Blue Met Spring Launch
Thursday, April 27, 2017: 8 pm
Le Salon Jardin, Hotel 10, 10 Sherbrooke W., Montreal
Featuring Tom Abray, Keith Henderson
Where I Wanted To Be
together with Jason Camlot, Kenneth Radu, Steve Luxton, and John Emil Vincent
by Keith Henderson
Fiction – Social Issues 236 Pages
Reviewed on 03/31/2017
Reviewed by Charles Remington for Readers’ Favorite
Suzanna Ricci’s marriage is on the rocks, leaving her feeling a failure. In Acqua Sacra by Keith Henderson, she is charged by her mother with the renovation of the old family house in Acqua Sacra, a small village in the Abruzzo region of Italy. She is grateful to escape Montreal and the accusing eyes of her family, to leave behind the legal minutiae of divorce and attend to the rebuilding of the earthquake-damaged house. There she faces a different set of problems: Italian bureaucracy, a helpless architect, and feckless builders. But while attending a family wedding in Rome, she meets the senior partner of a Montreal law firm who, prompted by her ex-husband, invites her to join his organisation in a junior capacity. Initially suspicious of the motives involved, she nevertheless accepts the invitation and quickly finds she is enjoying her new job.
The work in Acqua Sacra, however, grinds to a halt with builders defaulting on contracts, disappearing from site and demanding additional payments to cover unforeseen difficulties. When she is offered the chance to undertake a small project in the Abruzzo region for her new employers, she is at first grateful for the opportunity and hopes the visit will also allow her some time to revive the renovation of her family home. But as the reality of her assignment becomes clear, she begins to realise that she is involved in no simple task and is in real danger. Forced to act for the Canadian security services in a plot involving the Mafia and the Libyan regime, struggling to deal with the machinations of her employers and the demands of her ex-husband, and dealing with Italian architects and builders, can she possibly survive the seething maelstrom in which she has become embroiled?
Acqua Sacra is a compelling book, dealing with both personal and family issues, and more broadly political and commercial issues. Keith Henderson has created a pacey narrative written in the style of a good thriller, which takes in the harrowing effects of divorce, the feelings of failure and their effects on the family, along with Mafia involvement in the Canadian construction industry and all levels of Italian politics and commerce. It deals with corruption at every level and the difficulties of being an honest, caring individual in a world seemingly rotten to the core. An interesting, though sometimes worrying book for anyone who cares about our planet. I thoroughly enjoyed Acqua Sacra and do not hesitate to recommend it.
by Keith Henderson
Fiction – Social Issues 236 Pages
Reviewed on 03/31/2017
At the invitation of the AELAQ (Association of English-language Publishers of Quebec), Kenneth Radu and Montreal writer-translator Licia Canton passed a pleasant hour chatting about the literary life in Montreal and Quebec. Held in the Atwater Library, their conversation was taped for a future podcast, part of a series of writers talking about their writing hosted by the AELAQ. Many thanks to Anna Leventhal and Merrianne Couture for their kind invitation and arrangements.
A French translation of Kenneth Radu’s story The Pretender from his collection Earthbound will appear in an anthology of short stories by English Canadian authors, slated for publication by Éditions Prise de Parole. To quote the publisher: “The resulting collection will not only sketch a panoramic portrait of literary translation in Canada today, but will also showcase a series of contemporary authors writing in the short story.”
What Robert Edison Sandiford gives us in his latest short story collection, Fairfield, is the apparent restoration and enhancement of stories that were bound and concealed in a stationery box belonging to a deceased Barbadian-born author. Sandiford brings thirteen of these “Last Sad Stories of G. Brandon Sisnett” (the collection’s subtitle) to us in a seemingly random way which propels us to create an order out of seeming disorder.
Death, loss and memory permeate this collection, and what Sandiford shows us is that there is nothing orderly about any of these things. The book starts where, chronologically speaking, it should end; but we all know that sometimes it takes a specific experience, person or even a word to cause a memory to resurface.
It is because of this reality that, in the “Big O,” Ed needs to hear the news of Orville’s death to prompt the memories that follow in the stories “Michel” and “Funk.” Even though these three stories are the only stories where the characters recur, they are spaced out across the collection, mixed among a web of other people’s memories united by one thing—loss.
It is Orville’s prevalence in the collection and his inability to overcome loss that makes him one of the most compelling characters in Fairfield. Orville Sobers, known to most as The Big O and much like Sisnett, has suffered from the grief of losing a child, the dissolution of a marriage, and facing death in his forties. It is because the two mirror each other that I find it very striking that Sisnett didn’t use Orville’s character as a voice to express his own grief; instead, he puts Ed, Orville’s best friend’s brother, someone who only knew Orville by association, to tell Orville’s story. It is as though Sisnett moved himself as far away as possible from this mirroring character because (perhaps) he, like Orville, could not overcome his own losses. In the book’s (fictional) “Foreword,” Sandiford, as Sisnett’s “editor,” believes it is Sisnett’s biography that makes his themes more understandable to the reader, and I fully agree.
Orville isn’t the only recurring aspect of the collection; another is the word “Fairfield.” In “They Build Houses Here Now,” the ex-US Airforce pilot, whose remorse stems from his experiences “serving” his country, was stationed at a base in Fairfield. Fairfield is also the name of the house of a suicide in “The Hours In-Between” as well as the name of the particular bus that a little girl leaps head first into in “Jumbie Tribe.” Every time Fairfield is mentioned, some aspect of loss is present to the point that Fairfield becomes synonymous with loss and, by extension, death.
Even though the other stories aren’t so concretely connected, we see stories of mass killings that lead to stories of political unrest. We see the name Michael used as inspiration in one story then used to propel us into a story entitled “Michel” about a young boy subjected to bullying and prejudice. We see a story about a man’s unexpected suicide precede the story of an abused child’s suicide. Fairfield makes us dive further into the stories no matter how much we like to stay on the sidelines. It implores us to piece together the fragments of memory and their dichotomies as well—of home and elsewhere, suicide and natural death, heterosexual and homosexual relationships.
Here, memories become physical. In “Massiah,” one powerful head of a political party etches hers on her skin. Memories, like our pains and the people we love, eventually fade away. The difference here is that there is something more durable about them once written down or passed on. Just like the contents of Massiah’s skin, these memories refuse to be done away with.
Fairfield is a layered collection of stories. Thematically melancholy, the book is knitted together with invigorating aspects of Barbadian and Canadian culture that create a contemplative read.
DC Books participated in this years Atwater Library Pop-up Book Fair November 25-26. Authors Ken Radu (Sex in Russia, Butterfly in Amber), Tom Abray (Pollen), and Greg Santos (The Emperor’s Sofa, Rabbit Punch!), all stopped by and signed books. Keith Henderson (Roof Walkers, Acqua Sacra) and Director of Communications Giuliana Pendenza were also in attendance.
Thanks to all who visited the DC Books table. We look forward to next year’s event.
Left to right: Ken Radu, Tom Abray (whose novel Where I Wanted To Be will appear in April, 2017) and Keith Henderson
Left to right: Keith Henderson and poet Greg Santos