By Wayson Choy
As part of the reading for my local library book club, we read the lovely, poignant story of The Jade Peony, by Wayson Choy. Set in
I read it again for the book club and it was the second reading for many in the group as well. I still loved it, but it’s a very different experience to read a book for your book club rather than simply reading on your own, especially if you’re lucky enough (as I am) to belong to one with people who not only love to read, but who have opinions and love to voice them!
Most of us liked the book very much, for various reasons: learning something about the Chinese culture; seeing the world from a child’s perspective; strong characterization; beautiful language; learning some history through fiction rather than non-fiction. We all agreed that although the book is set more than 70 years ago, about a culture that is different from most of us there that day, many of the ideas that Choy explores are universal. Family loyalty, racial prejudice, fitting in, and the role of women in society are as relevant today as they were then. He shows us how much we are the same, despite our differences.
Each month this book club reads and discusses a work of fiction (usually). We vote on the selection of books for the coming year and are quite honest in our thoughts about the book. By-and-large, it is a generous, forthright group of people who are not afraid to share their ideas and to perhaps learn something in the process. I count myself very fortunate to be a part of such a lively, intelligent community of readers and look forward to the next discussion.
November’s selection: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.
Take a drink of Cool Water with Dianne Warren’s wonderful book set in the sand dunes of
There are so many things I loved about this book, but one thing that intrigued me (and took me back to university days) was that the structure, despite so many story lines, seemed to conform to the “three unities” of classic drama, as set out by Aristotle, and further refined by 17th century French playwrights. The unities of action, time and place stipulate that the story take place roughly within a 24-hour time period, that it all happen in one location, and that the action be limited to one main idea with few subplots. Although Warren’s book is nothing like what one would associate with classical theatre, it does in fact fit these criteria fairly well.
The unity of time criterion is met, as the events unfold during the course of one day. Lee Torgenson awakens in the middle of the night to the sound of a horse galloping. He ignores this at first, since he is often plagued by phantom hoofbeats, but eventually gets up to discover a real horse outside. The horse does not protest when Lee saddles him, and so, with the light of the moon to guide them, they begin their 24-hour adventure together.
A long-distance horse race that took place many years earlier is described in the prologue. Starting at the buffalo rubbing stone just to the north of town, two cowboys outlined a 100-mile perimeter around the local hills and sand dunes. When Lee sets out on horseback, he inadvertently traces the same path as the cowboys. This historic path sets the parameters for the unity of place:
Although Lee’s adventure starts the action, and literally draws a boundary around the story, there are many other tales that unfold. Aristotle thought that unity of action was the most important of the three, and that there must be only one main story or plot. Any other action should contribute to that plot in a structured, cohesive way, so that “…the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.” 
In this case, the “plot” is to show the interconnectedness of the various people in the book and
This is a very satisfying book.
1-Aristotle, Poetics, VIII
In a post-apocalyptic world, how would you react? Would you do just about anything to survive? Would you have hope? Or would you give in to despair as the world sinks into chaos and anarchy?
Don Rearden’s first novel explores this idea from the point of view of
By Ann Patchett
Dr. Marina Singh is sent to
Once in contact with Swenson,
Another strong component is the development of Marina’s character as she confronts some of her long-held fears in this alien landscape; we see her strength and determination in going to the jungle on behalf of her friend; and we delight in her warm, wordless relationship with Easter. But in general, I felt that the character development was lacking. We do get to know
I was enthralled with this book almost to the end. Patchett creates a spellbinding world and forces us to confront questions surrounding drug research, exploitation of natives, sacrifice, love, and betrayal. It is an intense read, demanding much contemplation.
But then, the ending. This was very, very disappointing. It was unexpected and anticlimactic, and felt rushed and out of character. In a way, it spoiled the earlier part of the book that had been so enjoyable. At the same time, the language is so vibrant, the jungle setting is portrayed so vividly, and there is so much to think about, that it might almost be enough to offset the ending. Almost.
Readers have responded passionately to the women characters in my novels — especially to Red Molly in The Law Of Dreams, and to Iseult in The O’Briens. Readers who fall in love with those characters sometimes ask “How are you (a man) able to write women characters so well?” My first response is pleasure that they, as readers, responded to the characters, felt involved with them and curious about them. But the question is kind of strange, when you think about it. As a novelist and a screenwriter I'm in the business of imagining characters, creating them and inhabiting them. Yikes, how dreary a book or a career would be if I could only imagine or see things from a “male” point of view!
What helps me with women characters is a lifetime of research! I've lived with women all my life! My mother, for a start. I grew up with two sisters, very close in age. I've had women friends all my life, and I'm married to a woman. It's fun to write the interior lives of women — the world seen and experienced from inside a women's head. It's a challenge but not much different from the challenge of inhabiting a male character. What bores me is a character too much like myself. When I was in my 20s and finding my feet as a writer many of the main characters in the short stories I was composing (for my collection Night Driving) tended to be young men in their 20s . . . it was a sort of egotism, really. I'm long since over that. I'm not at all interested in myself as a character. I'd rather dive into the minds, hearts and points-of-view of characters — men women and children — whose range of experience is quite outside my own.
Women are often more vocal and articulate about their feelings. I've watched and listened. I hope I've learned. And I'm glad that readers feel the authenticity of the women in The Law Of Dreams and The O’Briens . . .
The O’Briens starts with us being introduced to Joe, grandson of Fergus, the central character in Behrens’ earlier novel, The Law of Dreams. We follow Joe and his family as they travel from
When we first meet Joe he is 13 years old, the eldest of five, and already the head of the house. His mother is failing and his father has disappeared, succumbing to the wanderlust that afflicts many of the O’Brien men. Joe is a fast learner and starts in business at a very young age, earning enough money to look after the whole family.
Joe is 17 when his mother dies, and he decides to move out west to make a fresh start and find his fortune. After making arrangements for the rest of his siblings, Joe makes stops at
Iseult recently lost her mother and is in a similar state to the one Joe was in at
Joe falls hard for Iseult and because of her, delays his trip to
They set up house in a tent in a railway camp in
The first part of the novel is quite intense and we get to know Joe very well as a young man and then an infatuated husband. We know what he thinks and how he feels and gain some understanding of his motivations. After his Coney Island stop we don’t see Joe again until he meets Iseult in
The perspective of the story changes in the middle part as the second generation takes over. Joe and Iseult become secondary figures as we see the world through the eyes of their children, Mike, Margo and Frankie. We see Frankie grow up and watch Mike go off to war, estranged from his father. We feel Margo’s joy, then sadness as she falls in love, becomes a mother, and longs for her soldier husband to return. We get a broader picture now, a sense of more people, more change, more things happening in the world. It is like the stream of people that Iseult saw on the boardwalk in
For example, Mike is a pilot with the RAF and and his view of the war and his sense of humour come through when he writes to Margo about how tired they all are and starting to make mistakes: “A chap was killed the other day flying into a Chance light. Good pilot too. If it were a hockey game we’d be calling for a line change!” (p.402) Or Johnny Taschereau, Margo’s husband, expressing his love but also a feeling of being disconnected:
I’m thinking of your wrists now.
I once knew my wife, down to her bones.
Do you have a sweet tan this summer? Comme une huronne?
Let me dispose of my adjectives, please. In your arms, please let me release them.
You see I have slipped into nouns… (p.430)
These are two brief examples of Behrens’ evocative language. He has a gift for painting a picture, of expressing that person in such a way that we see and understand them at that moment in their life.
Although the glimpses into their characters are illuminating, I miss the fact that none of the next generation is portrayed in the same depth as the parents. We get a peek into their makeup but we don’t spend as much time with them or get to know them as well. None of them has the personality of Joe or Iseult.
Overall, it is a colourful journey that we take with the O’Brien family as they live through six incredible decades of the twentieth century. They participate in two world wars, survive the Depression, and play a siginificant role in the building of the railroad. The world changes drastically from 1900 to 1960, and Joe at 73 is not the same person he was at 13. But he is still the patriarch, the strong centre of the family, and the one we care about the most. When the focus returns to him in the end we are happy to get to know him again and to see him finding his way once more.
By Robert W. Mackay, c2011, Touchwood Editions
Robert Mackay’s first novel is a fast-paced, gripping account of one soldier’s experience during WWI, based partially on his own father’s recollections of serving in the Canadian Cavalry.
Mackay creates a sympathetic hero in Tom Macrae, articling student who suddenly finds himself in trouble with the law. Tom takes the offer of a stint in the army rather than go to jail and is shipped off to
Mackay’s depiction of the war is vivid and gritty. When Tom rides into battle, stabbing with his bayonet, we can almost feel the resistance going in, then the arm swinging back as he removes the blade. We feel sick with dread as a troop scouts ahead of the front line into No Man’s Land, far from protection, open to bullets and grenades. The rain is cold, the mud stinks, it is always wet and dark and everyone is afraid. Such tenuous circumstances result in fierce bonds of trust and loyalty. These young men depend on each other for their lives every day. They also rely on their horses and their bond with them is complex, combining love, dependence, responsibility and protection. In one horrific scene, Tom and another soldier rescue a companion after his horse is shot and the soldier is thrown, exposed to the enemy. But the horse is not dead and the young soldier will not leave his horse to die slowly. As it screams in anguish, the soldier makes his way back to finish the job. Tom understands:
He could not bear the suffering of the horses, creatures that only did the bidding of men. Innocent, somehow. He had seen horses gutted, legs blown off, blinded, shot, even gassed, and he knew he would live with their screams for the rest of his life. (p. 154)
Mackay does not glamorize war. It is ugly, dirty and terrifying. The soldiers endure things that no one can without harm. Those who make it home are scarred, and are haunted by unwelcome memories. After the war, Tom attends a talk by his former general at The Empire Club in
…he saw, once again, Flowerdew tumble from his saddle…he was alone on galloping Toby…blood spattering from his flayed legs…Horses screamed and men moaned for their mothers and Planck bled out on the ground. René Carbonnier…died in Tom’s arms…Tom shuddered and left the hall, the general’s cultured tones fading. (p. 230)
His view of the war is not a “thrilling story” to be shared with others. It is personal and nightmarish, and he can’t even talk about it with his wife. When she reads from the newspaper about General Seeley’s speech, “He’s talking about the big picture,” said Tom. “All I know is it was a bloody mess from where I saw it.” (p.231)
But in the midst of the “bloody mess” and the brutality, Mackay shows us a story of humanity, loyalty, love and honour. Tom and his men are not fighting for glory or recognition. They simply want to survive and be allowed to return home to their families, marry their sweethearts, and live as normal a life as possible after the war. They test their courage every day, and despite their terror and against all odds, try to do what is right and necessary. Their actions are proof of their honour.
As most of the veterans from WWI have now passed away, Mackay’s book is a commemoration to them and other soldiers, and in particular to his own father. At least 15,000,000 soldiers and civilians were killed and another 20,000,000 were wounded in that Great War. Incomprehensible to think of those numbers and their long-lasting and far-reaching effects. Mackay shows us one tiny picture of the war through the eyes of a common soldier and reminds us what a precious thing it is to be able to lead an ordinary life.
by Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield, published 2011by Kepler Press,
In Hide and Seek, Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield takes the usual murder mystery formula and turns it upside down. Right from the start we know who the murderer is, so what is going to keep us interested? What is left to solve? In this case, the puzzle is not who the murderer is, but who is trying to track down the murderer, and why.
Told in the first person, the story unfolds through the eyes of young, spoiled David Draper. Madly in love with the captivating actress Melanie Carson, David strangles her one night in a fit of jealous rage, then anxiously waits for the Boston Police to come calling. Still free six months later, he is invited to join his sister and aunt in a Murder Mystery weekend on a tiny island off the coast of
Starting a mystery from this reversed viewpoint requires the author to pique our interest in a different way from usual. It is a psychological mystery rather than an action-based one, relying on character study to keep us engaged. I have only read one other mystery with a similar perspective. In L.R.Wright’s wonderful novel, The Suspect, eighty-year-old George Wilcox is provoked into striking another elderly soul on the head and kills him. As in David’s situation, it was not planned or even thought of ahead of time, yet there it is—murder—and what to do about it? In both instances, the question is not who is the murderer, but will he get away with it?
There is another question for us as the reader, and this produces a different kind of tension in the story. The dichotomy between the person we get to know and the one who committed murder, creates a psychological unease. In this case, David is a pleasant, ordinary fellow, not the kind of person you would expect to strangle someone! Since we see everything from his point of view, we share his anxiety and are forced to have sympathy for his dilemma, despite ourselves. Do we want the detective to discover him or not? He’s nice. But, he killed someone! How can we like someone capable of that? How do we resolve our conflicting feelings? This conflict is sustained throughout the book as we get to know David better and see him interact with others. Though guilty, he “feels” innocent.
The resolution of the problem is not as tidy as I would like (one murder too many, some action with no obvious effect on the plot…) but overall Kaplan-Maxfield accomplishes his goal. We are intrigued and uncertain about the outcome right to the end. Will David get away with murder? You’ll have to read Hide and Seek to find out.
by Emma Donoghue
Jack has lived in one room for all of his five years. A backyard shed, converted into a living space that measures 11’x11’ and receives natural light from a single overhead skylight, it is all he has ever known. Confined there with his mother, Room is his whole world. But now that he has turned five Ma is thinking of an escape plan. Is Jack really ready for “Outside” or would he rather stay in Room, the only thing that is real to him?
Told from Jack’s point of view, this is an extraordinary story of a child’s closed world and the incredible strength, endurance and patience of his mother. In captivity his whole life, with no exposure to anyone other than his mother and occasionally “Old Nick” Jack learns about the world from his mother and from watching television. But without the actual experience of it, it is almost impossible for Jack to comprehend that outside really exists and that there is something other than Room or TV.
Originally, I had to put this book down after reading for only a short time. I found it demanding and tiring. But when I came back to it, I finished it almost all in one go. Two things bothered me at first. I found the five-year-old voice and perspective jarring and somewhat contrived. As the book progressed and Jack’s personality and experience developed, his voice seemed more genuine and natural.
But the major stumbling block was the unrelenting experience of the mother. Imagine being a young mother, locked in one room with a young baby, then toddler, then precocious five-year-old. Day-in, day-out, you are with that child at all times, with no help or relief from one single person. You are the mother, the father, the grandparents, cousins, friends, day-care worker, babysitter, teacher. You feed him, change him, bathe him, talk to him, play with him, devise ways to keep him entertained and stimulated and for him to get some exercise, teach him to read, write and sing, answer all his questions. You cannot talk to anyone at any time about anything that might go wrong or that irritates you or worries you. In fact you cannot talk to a single person for seven years other than your captor once or twice a week, and your son. Your son becomes your world.
For Jack and his mother, their world is each other, but Ma knows they must break free if they are to survive. Eventually they manage to escape from Room and its physical confines, but escaping its psychological hold is not as easy. Now they must learn to adapt to a completely different life, filled with people and things and noise and busyness of all kinds. Jack misses Room, where it is quiet and safe and predictable, and where he has Ma all to himself.Emma Donoghue does a remarkable job of creating their world and what it would feel like to live in it. It is an exceptional accomplishment, and there are many things to learn from this courageous little boy and his mother. An exacting but worthwhile read
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Soon after the end of WWII, writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a man from Guernsey who is searching for information about Charles Lamb. So begins a correspondence that extends to others on
By Rebecca Rasmussen
Rebecca Rasmussen’s debut novel is a delight. Fascinated by the lives of two sisters and their family, charmed by the ease with which Rasmussen spins her tale, you will not want it to end.
Milly and Twiss are elderly sisters who live in the same house they have occupied all their lives. Known for their skill at saving injured birds, people drive for miles to bring them a bird to heal. We see them in the present, towards the end of their days, and we see them the summer that Milly was 16 and Twiss 14. Their incomparable cousin Bett came to visit, and nothing was the same after that.
Told by both sisters through a series of flashbacks, their individual personalities shine. Milly is sweet, thoughtful, loves to bake, and is easily teased. Twiss is rough and tumble, headstrong and wild, and loves to golf with her father. She is anything but sweet. Different but extremely close, they are fiercely loyal to each other.
Rasmussen presents their tale with love and tenderness and draws us right into the heart of these women. She reminds us just how exciting, passionate, and fragile the world can be. I’m hoping this is just the first of many stories she has to tell.
By Stephen Kelman, 2011, House of Anansi Press
With his first novel, Stephen Kelman demonstrates his story-telling talent, bringing to life a young boy who is one of the most lovable characters I have come across in a long time.
Harrison Opoku lives in
Inner-city life is far removed from
Miquita’s face went all hard… “Are you with us?” … Miquita was making the iron go near then pulling it away like a crazy game … Lydia closed her eyes … “I’m with you, I’m with you.”
With this passage we see how easily an ordinary pastime can shift from playful innocence to deadly seriousness in an instant.
