Book Review – An Honest Woman: A Novel

“An Honest Woman: A Novel”
by JoAnn McCaig
Published by Thistledown Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$20.00 ISBN: 9781771871785


“An Honest Woman: A Novel”, written by JoAnn McCaig and published by Thistledown Press is a self-proclaimed “bookish novel” that lives up to this description with an undeniable charm. It is truly a reader and a writer’s book. The book begins with a lucid dream in which a writer mysteriously named “JM” reels at the thoughts and experiences of her romantic life. This bizarre account of life and romance also acts as a segue to introduce the character Janet Mair, who is also a writer and a mother. This portion of the novel has an interesting narrative in which fantasy and reality both play integral roles to form a complete story. Janet’s recounts of fantasy and her return to reality are signified throughout the novel by symbols that signify to the reader which part of Janet’s psyche they are currently experiencing. I must admit that when I was first introduced to this concept, I was somewhat dubious of its narrative potential. I am delighted to have been wrong and watch this narrative enigma unfold in several ways that I could have never imagined.

The story continues by intertwining characters Jay McNair and Leland Mackenzie, that are unsurprisingly also both writers. The pair begin as writers residing in Canada who know of each other’s work and are acquainted by the literary company that they keep. This develops into a budding romance that comes with its shares of excitement, lust, messiness, and confusion. A lot of readers, myself included, tend to shudder at the thought of romance as the central plot to a novel. The mind becomes littered with images of Fabio Lanzoni clutching a Victorian-dressed woman on the cover of Harlequins that stock the shelves of our nation’s Salvation Army stores. Fortunately, the writing that McCaig delivers is leagues above that sort of drivel and the result is a romance story that is intelligent and mature while also being erotic and fantastical. The narrative of this novel is also a testament to McCaig’s writing abilities as the plot effortless weaves from various characters and perspectives. If you are an avid reader and a lover of unusual narratives, you simply must explore this masterfully crafted story for yourself. As a reviewer, this novel was particularly difficult to discuss without revealing significant plot points or giving away central themes of the plot. What I can state with confidence is that the ride is worth it.

While the novel is can portray romance without the insipid dialogue that typically comes in multiple shades of grey, I would recommend this book to an adult audience. I appreciated the bold and audacious dialogue and exhibition of the components of human sexuality that are a little hard to explain. However, I could also see some of these components being misunderstood by a younger audience. For both the sake of subject matter and entertainment value, this book would be best enjoyed by an experienced reader.


The Loudest Voices

The loudest voices
talk the most and
say the least.
The loudest voices
cause deaf ears.
It does not bother them,
so long as their sound does not cease.

Cease and desist,
or at least try to resist,
the urge to be the loudest voice in the room.
This is best off learned now, learned soon.
The boisterous bask in their self-righteousness
and close their eyes while they clamor in empty victory.

It is the silent that are content to be acorns,
laying in the shadows and soaking the lessons scorned.
Patient, content.
Knowing that an Oak tree will be mighty in the ground
without ever making a sound.

Southern Blend and White Wine

Southern Blend and white wine

one half raw

and the other refined.


Do not pack me in
to fit into your lip.
Do not box me up
and use me for a sip.


I belong with the wild grapes
growing together under the sky.
Toiling, sweating, sunburnt.
Thinking, listening, feeling.
Asking why?
An imortal soul
inside an indignant ape.


The earth and leaves
leave an earthy scent
that sends me home,
refreshed from the homely,
weary ways in which the winds wave.

Crisp, October air bites
and comforts in the same breath.
Damp and dry,
Beauty and demise,
when life eclipses death.

The sun prepares her goodbyes
Her sorrow spectacularly lashes out
her tears splatter the sky.
She smoulders in a violet pout.
Her silver sister gleams in a stoic stride.

If I Only Had That Title

As I slipped into a sound slumber,
an anticipated array of idiosyncratic ideas flooded furiously into my manic mind. 

There’s the catch!

Like a great grizzly snatching struggling salmon
I pulled the greatest poetic title from the unconscious stream. 


It was glorious.
and unseen. 


It would have changed the way that you view life.
It would have made a 1/36th Cherokee poet admit that she’s white.
It would have made the artists put down their guitars, their brushes, their masks and their fifes.
It would have gifted Hellen Keller with both speech and with sight,
and her first words would be,
“Man, that title is tight.”

Some men pursue to be Kings, Emperors, CEOs, Prime Ministers, and Chiefs.
None of these titles mean anything to me.
I had the best title last night. 
It will never be topped,  
in my great and unmatched wisdom. 
My eyes were closed but my sight never better,
I had this title right down to the letter.
Ready to write down every letter.

But I smiled and pulled the blankets over my body.
Content with the future and with the present.
This title would produce my masterpiece, my legacy.
When they burn my body
this title will cling to humanity’s pipe as resin.

