Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: review

Book review: Agony and ecstasy apparent in new novel Weekend

Tom Sandburn’s review of WEEKEND in the Vancouver Sun. From June 2016.

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“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” Tolstoy tells his readers at the beginning of Anna Karenina.  Like most successful epigrams, this line is pungent, compelling and memorable. Also, like many such quips, it could work just as well turned inside out, as a declaration that all unhappy families have broad stroke elements in common.

While award-winning Vancouver poet, short story writer and novelist Jane Eaton Hamilton’s new book, Weekend is, by, the author’s own account, inspired by Raymond Carver’s grim 1981 meditation on love among the ruins “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” it can also be read as a reflection on Tolstoy’s formulation about happy and unhappy families. But however the erudite reader wants to compare it to earlier fiction, Weekend itself is a tour de force, an account of two same-sex couples in crisis, a tender meditation on the nature of love, desire, betrayal, mortality and reconciliation.

2016 Handout: Book cover of Weekend by Jane Eaton Hamilton. To go with review on Tracy Sherlock books pages. [PNG Merlin Archive]
Book cover of Weekend by Jane Eaton Hamilton

It also is notably successful in rendering the complex realities of sex, a challenge that defeats most writers who attempt it. Not many readers these days will be shocked or offended by the book’s sexual frankness, but some will wince at the way Hamilton breaks another taboo. Her enthusiastically sexual characters are in mid life (one is turning 50 as the weekend occurs) and come to their erotic experiences with all the baggage that status implies. In a culture that disdains the old, particularly older women, as sexless, these moments of powerful erotic realism are genuinely transgressive and wonderfully done.

While I describe the main characters as same sex-couples, the reality is somewhat more complex, as one of the characters is considering a gender transition. The fact that this character prefers the de-gendered singular pronouns “they” and “their” will take a bit of getting used to for some readers, but the calm, matter of fact way in which Hamilton portrays trans issues and the new verbal etiquette they imply is one of the book’s many strengths.

Unlike the gay novels of my youth, which tended to focus univocally on the coming out narrative, this book takes all that for granted and turns its attention to what happens after one has come out, won the right to marry and moved into what the public intellectual Stan Persky calls a “post gay” reality. Often enough, Hamilton suggests, this post liberation reality, while obviously a huge improvement on the fever swamps of homophobia and oppression that preceded it, is full of ordinary human heartbreak and betrayal, sorrow, tedium and flawed, triumphant love.

That recognition, and the lapidary prose Hamilton uses to embody and dramatize it make Weekend a remarkable, intricate and mature work of art. And Hamilton can reflect on these matters from the perspective of one of liberation’s veteran warriors. According to the University of Toronto’s Poetry Online, Hamilton “came out in 1982. She was a litigant in Canada’s same-sex marriage case from 2000-2003, and then maintained an website called queermarriage for the next several years to aid couples coming to B.C. from other countries with queer-friendly resources.”

Most of the novel’s action takes place over a weekend at two lake island homes in Ontario cottage country, giving the book a tight temporal and geographic focus, almost Aristotelian in its unity, a unity that is only partly diffused by the book’s coda, which takes the four lovers past the weekend, back to the city and on into new domestic and medical complications.

The couples are Elliot and Joe, two women who are celebrating the recent birth of their daughter Scout, and Ajax and Logan, who have come to the lake for Logan to propose marriage to Ajax. In the course of the weekend the couples are both disrupted, one by abandonment, one by a health crisis.

While in summary this may sound like the stuff of queer soap opera, in Hamilton’s deft, spare treatment, there is no melodrama. Sex is portrayed in a compelling, original fashion, and the trials and rigours of dealing with a new baby are portrayed with sensual detail and emotional depth. Hamilton’s rendering of her character’s heart crisis and of the years of impaired functioning, pain and body shame that preceded it benefits from the same sensual precision and closely observed detail that illuminate her sex scenes. All her characters are nuanced, complex and believable creations. This is the real world of imperfect adults, captured and rendered with compassion, wit and intelligence.

Much of this is accomplished by Hamilton’s exemplary use of free indirect discourse, that challenging but supple device that allows a third person account to reflect the first person inner life of the character. This approach, pioneered by Jane Austen, is a powerful one, allowing layers of double perspective and irony to be rendered in careful, minimalist fashion.

This is a remarkable book. Little wonder that Hamilton has been recognized so often for her narrative skills- by the Guardian’s Best Book of the Year List, the BC Book Prizes, the VanCity Award, CBC Literary Awards and many other prizes. If you have not yet discovered this important Canadian voice, Weekend is your opportunity.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos65@telus.net.

 

 

Weekend: sexy and far-seeing

JEH 2016

Couples in Flux

Heather Seggel on September 2, 2016

The Gay and Lesbian Review (US)

THE ACTION in Weekend takes place over a mere two days, and it all happens on a small island in Ontario, where a celebratory getaway reveals fracture lines running through the relationships of the participants. The central characters are two lesbian couples who occupy adjacent cabins: Ajax, a black woman, and Logan, a white “boi”; and Joe and Elliott, who have come with their new baby. The novel by Jane Eaton Hamilton is sexy and far-seeing, and it offers many surprises.

