Hot! Hot! Hot Recommended Reading

HouseSugarbushRoad_Cover_v1House on Sugarbush Road
by Méira Cook
Enfield & Wizenty
304 pages $29.95

mostly an unreview, or review by association
by V.

[“If you think this is hot, just wait until you get to Australia!” My partner and I have an unspoken arrangement where I don’t complain about the cold, and she doesn’t complain about the heat. Difference is she actually celenbrates the heat, at least until 35 degrees Celsius or so, and I don’t celebrate the cold much past minus 20 Celsius, though I point out you can always put on more clothes, and I’ve taken off as many as deceny allows, and I’m still hot, fan and all.]

[My favourite version of Hot! Hot! Hot! is by David Johannsen as a solo artist post New York Dolls].

And now I have a favourite novel by a writer who writes heat like I  can’t remember reading before.  Cook’s evocative first novel is set in the searing seething city of Johannesburg post apartheid in the mid-nienties. Her ability to ping all  five senses in a scene makes for a visceral portrait of  the city making it one of the central charactes  in the novel, and breathes life into the other characters.  I sometimes justify my lack lustre lust for travel by reading novels like this which give me the place, the sense, the characters, the feel of a place, usually better certainly than a short tourist visit with “must sees,” without leaving my sweet Danish rocker.

Cook’s straightforward narrative strategies and plot feature  relationships between the poor and the rich, the black, the inbetween  and the white  do-gooders,

Digression [Eric Robinson has said nothing he needs to apologize for on several levels…do gooder is postive, unlike evil-doer for example, and not much of a slur; secondly a burlesque fundraiser to help a woman’s shelter is sketchy idea at best, and  for heaven sake it was a fleeting comment in an email, and as long as we white folks are ” doing” to help, no matter how pure our motive, we will be white do-gooders, until those being “helped” do for themselves. Hey, what if t Urban Shaman printed “White-Do-gooder” t-shirts and sold them to bleeding heart liberals like me! Have Premier Selinger wear one to his next media event and the fuss would be over right quick! The sensitivity of the politically correct are either ridiculous or extreme, I can’t decide which.]

and evil doers,  ripe for dramtic conflict from the smallest verbal cut to  killing violence.  South Africa in the 1990s was not even a great place to visit, let alone live. Cook, born in Johannesburg,  did,  working as a journalist before coming to Canada where she began her literary career publishing poetry with great success. Her collection A Walker in the City is another of my recommended reads.

The white do-gooder is the liberal doctor (who happens to be gay) who voted for Mandela, and works very hard in one of the  city’s hospitals,  but the pulse  of the novel is set by his mother,  the matriarch of the Du Plessis clan a remnant of an era long past, and her domestic servant Bauty Mapule. This relationship is not presented sentimentally like  we see in Driving Miss Daisy,  but sharply, and precisely making the reader rightly  uncomfortable with the percieved honesty of the dialogue, whether internal or external

I agree with Cook’s own assessment of her favourite character in the novel. In  her CBC On Scene piece  she writes  “Dhlamina Mopede is an ebullient and comely domestic worker in the new South Africa. I admire her wayward and unruly spirit, her famous love magnetism, and her resourcefulness.” Let’s not neglect her talent as a cook and highlight her love magnetism, whether exploited for added sensuality or humor, in fairly equal doses.

Next Recommended Read: 1996 by Sara Peters.





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