I fell asleep, knowing that my destiny was about to begin.
When I woke, I asked myself,

“What was that title, again?”   


High and Dry

High and dry,


Memories flood me
of the waves slapping, crashing, bounding, and lashing.
The sea’s ceaseless battery.
Helplessly panicking, beating, and thrashing.

Sinking like a rock, and heavy as one too.
Soaked as a dog with mange
Shivering, descending into the blue.
Saturated, destined to a watery grave.

Yet here I am,
my land legs still intact, my body still sound.
The sun warms my face, my skin supple and tanned.
I smile at my time in the water, the times that I almost drowned.

I appreciate the warmth
and look forward to the coasts.
My back to the tides.
Onwards I go,

to stay high and dry.

The Incel Scare is Directed At the Wrong DC Movie (and Why I Think So)

Photo Credit: Quentin Rey

Recently, it has been floating around various news sites and sources that the US Army and other law enforcement authorities such as the FBI and the LAPD have released statements warning the general population to be wary of potential gunmen at screenings of the movie Joker, to be released on October 4th, 2019. The aforementioned gunmen belong to a fringe group of delusional and disillusioned young men who refer to themselves as “involuntary celibates” or “incels”, in the case that you haven’t spent more than 5 minutes on the internet and didn’t know that. The controversy surrounding Joker is that the titular clown, played by Joaquin Phoenix, may be considered a sort of champion to the incel community as they may identify with a single, awkward, and lonely man who violently lashes out against the world in response to the cruelties that society and life has repeatedly subjected him to. We do, indeed, live in a society.

As a disclaimer, I am not an incel myself nor am I associated with the incel community in any way. While I am going to elaborate my thoughts on incels and the senseless violence that they perpetrate on innocent people, it can be boiled down to the immortal words of Larry David, “I couldn’t get any dates, either, you don’t see me taking it out on anybody.” I also do not celebrate or condone any of the recent gun violence caused by incels or otherwise. As a second disclaimer, I do not claim to be an authority on anything. This article is just some jackoff’s thoughts and opinions. Got it? Good, let’s continue.

On the surface, it would be easy to think that incels believe the world owes them sex, owes them good looks and a rockin’ bod, owes them unyielding respect from women and peers alike, and other entitled nonsense. While I wholeheartedly believe that incels are extremely entitled people, I also believe that the incel mindset is deeply rooted in insecurity. A short incel believes women only like tall men, a poor incel believes women are “money-grubbing whores”, the incel who is insecure about his facial structures believes women are helplessly attracted to Rob Lowe, an incel into fitness thinks he has to attain Zac Efron’s shredded abs before women will even look at him; you get the idea. It is simple masculine insecurities projected on to society and especially on to women. I don’t even place all the blame on the incels; they are usually impressionable young dudes who get trapped into online echo chambers that enable and exacerbate their anger when instead they should be focusing on improving other facets of their life and improving their confidence in doing so. They may just not have the tools to do that. I know this as someone who has dealt with insecurities, myself, as I am sure most of us have. It is a sad trap that I legitimately hope the young men in it can pull themselves out of.

What does this have to do with a fictional clown, you ask? Incels are typically young men who have an interest in things like comics and video games, which is NOT the issue. Lots of people are into that, both are multi-billion-dollar industries that are typically consumed by healthy, stable people. I think the problem stems from the incel community consistently engaging in separating fiction from reality, whether that be with the warped ideas on attraction and beauty or fictional violence against women or the “Chads” (a good looking, popular male) that they despise in the form of forum fantasies and manic manifestos. The concern is that an incel seasoned in delusion will take inspiration from Jack White, or Arthur Fleck if you’re a pleb, and real-life 2012 theatre murderer James Holmes and open fire on people during the screenings. In fact, the scare is so great that some theatres have outright banned moviegoers from wearing masks and costumes to the movie.

While incel-caused violence is undoubtedly escalating in North America, I don’t think that this is a movie that they will strike at. Put yourself in the shoes of an incel for a moment: you’re a guy in between the ages of 18 – 30, single, somewhat of a loner, you spend too much time online and in front of the TV, probably don’t have a whole lot going on in life and, I don’t want to say it – but c’mon – let’s be real, you’re a white guy. You want revenge on the world because absolutely none of the bad things happening to you are even a smidge of your fault and couldn’t be improved on with just a little bit of effort. No, you must make the Chads and the Staceys (a placeholder name for the women who incels project aggression onto, usually also portrayed as attractive, vapid, and popular) who have been so cruel to you pay. With that in mind, why shoot up Joker? Why shoot up the movie that many critics claim is one of the few pieces of media that actually gets you, man? If the Joker is the champion of the incels, why shoot up a theatre room that is likely filled with your comrades? At the very least, why take out your misogynistic rage out on a room filled with far more men than women? None of this adds up. However, there is a movie, a DC movie, coming out soon in which an incel shooting would make sense in the sad, warped way that anything makes sense to an incel.

A few months ago, it was announced that Batman would be getting yet another reboot (I wonder what happens to Bruce’s parents this time) starring none other than Robert Pattinson, the “Twilight Guy”. The movie is scheduled for release in 2021, and guess who the fuck Batman will be fighting this time around? That’s right – Mr. “Gamers Rise Up”, himself, The Joker (though not the same Joker from the 2019 movie). Put yourself back in the shoes of our fictitious incel for another gross moment. As you are somewhere in your 20s, you likely grew up rolling your eyes at the Twilight movies and watched so many girls and young women fawn over the scrawny Pattinson and his portrayal of the bedazzled vampire, Edward Cullen, back in the 2008/2009s. Every high school in the US and Canada was littered with posters, notebooks, t-shirts, and oh, Lord, was there ever fanfiction. The series even inspired a short-lived vampire-themed fashion and musical fad in youth culture. Like it or not, the Twilight series was an unstoppable cultural force at the time driven mainly by females. A decade later, you see the same effeminate vampire that all the normie girls adored playing Bruce Wayne: a mega-rich, handsome, ripped playboy who breaks all the rules but still gets the girls and is praised as the hero. Sounds a little bit like a “Chad”, no? It’s a Chadception of Robert “Chad” Pattinson playing Chad Wayne, who will likely kick the snot out of the downtrodden, incel underdog. A straight-on Batman movie starring Robert Pattinson is also going to attract more normies, more casual moviegoers, and most notably more women to the theatres than the Todd Phillips-directed Joker fanfare released this year will. The Stacey’s of your high schools who grew up as Twilight fangirls are now young women with stable careers, a healthy social life, and, Hell, maybe even a loving family of their own. Stacey has all of that and you don’t, doesn’t that just make you see red? Well, they’re the ones who might check out a Batman movie if Rob Pattinson is it, or tag along with their Chad husband (who hasn’t even read a real Batman comic!).

At the end of the day, I hope that the hype surrounding these shootings is wrong and that everyone who sees the movie is safe and enjoys it. I also hope that I am wrong about the upcoming Batman movie in 2021, as well. The cynic in me believes that the incel-shooting hype is a sick publicity stunt cooked up by some marketing boardroom attempting to shove down the tired trope of what an edgy character the Joker is. A person must be vigilant when going out to a movie with the Joker in it, but I believe that the movie is going to be coming out two years from now.

Turn My Mind Off

What goes up,
must come down.

What comes around,
goes around.

Fiesty fatigue feasts
on original obligations.
Greedily glued to the game.
Anointed to an apex.

Where are my next steps?

Aren’t I always in motion?
Will day not always become night?
Can I not do anything without reactionary notions?
Can I not get out of light?
I’m going to try my best to not be on,
time to turn my mind off.

What It’s Like to Leave

The damp dirt soothes my soul
as I walk to my Jeep through damp grass,
pouring rain.
Go get gas.
Come back to me.
I choke, tears roll.

I swallow, it’s easier to quickly bail.
The pedal dictates my forced escape
trapped in a mobile, ironic jail.
My journey just now taking shape.

Darkness descends desperately
surly skies sulk
cigar clouds cumulate
enraged emotions ejaculate
belittling bellows balk.

crying, cool, creepy. 

Hands gripped on the wheel
and my heart.
Eyes on the road
never on the goal.
Burning gas and burning time.
Coffee, tea, Swisher Sweets, and the grind. 


is so much easier than goodbye.
It doesn’t take a fucking poet to figure out why.
She needs me, I’ll take the pain, accept the crying.
Nothing concerns me, not the eye-rolls not the sighs.

I start my ignition,

to do it all again.  



Au Revoir à Rien

Sometimes I wonder what’s in the dark.

Sometimes I wonder what lurks behind closed eyes.

Does the world end with a nap?
Or does the soul emerge from the mortal cocoon,
shedding the drudgery, the prejudice, the shackles of our pathetic past?

What was I supposed to do here?
I’ve been told that I need to find my Dad.
I called out for him, he went out for a jug of milk.
So I shrug and I sulk.
What’s the purpose of finding a purpose? I’d be dead lyin’ if I didn’t say that my deadline happening at any moment makes me feel alive.
Bless my poor little heart and the stress that I put it through
Earth returns to earth.
My hot blood spurts a scorching statement, it spits in the face of chance.

Fuck you and your comfort.
I’d rather be full of piss and vinegar
than full of regret.
Fuck me and my polite reserves
this is my life, it belongs to me.
I’d rather ruffle some feathers
than be a bird in a cage.

Stay on guard
Stay pissed off.
Smile in the face of anxiety
We chose half-truths and easy answers
over hard decisions
over rethinking our biases.

We chose of life of being
Docile, infertile.
Medicated, sedated.
tame, lame.
simple, limp.
Formulaic, archaic.


Choose life.