May 19, 2022
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StarPhoenix Bill Robertson: Book Reviews February 9, 2019

By on February 16, 2019 0

Reviews of Thorn-Field by James Trettwer, Miles to Go by Beryl Young and Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life by Beverley Brenna.

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Field of Thorns by James Trettwer
Field of Thorns by James Trettwer Photo provided

In Regina writer James Trettwer’s first collection of short fiction, Thorn-Field (Thistledown, $ 19.95), the stories are linked by a number of metaphors – thorns being a no-brainer – by characters who fight or die from various addictions, and by the plume of smoke that hangs over their lives from the ubiquitous potash mine – their employer and in some cases their killer.


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Indeed, in the first two stories, which occupy half of the book, we hear that “the tendrils of the mine are thick and invasive. Once they’re in you, it’s like trying to get rid of thistles. Or thorns. Later in the same story, gazing at the local bar, the narrator asks how many “lives are buried here, under a mine shaft flooded with alcohol and drugs?” and to push the metaphor home, the narrator of the second story contemplates the plume of the mine and says it “reminds him of nuclear winter and a horror story he once wrote.”

Lourdes, the narrator of the first story, tries to make a living after her father dies in a mine accident by working overtime to pay off gambling debts, and her alcoholic mother has brought home men who tried to rape her, then set their trailer on fire. . Now she works at the motel and tries to save money for college. Against all advice, she plans to specialize in English. Lewis also in story number two.

He has a summer job at the mine where, because he is a student of English, his name is, among other things, the Purrfesser. He works with the father who died in the first story, the decent guy in the group, and that’s his backstory.

As we get into the next few stories, we’ve left the mine itself for the head office in what looks like Regina, where “grinding boredom has set in under a perpetual plume of sales quotas. and shipping schedules ”. The men in these stories are uniformly unhappy, dissatisfied with their jobs, and face the problem of alcohol and drugs. They probably picked the wrong degree too. The guy from Blue’s has one in communications and journalism and has played his cards to fight disability where he reads good literature, while the guy from Going With Lena notes that everyone around him has gone straight to them. MBA and work your way to the top. Not him. He is an eloquent alcoholic.


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In short, either you are made to work at the mine or at the head office, or you are not. The characters in Trettwer are not. With their literary aspirations blunted by economic necessity, they drink and see the world as a vast field of thorns. Even in the city, no amount of sidewalk can cover these stubborn thistles, even reminding the boy of the final story with his aspirations in the story, outside that back fence is just bad grass.

They are engaging stories, but a little too obvious in the symbol and dream department. Fewer reminders and the reader will always understand what that plume of smoke is doing in the lives of these characters.

Miles to cover by Beryl Young
Miles to cover by Beryl Young Photo provided

In Beryl Young’s Miles to Go (Wandering Fox, $ 12.95), best friends Maggie and Anna struggle with family and social life as very young teens in a small town in Saskatchewan. It is 1948, and although the recent world war has not made its way into history, strict codes of conduct for women and children do.

Anna is the eldest of a large Polish immigrant family where children never stop flowing and the father is well known as a drinker. Maggie’s father is the leader of the local RCMP detachment and her mother seems well aware of her position, keeping Maggie on a leash. As Anna is pushed into the role of mother after a seizure and has to drop out of school, Maggie reacts strongly against her mother’s restrictions and makes this classic decision: “If my parents think I am a thoughtless person, then this is the case. is who I am… and proud of it. She even goes so far as to believe that she is adopted.


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While Maggie’s demeanor is infuriating, especially in relation to the struggles her best friend has to endure, what the two girls have to learn is difficult, encouraging, and profound. Young, who lives in Victoria but is from Yorkton, has crafted a story that shows the vulnerability of young people but doesn’t let them get away easily.

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life by Beverley Brenna
Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life by Beverley Brenna Photo provided

Finally, in Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life (Pajama Press, $ 19.95) acclaimed Saskatoon author and educator Bev Brenna tells the story of a nine-year-old girl named Jeannie who wants and gets a hamster for a family period. calamity.

Always tuned in to changing social dynamics, Brenna presents a family in which the father is gone with his male companion, and his two mystified children and his angry wife are comforted and encouraged by a very tall male woman named Anna. Conda. Sapphire, her new hamster, helps little Jeannie navigate her way through this delicate territory, which not only poses intriguing philosophical questions, but is also the co-narrator of this story with Jeannie.

As Jeannie tries to figure out why and where her father has gone and why, exactly, her hamster bites some people, Sapphire embarks on long deliberations about the nature of freedom and how much she wants. As Jeannie establishes a set of rules to place on her hamster’s cage on how to avoid getting bitten, Sapphire discovers that a hamster cage with no clean wood chips or a lot of food, and a pet store owner indifferent, is indeed a cage. However, a clean cage and plenty of food from Jeannie, who strokes her regularly, is far better than being free in a school hallway or in the winter yard.

As Sapphire discovers that a cage can be a comfort, its owner wants a set of rules that could govern human behavior, especially that of adults, in order to keep children safe and happy. Brenna understands a child’s need for warm boundaries and introduces a modern family trying to find their way to safety, comfort, and mutual respect.



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