Friday, April 22, 2011

Canadian Book Week: My One Hundred Adventures, by Polly Horvath

I am remiss. I have discovered an omission. (You would think that I could say, "I am remiss, I have discovered a remission," but that doesn't work, does it. I also tried "I have committed an omission," and that doesn't work either, although I could commit the sin of omission, and then beg for a remission of my sin. (I could do a whole blog on English derivatives of the Latin mittere, to send, to put, to let go. All having to do with opening the hand. Omit, to let go downwards or drop. Remit, to send back. Remiss, to let go again, or slacken, thus both remiss: lax in duty and remission: forgiveness. Commit, to send with, to put with. Fascinating. (But probably only to me.)))

My omission? I find I have not reviewed a single Canadian book since I began this blog. How could I be so remiss? I think I shall have to commit to instituting Canadian Book Week on my blog: the third week of every month I will make a point of talking about the Canadian YA/Children's book scene. And to inaugurate Canadian Book Week, I will review the book I just finished reading: My One Hundred Adventures.

Polly Horvath is the author of Everything On A Waffle, a book in my list of top ten best titles ever. (There's another good blog idea: best book titles. Start collecting your favourites and I'll blog about that soon.) Horvath is off-beat, off-the-wall, out-there. If you look up "quirky" in the dictionary, she'll be the definition. But she also has the melancholy soul of a poet. She writes very funny stories of children growing out of their childhood illusions and coming to understand that the world is a more difficult place than they might have thought.

My One Hundred Adventures might be her most poetic book yet.
It is the beginning of July and we have two months to live out the long, nurturing days, watching the geese and the saltwater swans and the tides as they are today, slipping out, out, out as the moon pulls the other three seasons far away wherever it takes things. . . . Out past my childhood, out past the ghosts, out past the breakwater of the stars.
Jane is the daughter of a poet and an unknown father. Secretly she believes "that I was conceived in the depths of a moonlit sea by tides and eddies and swirls of sea life and the longing of a poet to be a mother." This is one of the myths that gets turned on its head over the summer.

Jane begins the summer wanting adventures.
As if itchy and out-grown, my soul is twisting about my body, wanting something more to do this summer than the usual wading in the shallows and reading and building castles on the shore. I want something I know not what, which is what adventures are about.
And adventures she gets, although none of them are quite what she expected, from Mrs. Park's thrombosis to the sticky Gourd children to the psychic who may be a thief but may still have predicted truly. As the summer is measured out in ripening berries, Jane encounters the inexplicable behaviour of adults and the surprising consequences of trying to do right. She is let down and disillusioned, but the new world she discovers has its own wonders. Ultimately she learns that "all our lives are mundane but all our lives are also poetry."

If it were all lyrical prose and dawning self-awareness I'm not sure I would recommend the book, as beautiful as some of the passages are. But it's also really, really funny. Some of the wit is almost slapstick, and some of it is sly and dry, and some is just funny because it's so weird. Dropping Bibles out of balloons. Looking for poodle portals. Fruitless hats. It's a book to make you laugh and wince, often at the same time.

This is a great summer beach read--it will take you to a summer beach even if you're landlocked in Saskatchewan in December, it's so evocative. My One Hundred Adventures is definitely fresh buttermilk biscuits, hot from the oven, with homemade jam, eaten on the porch looking out at the sea.

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