This is Hamilton’s ninth book, and she engages the complexity of her subjects with a sure hand. The lakeside setting with its side-by-side cabins is full of glimpses of nature: look out a window and you’re as likely to spot a towhee searching for seeds as you are to observe a couple having sex on the dock. The oppressive heat of the water and the isolation of the island—boats are required to get there, to shop, to seek medical help in an emergency—make the couples’ attractions and divergences feel equally pressurized. The sex is explicit, hot, and complicated by both the gender dynamics at play and the changes wrought by aging.

In the course of the weekend, Joe learns that a former lover who was deeply unstable has died, possibly as the result of suicide. She looks back at the relationship she feels lucky to have escaped intact, but can’t help recalling the good times as well, surrounded as she is by the new reality of parenthood and the ways in which it has redefined her current relationship. Those questions of knowing are woven throughout this story, and never come with pat answers. Even Ajax and Logan’s above-board discussions of power disparities don’t yield a tidy solution. “I promise I’ll bend toward you,” Logan tells her at one point, “but I can’t promise how often I’ll bend toward you.”

It’s surprising to note how much can happen in such a short span of time, though less so when you consider how we can mentally whipsaw between past and present while rifling through our luggage, checking our watches to see if the future will arrive on time. Weekend handles this mental time travel artfully. Hamilton keeps the perspective flexible and shifting, and our sympathies and loyalties can’t help but move and change with the story as more is revealed. By the end much has changed, and there’s a powerful sense of hope about where things stand. We need more stories that celebrate the ways we bend, break, and rebuild ourselves; this is a particularly good one.

Gay and Lesbian Review

Pride: the must-reads for 2016

Jane and Susan Safyan June 2016

Pride 8 Must-Read LBGT Books Summer 2016

The WEEKEND Curve

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Julie R Enszer generously reviews WEEKEND for Curve Magazine:

‘Weekend’ By Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Stunningly beautiful.”

“This is a book I have been waiting to read. It is a book I enjoyed every single minute of reading. It is a book I want to share with everyone. I commend Weekend. This is a story of how we live our queer lesbian lives now. Do not miss it.”

WEEKEND: Vancouver Sun Review

Jane and Susan Safyan June 2016

Me with WEEKEND’s editor, Susan Safyan, at the launch this week.

Today WEEKEND was generously reviewed in the Vancouver Sun by Tom Sandborn.

“…a tour de force…

Often enough, Hamilton suggests, this post liberation reality, while obviously a huge improvement on the fever swamps of homophobia and oppression that preceded it, is full of ordinary human heartbreak and betrayal, sorrow, tedium and flawed, triumphant love.

That recognition, and the lapidary prose Hamilton uses to embody and dramatize it make Weekend a remarkable, intricate and mature work of art.”

Vancouver Sun

First Review of WEEKEND: Publishers Weekly

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“Hamilton’s writing is propulsive. The story moves at an effortless pace as it explores a multitude of sexualities and identities, as well as the difficulties and even explosive outcomes of navigating them while remaining faithful to and honest with one’s partner or partners.” —Publishers Weekly

The most excellent writer Karrie Higgins reviewed my book on Goodreads!

Love will Burst

It’s so great to have your work celebrated. Thanks, Karrie Higgins!

Goodreads

‘Boy, Snow, Bird,’ by Helen Oyeyemi

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I have great fun rummaging through literary news. Treat yourself to Porchista Khakpour’s book review of Oyeyemi’s new novel “White Lies,” why don’t you, then follow up with a five-novel immersion?

‘White Lies’

LWBITS review

Love will Burst

Always a celebratory day for me when one of my books gets a great review. Here’s Julie R. Enszer writing for Lambda Literary, reviewing ‘Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes’ and Judith Barrington’s ‘The Conversation.’

Lambda Literary

Thanks, Lambda Literary and Julie R Enszer.

Xtra, Xtra, read all about it

 

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Daily Xtra, Canada’s gay rag, has a look-see at three current lesbian books:

Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes, poems

100 Days of Rain, by Carellin Brooks, novel

For Your Own Good, by Leah Horlick, poems

Yummy.  I knew about Leah’s book and have been looking forward to it, but I didn’t realize Carellin had a novel.  Can’t wait to read them.

Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 4.57.25 AMDr. Barbara N. Horowitz and Kathyrn Bowers

Just a terrific book. Talks about animals and disease, moves to roargasms, into zoophoria and the drugs behind it, why animals are getting fat, animal self-injury, eating disorders, infections, adolescent parting.  A book about the intersection of human and animal medicine which could not be better done.  If you ever wanted to know more about animals, choose this as your next read.

Pg 91, on addiction: “A friendly cocker spaniel in TX once sent her owners’ lives into a tailsprin when she turned her attention to toad licking.  Lady had been the perfect pet, until one day she got a taste of the hallucinogenic toxin on the skin of a cane toad.  Soon she was obsessed with the back door, always begging to get out.  She’d beeline to the pond in the backyard and sniff out the toads.  Once she found them, she mouthed them so vigorously she sucked the pigment right out of their skin.  According to her owners, after these amphibian benders Lady would be “disoriented and withdrawn, soporifice and glassy-eyed.”  So the neighbours’ dogs weren’t allowed to come over to play, for fear that they’d pick up Lady’s habit.  As amusingly recounted in a story on NPR, one night the dog’s human mistress found herself in the backyard at four in the morning, desperately searching for a toad to give to Lady–literally enabling the addiction so the dog would finally come inside and the family could get some sleep.”

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