Does Hari learn the language and codes necessary to get along in this new and threatening place? Does his “pidgin English” eventually transform into a language of survival? For the moment Hari combines the vernacular of his peers, filled with British slang, with Ghanaian terms and some of his own making. This gives Hari a unique, fresh voice, and we feel that we are truly hearing this child tell his story in his own words.
He is a beautiful spirit who feels the need to do good things, whether something tiny, like making his sister smile to “save the day” or something much larger, like tracking down the murderer of a young boy. We see his great love for his family, particularly his younger sister, Agnes, and the sacrifices he is willing to make for them; we see his curiosity about the world; we see his bravery in trying to identify the killer and in his refusal to submit to the local gang; and his attachment to his “own” special pigeon is endearing. In short, we learn to love him. But be careful, for he may break your heart.
By Angie Abdou
With a wink to Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales, Angie Abdou assembles her own group of diverse personalities and sends them on a pilgrimage. She mixes up a batch of locals, foreigners, ski-bums, red-necks, hippies and urbanites and takes them trekking up a mountain one beautiful spring weekend for a last taste of powder. They ski, snowshoe and snowmobile their way up to “Camelot” the local ski cabin. Each group is unaware of the others and is somewhat dismayed to find that they must share the space. But they all make the best of it, and with more than a bit of booze and pot to help mellow out some of the conflicts, there is much ribald fun.
This is not a plot-driven story, although there is a definite agenda: climb the mountain and conquer the slopes; enjoy. This is a study in characters, and as we meet each one, we learn a bit about their personality and their reasons for participating in this venture. In time we get to see more than what appears on the surface, and although we might not always like what we see, we gain some insights and come to care about what happens to them.
Obviously, combining such disparate types could lead to conflict and tension, and it does. But there is also a lot of comedy, and some scenes made me laugh out loud, tears rolling down my cheeks. After an evening of indulgence, Alison (urbanite journalist) is horribly sick the next morning, and when she throws up from the upstairs bedroom window, it is so vivid, you can almost smell it. Then Lanny (the miller) having spent the night outside, wakes up from the noise and the odour hits him so hard that he makes a snowball to suck and hold under his nose, so that he doesn’t succumb. Amusing as this scene is, it also helps solidify the characters. We’ve all been there. We can immediately identify with these people so they seem more real to us, and we like them a bit more. This is just one of many examples that illustrate Abdou’s talent for making her characters come to life.
There is humour in various forms throughout the book and in general the tone is fairly casual and low-key. Some of the characters have serious issues to deal with, but the book itself feels quite light-hearted overall. Like most of us, they lead their lives in a fairly trusting way. Then, with a whumpf we are reminded that nature has its own rhythm, and if we are caught in it, it is terrifying, implacable, inexorable…final.
With The Bone Cage, Abdou showed us her talent for plunging us into the heart of the story from the very first sentence. She does the same here, and also delights us with her humour. But with her ending we see an entirely new side to her writing. She lulls us into a fun adventure, then hits us hard. In a last moving, powerful section, Abdou takes us “…somewhere beyond words.” All we can do is sit back and admire.
By Joanne Lessner
Sy Hampton’s bid of half a million dollars at a wine auction wins him a bottle of wine. Yes, one bottle, but what a bottle it is. This is a
Once Sy acquires the wine he'd been coveting, he has to decide what to do with it. Drink it now, keep it, drink it by himself, open it up with other wine-lovers, or share it with a special someone? Sy opts for the latter, and invites a beautiful young woman to share the excitement of opening the bottle, with expectations of a wonderful evening together, enjoying something truly special. Hopes are high. And when he finally opens the bottle, he does not seem disappointed:
Sy lifted the bottle to his nose and breathed. The luscious aroma of earth, chocolate, fruit, and smoke was dizzying. Sheer, unadulterated desire overtook him, and his entire body grew weak.
The inspiration for Lessner’s tale came from an event that took place at The Four Seasons restaurant in 1989.
Lessner takes this incident and runs with it, embellishing and exaggerating, then adding a diverse cast of characters, to produce a delightful romp. Take a few middle-aged oenophiles, a young woman with the seductive name of Valentina D’Ambrosio, a waiter/dancer named Tripp, an ambitious French-Canadian restaurateur, a young boy named Eric and mix well. Add some mistaken identity, a couple strong
This is an entertaining read, but with some serious elements as well. We care about the men and women in this book as they make choices involving love, family, money and ambition. Sy is struggling with a mid-life crisis. The bottle is a kind of metaphor for his life; what will he do now that he has reached this point and realized some of his dreams? Will he remain alone or will he share his life with someone else? The event at the restaurant serves as a catalyst for several other characters to examine their lives and make some changes. These are significant decisions, but it never feels too serious. Everything is handled with a light touch.
