three.
Three.

And many more.

Daydreams of worldly travel died with long, sleepless nights and Oriental Mix.
An international hub of shysters, sore feet and dicks.
A bustling city of the dead. No one stops, no one lives. No one rests.
Creativity thrives amongst thieves and franchises,
demanding inconvenience as the price for the convenience.
Tired, hungry, and drained
forced to fight a war
versus an army of employees
who need to get laid.

BE THERE TWO HOURS EARLY!

They say,

To be two hours delayed.

 

Despite the delays,
the maze,
the twelve hour days
and the employees who need a lay.

Despite it all,
Tell the child in me that I made it,
that the beauty of the flight is worth endurance of the locusts.
I now look down at the billowing, majestic clouds.
Light as a feather,
moving anciently, as if woken from a millennia old slumber.
Flexing, lumbering, and blustering like the authority of the Earth that they are.

Respect is found in my heart,
my true size revealed in this wild tube ride.
Mesmerized
by the yawning white behemoths below,
and their black silhouettes.
Majestic and mysterious.
White and grey.

 

River Rock

Tell me, River Rock, what do you know?
Wisdom that cannot erode,
timeless flow.

Cradled smooth.
Ancient, nomadic,
unmoved.

The affection of Creator’s eye embraces you.
Spectacular shades of love.
The glistening, rapid streams of your heaven above
reflect spectacular of reds, violets, and blues.

The fish swallow and spit you out as bone.
The children laugh and skip you over ripple and rave.
You sink to the bottom.
You sink with your legion, an army in a lave,
yet you are completely alone.

Cradled smooth.
Ancient, nomadic,
unmoved.

The Birthday Poem

The skeleton dances ’round the sun again.
It dances with the sword, the mat, and the pen.

“Happy Birthday” creeps me the fuck out.
Standing loved ones surround me,
my heart resounds with anxiety.
Delusions of immortality fade into doubt.
I look around, it’s too uncomfortable to stare at the smiling people.
They sing off-harmony, they sing off-key.
They sing from the heart, they sing with glee.

“What an archaic tradition,” I mutter to myself.
A great, white ball of fire is before me,
ready to be extinguished,
ready to reveal a singular prophecy.

The loved laugh.
My love is by my side.
“What an archaic tradition,” I mutter. “But I guess it’s not that bad.”
Annual lifetimes have brought change, sorrow, toil, and laughter.
Twenty-seven trips- some were triumphs and some were disasters.
I laugh, I think, and I shed a tear.
“What an archaic tradition,” I mutter.

“But I do hope to do it all again next year.”

The Casino

A glorified bingo palace,
same indignant smell.
Saps sitting silently,
counting contently,
offering obediently.

Saps sitting silently,
planted in place.
Pacing in place- preparing for self-promised pipe dreams.

Tax dodgers, collections dodgers, draft dodgers, wife dodgers, and coffin dodgers alike
flock as moths to the warm glow of the pharaoh,
as disciples they listen
to the soothing reassurances from bets high and low,
that their grass may grow greener.
Reality goes on strike.

Down the dated carpet I walk,
I see the young and old fixed on cards and screens,
sarificing precious time and superficial dollars
to legal criminals, to cheats in blue collars.
The wolves who have ditched wool for Armani cackle,
friends of the fallen feed the fiends.

This is not meant to provide fame nor fortune, this vice.
How can these people be so gullible, so docile, as well trained pets?
So I shake my head, and I buy a beer.
I hum and I haw, I light a cigarette.
I take a drink,
I take a puff,
I curl my lips in contempt at the saps,
I sneer,

“What a waste of life.”

Soapbox Stories Presents: The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind- A Book Review

“The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind”
by Vanessa Farnsworth
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Ben Charles
C$19.95
ISBN:
9781771871570

“The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind”, a collection of short stories written by Vanessa Farnsworth and published by Thistledown Press, is a riveting adventure of both the zany and the ordinary shown through the lens of interesting and realistic female protagonists. In our age of insipid, lazy, and cliché literature and filmography I found it truly refreshing to live the experiences of women with actual depth and character that extend further than either hopeless romantics who just need a man or vapid arm candy. Farnsworth crafts her characters with such care and insight that it was impossible for me to not to crack smiles as I read these misadventures. In each story I found myself relating with her characters, laughing with them or at them, and sincerely resonating with their emotions and struggles. I do acknowledge that from reading this as a male I may not have the correct perspective to fully appreciate this work, but did gain valuable insight from it that I hope readers of all genders can also reap.

After reading stories such as “The Canoe” and “Ten Reasons I Won’t Be Going To Heaven”, I continued forward with a secret hope that there would be sequels or continuations of these stories further on. The famous saying goes, “always leave them wanting more”, and Farnsworth certainly delivers on this front in the best way possible, and I still do hope that Farnsworth elaborates on these brilliant stories in her future work. All of that being said, each story was perfect in length and leaves the reader wanting more, yet satisfied with a complete story every time.

Although the stories are consistently high in quality and all have Farnsworth’s undeniably charming style, each story is also completely different. I never felt that I was reading the same story twice. Farnsworth’s range is beautifully demonstrated in this collection as her stories effortlessly jump from the relatively mundane to the extraordinarily bizarre. “The Beaver” is one of my personal favourites of this collection and the best example of how Farnsworth’s writing straddles these two ends of the spectrum with delightfully witty delivery. The story follows a crackpot scheme of two dysfunctional suburbanite drinking-buddies as they sip cocktails and discuss their plans to wreak havoc on those who have wronged them with a stray beaver who has made a home of one of their backyard pools. The story unfolds as the two lushes go from the best of friends to bickering over the slightest of perceived insults, and ends with one of the women hatching a new plan of betrayal.            

In conclusion, I would highly recommend “The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind” to those seeking well-written, charismatic, and realistic female protagonists in literature, or to those who are simply fans of strong storytelling. I found the greatest charm in how realistic these stories can be. They detail the struggles, fears, and insecurities that women actually experience and showcase them to the reader through an entertaining adventure.   

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOK STORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM