Anakana Schofield on literary Vancouver: "Books that made me turn off the vacuum"
The domestic features significantly in my debut novel Malarky. Domestic territory and behaviour are surveyed, examined and subverted within it. Lest this give the impression I am way domestic, I assert from blast off that vacuuming is the sole household task I excel at. If there was a way to vacuum and read simultaneously I would do it. I have succeeded in walking and reading. I have almost succeeded at knitting and reading, but vacuuming and reading still evades me.
When I was frustrated writing Malarky I would turn on the vacuum. The straight lines, diagonals and heave-ho repetition improved my disposition, but inevitably my mind wandered to books I wanted to revisit. Sometimes to simply reacquaint with a sole paragraph.
Here are some, of the many, local Vancouver books that have caused me to strand the hoover in the middle of the floor and search for a paragraph or moment in them.
Taxi! by Helen Potrebenko: Taxi!, originally published in 1975, is my favourite Vancouver novel. It's a working class, feminist classic which centres on a woman taxi driver, Shannon, as she navigates the city. I have read this book 6 times and each time I open it a new paragraph hops out at me. I've taken this novel into the streets and read it to the buildings that now sit where Taxi! is set (performance art piece) and asked people to read it "shotgun" by opening the book any place and reading aloud what they land on. It has never failed me yet.
"Long-haired entrepreneurs changed the ugliness of Water Street into the ugliness of Gastown and now instead of old men begging, there were young men begging. The city never really changed: it had a way of transforming change like a great sprawling organism which absorbs foreignness into its own body."
Adventures in Debt Collection by Fred Booker: I discovered Fred Booker's short stories in recent years through Commodore Books, an imprint that publishes BC Black Fiction. I enjoyed reading them beside Potrebenko's Taxi! Booker reminds me of Ireland's William Trevor. His stories acknowledge that people go to work and document the delirium that can result in their jobs. That they touch on the interactions of a debt collector has a particular resonance in this period of economic hardship and calamity for many. A windscreen on social class, Booker's stories will chime for anyone who has worked in a job where you feel invisible.
"A baleful clamour rang beneath the chemical haze of the single industry-town"
Crossings Betty Lambert: Crossings is a startling and brilliant novel. It has recently been republished under the Vancouver 125 Legacy Books initiative. The novel starkly (and sometimes uncomfortably) examines the unremitting nature of demented, violent relationships. Betty Lambert (who also wrote 74 plays) was unrelenting in tackling the difficult material that she could easily have shied from. Crossings uncomfortably digs into holes we'd probably rather not look. (Mick is a shuddering creation.) Even the opening of the novel acknowledges something rarely acknowledged in Vancouver fiction: the sense of the city existing beyond merely its cartography. That its workers, especially seasonal, have historically gone out to the bush, to fish, to log and returned to the city.
"'You can't destroy me,' he had said 'I've been destroyed by the experts.'"
Subject To Change by Renee Rodin: Rodin's memoir is a local literary treasure. It's a welcome relief from the spouting male memoirs that crowd our civic shelves. It's subject matter isn't brash or boastful, rather a reflective documentation of Rodin's artistic, family, and activist life. It fills in more recent literary happenings, city changes and the odd political encounter as Rodin ran a bookshop (R2B2) on Vancouver's West Side for many years. She also places value on her experience of parenting and taking care of her parents, but her prose is refreshingly free of the precious tones that can sometimes beset the topic.
Subject to Change, comprised of essay pieces, is humorous, sad, and uplifting and reflects that to which we all aspire, an honest life, well lived and in which we are warmly loved.
"At an anti-war vigil on 4th Avenue packed with pre-Chrismas shoppers, I spied BC's Premier, Gordon Campbell, strutting down the street. In his pea coat and cords he looked kind of ordinary until I saw his dull eyes."
Anakana Schofield is an Irish-Canadian writer of fiction, essays, and literary criticism. She contributes to the London Review of Books, The Recorder: The Journal of the American Irish Historical Society, the Globe & Mail, and the Vancouver Sun. She has lived in London and Dublin, and now resides in Vancouver. Malarky is her first novel and has been chosen to be part of Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program for the summer of 2012.