Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Books Campaign: Perfecting by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

This review is part of the Green Books campaign . Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website .

I'm pleased to be taking part in this campaign, having already collaborated with Eco-Libris to have a tree planted for every copy printed of Too Many Magpies. Here's a quote from the Green Book Campaign press release:
“Although there's so much hype around e-books, books printed on paper dominate the book market, and we want them to be as environmentally sound as possible ,” explains Raz Godelnik, co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris. “Very few books are currently printed responsibly and we hope this initiative will bring more exposure to “green” books. Through this campaign we want to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.”
My book for review is a novel, Perfecting by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, from the independent Canadian publisher Goose Lane. Printed on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper, it's a nicely-produced paperback with sturdy matt card covers and those fold-in bits mimicking the flaps of dust jackets (I don't know what they're called): you do feel as if you're holding something classy, published with care.

The novel itself has its own kind of class: it's the product of a committed intelligence with a passion to expose the reverberations of violence in our society both on the personal and parochial level and the political and international, and the role religion can play. The story is complex and the novel's structure even more so, unfolding the former through the memories of the various characters as they move towards its shocking conclusion. The novel opens as forty-odd-year-old Martha, fleeing the Canadian New Age commune founded by her partner Curtis when they were barely more than teenagers, arrives at the New Mexican settlement from which he originally came but of which he has hardly ever spoken. In her bag she is carrying a gun, the gun she found in his room and which indicates that there are sides to Curtis other than the Jesus-figure he has always cut, a possibility she doesn't want to believe in, and explanation of which she expects to find here. As she meets his two half-brothers and their mother, a backstory unfolds of two families of children in thrall to a charismatic, bullying father: Hollis, descendant of Mormons, and of one half-brother set by him onto another. But as this story is revealed to the reader, the final chapter is working itself out: Curtis is on the road south in search of Martha to bring her back to the commune. His half-brothers guess this and wait, as does Hollis, crippled now and confined to an old people's home, longing for the return of his special, anointed prodigal son. Meanwhile, another story is woven into this one: that of Michael Dama, a US corporal charged with 'cleaning up' arms after military operations in the Middle East, and who collects Middle-Eastern rugs woven with military motifs glorifying and telling the story of those wars...

I did find that the retrospective nature of much of the narrative dissipated tension at times, but overall the story is undoubtedly an exciting one and the way all of the narrative threads are pulled together is clever and intellectually satisfying. There are moments of dark humour, and the prose picks up the tough idioms and speech patterns of the characters as the story shifts between their viewpoints and memories: That was baby Edgar... He looked like Hollis, square-jawed and gaze you down. The novel is vivid with symbolism, that of the drying-up river where old fishing lures can be found, and the bees Curtis keeps on the commune, communal but sometimes swarming and migrating. An ambitious book about pressing issues of the moment.

Readers too can collaborate with Eco-Libris: plant a tree by donating $1 for every book you read.

1 comment:

Serena said...

Sounds like a good book and its "green" too.