What truly matters: A review of The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

the tiny wife book

“…the vast majority of you, if you even believe you have a soul, believe it sits inside you like a brick of gold….nothing could be further from the truth.”

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

After attending the book launch for The Tiny Wife, I was intrigued by the book’s imaginative content, and I had to experience it for myself. Being a short book, it only took me a one-way train ride home to finish it. I experienced a whole range of emotions while reading it, from the humorous chuckle to the perplexed mumble.

I won’t bother giving the usual quick summary in this review, as that can already be found on the blog via the book launch post from earlier (link provided above).

illustration in the tiny wifeMetaphorical and witty, The Tiny Wife is a joy to read. While its language is simple, its meanings are complex and full of wisdom. After being robbed, strange events start to happen for all of those involved, many of which are not plausible. But all of these happenings are significant.

The woman who is chased by her lion tattoo is being chased for a reason. Her name is Dawn, and the lion tattoo represented the moment she finally got the courage to break up with her boyfriend. Now this very tattoo has come to life and is chasing her all over the city non-stop. It is not until Dawn finally stops to look at the lion that she realizes she has nothing to fear at all. The lion’s features are not menacing but quizzical. As a result, Dawn is able to send it after the robber instead, who she randomly runs into in the market. The meaning I took from this scenario is that running from your problems does not solve them in the long run, and one moment of courage isn’t enough. Dawn needed to embody that courage fully, which meant more than just physically representing it through the tattoo. There are a couple other scenarios I enjoyed, such as the man who has carried around a refused engagement ring for months. His metaphorical awakening is just as powerful, involving the woman he thought he loved, a broken heart, and a moving vehicle. You’ll have to read it to find out why.

However, because the book was so short, I do feel that a lot was missed out on. I was still very curious about what happened to all the other characters who had something of emotional value taken from them. What did they give to the robber? Did they save their souls? Or did they all wink out of existence instead? The book left me wanting more, but that is often the nature of a novella.

I also found that some metaphors alluded me, such as the man who gave the robber a wedding picture of his wife’s parents. What does tying his shoes, suddenly declaring he is leaving his wife, only to find she is already gone actually mean? I can’t figure it out for the life of me. Perhaps I am the only one with this problem, but these small unknowns left me puzzled and fearful that I was missing out on something that was supposed to be evident but wasn’t. This power of subtlety, while frustrating on occasion, is also the genius of Kaufman’s writing, and I’m just sorry that I’m missing out on some of it. This is also why Kaufman’s ending is so satisfying, as you will find out when you read the book yourself. In regards to Kaufman’s main characters, you can understand the metaphorical growth that happens between Stacey and her husband, David during this whole odd experience of  her shrinking bit by bit each day—it is, ironically, a growth that is gradual and natural, that which easily resonates with everyday people and everyday life.

Stacey’s husband, David is also the narrator, which is an interesting feature in The Tiny Wife. Obviously, because David wasn’t physically there, he is telling the story based purely on what Stacey has told him. Some of the holes in the story make sense due to this limited point of view. It is also interesting because, like David, we are outsiders to these events.We arrive at the same conclusions and experience the same epiphanies alongside David, unless he gives us a peak at information he was given at a later point in time. I think this was a great stylistic choice on Kaufman’s part, as it gives the story a different dimension. We aren’t privy to Stacey’s deepest thoughts and emotions, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation instead of just being told the facts. It is a less heavy-handed approach I sometimes enjoy.

Now, I can completely understand Kaufman’s personal message in my copy now: “Don’t let this happen to you.” Well, I will definitely not be letting this happen to me, but if I come close, I can always be reminded to cherish what is most important in life by reserving an hour to reread The Tiny Wife.

4 out of 5 book thumbs up

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The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman, published in Canada by Cormorant Books © 2014

Available at Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere.

 

 

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And the wheel stops turning… – A review of A Memory of Light, Book 14: The Final Volume by Robert Jordan

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan

“All was shattered, and all but memory lost, and one memory above all others, of him who brought the Shadow and the Breaking of the World. And him they named Dragon.”

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

*Some Spoilers…but not many.”

I don’t think I can give a decent review of this book, simply because I have been reading the books for a span of twelve years (as I’m sure most of Robert Jordan’s fans have — He is similar to George R.R. Martin in that way). Naturally, I have forgotten some important features of the series and I have also lost my intimate knowledge of the characters. However, this lapse of memory will not deter me from writing a simple review and final farewell to the first-ever colossal series I started as a young adult.

A Memory of Light is the third and final contribution Brian Sanderson has made to the series while filling in for Robert Jordan (The man did as he promised and wrote until they nailed his coffin shut). Throughout this giant book, standard size in the series, we witness all the events leading up to and that are a part of the Last Battle. It is a harrowing struggle between the Light and the Dark, however, the battle seems quite sour with Egwene’s and Elayne’s armies being overwhelmed by Shadowspawn. The Dark One seems to have an endless supply of Trollocs to throw in their direction. Sticking together, the armies of the Light bond together in support of Rand and the single objective of defeating the Dark One before he can take full grasp of the world. However, it takes every effort to hold on long enough in the hope that Rand will emerge victorious before their strength wanes entirely.

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan coverLike I said, it has been while since I’ve read the series, so my memory of each book is foggy at best. But, in regards to the series overall, I found this book not so dragged out with extended events that disengaged the main characters, like Matt and Perrin, from the main storyline. Previous books usually had them gallivanting off in different directions. It was refreshing to see all the characters united in a single cause yet still independent from one another. Matt is still adorable in his quirky and humorous mannerisms, but he also becomes more responsible—a leader. Perrin is still that pillar of silent strength and endurance, but in the same way that Matt develops, we see Perrin finally accept himself as both man and wolf rather than constantly battle between the two. This acceptance makes him suddenly a formidable force that Slayer can’t possible compete with in the end. I especially enjoyed Egwene’s transformation. She truly became a magnificent Amyrlin Seat, unsurpassed by all who came before her and likely all who came after. She leads the battle until she is spent and she doesn’t break even when she experiences the greatest loss an Aes Sedai can experience.

Everyone seemed to solidify as individuals by the end of the book, making sacrifices and decisions that defined them. I was still unsatisfied with Rand, though. He seems to lose his three-dimensional aspects and became very simple in his characterization: I must say goodbye, defeat the Dark One, and die. Okay, Rand, that’s great and all, but who are you, really? I wasn’t convinced I knew him in the same way I got to know all the other principal characters by the end of the book. A lot of people in the series talk about liking Rand before he was the Dragon Reborn, and I can’t help feeling the same way. He was a lot more complicated and colourful in his characterization and becoming the Dragon Reborn should have only amplified that rather than dim it completely.

The Last Battle is where all the action happens, and it takes up a good chunk of the book (The chapter is over 100 pages long!!!). I didn’t mind the chapter’s length, however, as much as I minded the repetition beforehand: “Last Battle this” and “Last Battle that.” The redundancy of those two words became exhausting, and the importance of this event was gradually eroded away. A little variance in the gravity of the situation would have been appreciated.

The Last Battle lived up to its name. There was chaos. There was death (some heart wrenching). It was a magnanimous struggle. I was thoroughly enthralled with the battle on all sides. The intensity was catching as the armies dealt with heavy losses, traitors in their midst, and the Forsaken trying to undermine them at every turn. Alas, there is another “but.” Purely caught up in the battle raging outside Shayol Ghul, I was severely disappointed that the same intensity was not developed in the battle between Rand and the Dark One. Instead of this grand final fight between the two, there was only “mind games,” creating imagined worlds based on who won. The plot slowed down horribly whenever Sanderson focused on Rand. I don’t know about anyone else, but I had a lot of “raised eyebrow” looks for these scenes. For all the hype generated for this battle and what it would mean if they lost, I wasn’t convinced. The battle was very figurative and abstract, which failed to keep me interested when so much more exciting action was happening elsewhere, and that elsewhere was where I felt the most investment in the storyline.

I did enjoy A Memory of Light, despite its flaws. It was the end of the series and, for the most part, a fitting one. We saw where everyone ended up, and we were left with a bit of mystery to play with (after all, “all-wrapped up nicely” endings are old school these days).

Wheel of Time series quote

Farewell, Wheel of Time, it has been a pleasure going on this twelve-year journey with you.

4 out of 5 book thumbs up

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A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson published in the USA by TOR Fantasy © 2013

Available at TOR, Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere.

 

An upside down Chicago: A review of Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent

“One Choice Transforms You”

Divergent by Veronica Roth

 Yes, I am little late to the party, but I have only recently been given the time to read for pleasure…so, yes, I am playing catch-up.

Not only has the trilogy finished, a film has been released, and there is now a special edition titled Four that just came out this month. So behind or not, the Divergent series is still alive and kicking with popularity.

Divergent, the first book in the dystopian series, has been accused more than once of being a rip off of The Hunger Games. I can definitely see it. All Divergent lacks is the more pronounced love triangle (I mean, there is a short-lived one, but nothing to get excited about) and the games where young kids kill each other for the amusement of others (although, kids are still killing kids in Divergent, just not in a controlled setting). If we are all being honest, whether we like one series more than the other, they both revolve around a similar plot line.

A quick recap on what Divergent is about: It is based in a post-apocalyptic version of Chicago divided into five different factions. The whole of society is based on these societal divisions, which classify citizens based on their dominant personality type. The factions are Dauntless (basically wildly brave and daring), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent [or full of themselves, really]), Abnegation (the selfless and caring), and Candor (the crazily honest). On an appointed day of every year, the newly turned sixteen-year-olds take a placement test which ultimately decides which faction you are best suited for. The candidate must then choose whether to remain with their family’s faction or join another. Those who do not complete initiation into their new faction become “Factionless” and are forced to live in poverty on the streets of this very upside down Chicago.

Sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior is born into an Abnegation family, however, she never feels like she truly belongs to Abnegation due to her inability to wholly embody selflessness. She can’t understand why it comes so easy for her brother, who is always looking at her disapprovingly when she screws up. It isn’t until Choosing Day that Beatrice comes to understand that she is even more different than she had ever realized. When her results come back inconclusive, her tester warns her that she is divergent and if she wants to live, she can tell no one. With her results giving her a range of options (Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless), Beatrice must make a choice. In the end her admiration of the fearless faction, compels her to join Dauntless, where she is put to the ultimate test of endurance and bravery Abnegation had never required of her. Fully adopting her new identity as Dauntless, Beatrice is the first to make the jump into her new faction’s headquarters and changes her name to Tris. She also meets Four, her initiation instructor who has a dangerous secret of his own to protect.

But trying to pass the Dauntless initiation ritual is the least of Tris’ worries when she discovers that her society of five factions isn’t as stable as it has always appeared to be. She catches wind of a plot that will not only reveal her as divergent but will unravel any semblance of peace that remains among all of the factions.

*

 I love quick-and-easy reads, and young adult books are a great go-to when that is what you’re looking for. A well-written book, Divergent offers a fast-paced, easy-to-follow plot line that keeps you hooked without any of those annoying lulls in action that make a reader struggle to the finish line. The action continuously progresses with jolts of violence and romantic attachment. Roth also sets her story in a familiar landscape—modern day Chicago. The well-known landmarks are mentioned from the Pier to the Bean, which vividly bring this new world order to life. Having just visited Chicago for the first time this past winter, I felt even more involved in the book, because I was able to pick out features of the city Roth would mention in passing during Tris’ training.

I also really enjoyed the main character, Tris. She is not the archetype heroine. Instead, she is clumsy, initially weak, and she often fails to make the right choice. However, these qualities make her human. We see her grow and, in some instances, forced to grow as she faces new and unexpected challenges as part of the Dauntless faction. She is the every girl instead of just the girl. Despite the fact that she is an upside down world and literally battling a revolution, readers can easily connect with Tris as she tries to make friends and survive initiation, which isn’t that much different from trying to survive high school.

The one thing I wish the book was more informative on was why Chicago has become this divided city. Is the rest of the world like this? Who started the war and why? And how long have these factions been in place? These are all important questions that were glossed over, and while this didn’t hinder the engrossing storyline, I still felt cheated of an explanation. Hopefully, the second and third book are prepared to tell me a bit more.

 All in all, despite following a dominant trend, Divergent is a well-imagined story that makes the impossible plausible . It also does a great job at recognizing just how blended and different our personalities are. We are not one or other like Roth’s made-up world has tried to be…we are all divergent.

4 out of 5 book thumbs up

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Divergent by Veronica Roth, published in Canada by HarperCollins Canada © 2011

Available at Amazon, Chapters, and independent bookstores everywhere.

The superhero in all of us: A review of All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

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“Each one of these superheroes is special yet common, gifted yet clumsy, triumphant yet sad, simultaneously extraordinary and common. Just like you and just like me.”  
— Andrew Kaufman, All My Friends Are Superheroes
I didn’t know of Andrew Kaufman’s celebrated book All My Friends are Super Heroes until I started working in publishing and heard about the publication of its tenth anniversary edition by Coach House Books. The book certainly doesn’t align with the usual titles on my to-read list, but it has now become a welcomed addition to what I have read.Kaufman’s has a varied, and now expanded, list of superheroes that he introduces throughout the book. For example, there’s The Stress Bunny, who has the miraculous cure for everyone else’s stress by absorbing it all into herself. Or The Copycat, who can mimic anyone’s style to the point that the original subject feels like a less successful copy of herself.The story focuses on the relationship between Tom and The Perfectionist (her power is she can quickly organize anything at any given time). Tom, unlike everyone he knows, is not a superhero, but he is perfect for and perfectly in love with The Perfectionist. However, their love goes array on the day of their wedding when Hypno, The Perfectionist’s ex-boyfriend, hypnotizes her to think that Tom has disappeared. After not being able to see Tom for six months straight, The Perfectionist is convinced Tom has abandoned her for good and she must somehow move on with her life. In order to do so, The Perfectionist boards a plane destined for Vancouver. She is completely unaware that Tom, having booked the same flight for himself, is sitting next to her. Now, Tom has only hours to make himself visible to The Perfectionist before he loses her forever.

Essentially, Kaufman’s novella is a love story, but it is also chock full of quirky characters from various spectrums of the human personality. His humorous superhero sections regale us with how some of Toronto’s not-so-special superheroes came to be who they are and what their powers are, which happen to be unexpectedly ordinary. Surprisingly, many of them will remind us either of ourselves or of someone we know.

While I felt Kaufman’s main characters may have deserved more attention to fill them out, there are the entertaining comic book-like illustrations that help propel the action forward, giving Tom and others a face to identify with.

Over all, All My Friends Are Superheroes is a breezy, light-hearted read, and I found myself spontaneously smiling at its simple, yet endearing, presentation of everyday love and life. If you are looking for a fun, quick-read then you should definitely consider this book as an option. The superhero image will be forever changed — in a good way.

 
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4 out of 5 book thumbs up
All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman, published in Canada by Coach House Books, © 2013
Available at Coach House Books, Amazon, Indigo, and independent bookstores everywhere.