Lessner leads us through the novel with ease and verve. She is a talented playwright, actor and singer and has written the lyrics to several musicals with her husband, composer/conductor Josh Rosenblum, including Fermat’s Last Tango and Einstein’s Dreams. Pandora’s Bottle is her first venture in writing a novel. Given how much fun she seemed to have with it, I’m pretty sure she will go for an encore.
By Giles Blunt
With his recent book, Crime Machine, Giles Blunt has returned to his tried-and-true wonderful protagonist, detective John Cardinal.
Working with his partner and best friend, Lise Delorme, Cardinal tackles the latest gruesome murder in
Apart from the mystery to be solved, it’s always a pleasure to read another story about John Cardinal. He is still dealing with severe grief and loss over the death of his wife. Catherine suffered terribly from depression, and after her death John felt guilt as well as grief, despite all he had done to support her. His vulnerability and humanity add another dimension to the novel so that we are just as interested in his own personal story as we are in the mystery.
This novel brings Blunt back to his best writing. His attempts to write outside this detective series are not as successful; story-lines and protagonists are not as well developed and seem flat compared to his mystery novels. With Crime Machine, we return to familiar territory, peopled with strong and colourful characters. Let’s hope Blunt maintains this series a bit longer because I’m sure John Cardinal still has a lot to tell us.
By Angie Abdou
Angie Abdou’s debut novel The Bone Cage, places us squarely in the world of two dedicated athletes. With her powerful imagery and her gift for the smallest detail, their daily routines feel very real. We sweat down with Digger as he prepares for weigh-in and we swim countless lengths in the pool with Sadie. Although the demanding and often harsh practices these two must endure would be alien to most people, Abdou draws us in to such a degree that it all feels normal and matter-of-fact as we fall into their patterns.
Each chapter alternates between the two main characters, Sadie Jorgenson, a 26-year-old swimmer, and Digger (Tom) Stapleton, a 28-year-old wrestler. Both have qualified and are preparing for the 2004 Olympics. They are living with their parents during this time and there is a sense that their lives are “on hold” for now, as practising their sport occupies them completely.
The picture of Sadie is more fully developed than Digger’s. She is a bit of a loner and is quite introspective. We learn about how she feels, how she sometimes uses literature to get through her practices, memorizing poetry or rewriting the classics, or recalling quotations that seem apt to her situation. She seems very real and understandable. She displays one of the few strong emotional bonds in the novel, that between her and her grandmother. They have a loving, supportive relationship, unencumbered by expectations. When her grandmother dies, Sadie is devastated, and mourns her loss physically. Her body collapses and refuses to follow its usual pattern. She sleeps for days, needing time to recuperate emotionally; that can only happen when she is strong again physically.
Digger’s portion of the story is interesting because of his sport. It is fascinating to learn about some of the techniques and strategies used in wrestling. But he is not as fully drawn as Sadie and although he is a hard worker, he seems young for his age. Neither of them has time for any other career or occupation, and their social life is almost non-existent. They are very focused on themselves. But it is their single-mindedness that has brought them this far and which allows them to survive the physical demands on their body.
One of the powerful aspects of the book is Abdou’s concrete imagery. There is an immediacy to her visceral, graphic details that allows us to feel the athletes’ pain or exhaustion. Occasionally, too, we are given a glimpse of satisfaction, even contentment that is as much physical as emotional. There are a couple of such instances early on when Sadie is swimming. The constant repetition of her strokes and kicks become mesmerizing, like a mantra, and nothing exists for awhile but her body and its repetitive movements as she travels back and forth from one end of the pool to the other. There is a feeling of calm, almost meditation, and Sadie is in total harmony with her body:
One, two, three, breathe. One, two, three, breathe. She slides easily into the rhythm of her stroke … up one side, back on the other …The even splashing of her own arms, her own feet, soothes her. Her breathing fills her ears…. herself into herself. She doesn’t think. She acts. Her body knows the movements. (29)
With this fleeting picture, Abdou shows us why the drudgery and the pain and the routine of being so dedicated to a sport might all be worthwhile.