Monday, January 3, 2011

choyce reading selections for the new year

my publisher and writing mentor lesley choyce got a good review for Raising Orion, his latest book, in the chronicle herald over the weekend.

i have read and been moved by many of his books, but as he's currently the author of some 80 titles, it is but a small drop in the ocean of his creative mind. a recent favourite of mine is seven ravens: two summers in a life by the sea. it's non-fiction - a memoir of depression, really, and the strategies one finds for weathering the worst storms.

the reviewer gives the hermit a plug, too.



Published: 2011-01-02
Love for storytelling obvious
In his latest novel, Choyce also gives comment on state of Halifax


"Every life deserves a book," the protagonist of Raising Orion tells her love interest during their first encounter.
"Some would be more interesting than others," he replies.
"Perhaps it’s more in the telling of the tale than the tale itself," she offers.
A revealing motivation for the work here — a busy story populated with historical asides and colourful walk-ons — which is more concerned with detailing the relationships between people and places than the mechanics of plot.
In his latest offering, Atlantic Canada’s most industrious author writes both a soft critique and a love letter to his adopted hometown of Halifax. Raising Orion comprises a loosely plotted romance between a Winslow Street bookstore owner and a University of Ottawa history professor and, early on, the omniscient narrator says, "Here towards tail end of the twentieth century, Halifax had belatedly and sadly become a modern city. And that meant everyone was in a hurry and confused."
This assessment is echoed some time later in a description of metro’s skyline: the out-of-place towers and "stomach-turning casino." But Choyce seems to regard Halifax’s deterioration as symptomatic of a larger cultural shift, not an isolated decline. His criticisms are expressions of his affection, much in the way a needle delivers medicine. It may sting, but it’s supposed to be good for us.
As the sages say, "Better the criticism of a friend than the kiss of an enemy."
A well-known surfer and local environmental activist, Choyce moved from New Jersey to Nova Scotia in 1979. He then founded Pottersfield Press, where he publishes many of his own titles along with Maritime-interest selections, such as 2010’s notable Hermit of Africville by Jon Tattrie and Under the Electric Sky by Christopher A. Walsh.
Prof. Eric, reeling from a divorce and sick of teaching Canadian history to undergrads at the University of Ottawa, leaves his job and embarks on a fatalistic Arctic trip. But (hardly a spoiler) he miraculously survives and moves to Halifax on a whim to start over.
He meets and, predictably, falls in love with the enigmatic Molly. Their courtship dance is filled with hiccups and stumbles, but Eric and Molly are two of a kind in their lostness, and share an adoration of the escape books offer.
Although Eric is tired of teaching history, he never tires of contemplating it: he uses his time in Nova Scotia to research a book about "the history of truth" and the main narrative fre-quently digresses at length into the real-life histories of notable men such as Arthur Dobbs, Martine Frobisher, Henry Larsen and Prince Edward, among others.
This "mise en abyme" technique often stretches too far (and doesn’t nest comfortably with the fictitious foreground) to provide parallel psychological or symbolic significance, but Choyce’s genuine love for story is plainly evident. And so it’s Raising Orion’s lexophilia — from the bookstore setting to the innumerable books mentioned — which redeems its per- ipheral sins.
Conflict sparks when magnetic Molly begins a series of unlikely visits with Todd, the 14-year-old nephew of her friend, Grace. Todd is in the IWK Health Centre with a serious disease, and work limits his parents’ treks down from New Brunswick to the weekends. Molly is asked to keep the sick teen company and she does so with characteristic compassion and good humour.
Todd, like all men in the novel, is quickly enchanted by Molly’s calming, eccentric ways and his feelings towards her intensify as they spend more time together.
Though Molly acknowledges his crush to herself, she continues her attempts — misguided and improper as they are — to comfort the sick boy. Criminal charges soon follow. A motley crew of acquaintances and customers rally to her defence, but the subplot takes a tragic turn.
A succinct precis of Choyce’s guiding philosophy and the book’s overarching message can be found in the note Eric’s wife leaves upon leaving him: "Love all things equally. The universe is one."
Megan Power holds an MA in creative writing. She lives in Halifax. Visit her blog: meganpower.blogspot.com
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