Editors' Picks

Editors’ picks for November: Started Early, Took My Dog, Blasphemy and Summer Blonde

by Marika , November 28, 20122 Comments

Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie

The Kill Your Darlings editors share recent reading favourites. What are your picks?

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson — Rebecca Starford, Editor

For many years I’ve heard people talk about Kate Atkinson novels, and that I should read them. I always resisted this advice – I don’t know why; maybe I thought she wrote about different subject matter, maybe I confused her with Kate Morton… But I am so glad I have finally started to read her work (she’s written seven novels, the most recent Started Early, Took My Dog in 2010), and while I’ve been reading I’ve also been watching the television series Case Histories, which is based on Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie crime novels. The series stars Jason Isaacs (aka Lucius Malfoy) who is weirdly sexy (I suppose he does have regular hair this time and isn’t hanging out with all them Death Eaters), and it’s a slow-burn kind of show, with gradient character development and misty British settings.

Like many of Atkinson’s novels, Started Early, Took My Dog concerns missing children (they’re usually girls), and it’s the fourth book to feature semi-retired private detective Brodie, a gristled curmudgeon and solver of mysteries. From the first book to now, Atkinson has painted Jackson into a patchwork of criminal wives, near-death experiences (including a train crash), exploded houses and estranged lovers. The absence that leaves its darkest imprint on Jackson, however, is his sister Niamh, who was murdered as a teenager in a brutal crime that was never solved and continues to haunt him.

For all of this, the wonder of Atkinson’s novels is their vitality, which might seems at odds with their content – events surrounding violent death. But an irrepressible exuberance shines throughout – and never so much as it does in Started Early, Took My Dog, where Edinburgh has been replaced with Leeds, and Jackson rescues a wonderfully named dog: The Ambassador.

Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie — Imogen Kandel, Online Editor

I’m in the midst of my short-and-sweet phase: if it’s longer than 12 pages, it’s highly likely my brain will switch off and the TV will turn on. Enter Blasphemy: the short story collection you probably haven’t heard too much about but will save you from watching iView until 2am.

Author, poet and sometimes comedian Sherman Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Blasphemy is his eye-opening tour through the patchwork of modern Native American (or simply ‘Indian’, as he writes) culture.

Two pages in, I made the mistake of likening Alexie to David Sedaris: blunt, dry humour; short pithy sentences; that feeling you get when you’re pretty sure that crazy hitchhiking story actually happened and isn’t a figment of the author’s imagination. But by page three I felt like the only person inadvertently laughing at an offensive joke.

I had pigeonholed Alexie as a straight humourist way too early. While he has an impressive way of encouraging a naughty inward smile or two, Alexie seems more interested in observing American life than laughing at it. Race and racism are the strong and continuing threads holding Blasphemy together, whether Alexie’s characters are men, women, gay, straight, children or ranting elderly gentlemen posing as preachers. Alexie’s  stories brought on frequent twinges of sadness as I couldn’t help comparing the struggles of his Native American protagonists to those of our own Indigenous population. In this way, it’s a fascinating look at the results of colonisation.

The first book I’ve read about Native Americans, Blasphemy was an education on a people I know almost zero about as much as it was a gritty, snappy, and thoughtful read. If I was Margret I’d give it four and a half stars; if I was David, I’d give it four (just to be a hard-arse).

Summer Blonde by Adrian Tomine — Stephanie Van Schilt, Online Assistant

I’m not one to actively pursue writers’ complete collections in one fell swoop (other than Joan Didion, forever everyone’s exception). So, while I recently enjoyed a smattering of Adrian Tomine’s comics, I knew I’d complete his collected works in my own time.

Often how you come to read a book is as enjoyable as the read itself. Most of the time, I leave it to serendipity to dictate what I read for leisure: whatever has been recommended at a free moment, what is lying around my house, or a rushed consumption of a pre-movie text shortly before the adaptation is released.

If I’m honest, I recently borrowed Tomine’s Summer Blonde from an apartment I was subletting while travelling (I did leave a book behind in exchange – the circle of life, etc). A timely pick up, Summer Blonde a collection of comics from his ongoing, originally self-published series Optic Nerve – served as the perfect accompaniment for subway rides (and was much more subtle than reading his more recent New York Drawings).

The four stories enclosed – ‘Alter Ego’, ‘Hawaiian Getaway’, ‘Summer Blonde’ and ‘Bomb Scare’ – are precisely etched portraits of characters at moments of understated, personal crisis.

Each of the four stories here are neatly packaged around fleeting instances – the in between moments of aging and growth – where various yet similar pressures of expectation loiter.  His detailed drawings and dialogue are humorous, often bleak and incredibly intuitive of people in a transient state.

It was news to me that often people don’t like Tomine’s work for the exact reasons I adore it. On the book’s sleeve, Dan Raeburn explains that for some, the characters are too ‘typical’. To me, this realism generates a strong sense of empathy and sympathy; the relics of mundanity gives Tomine’s stories a strange, haunting power that I relish.


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