Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at www.thevertexfighter.blogspot.com.

Monday, October 3, 2016

"The chickens have come to roost"

Sept. 10, 2016 "The chickens have come tome to roost": I cut out this article by Sandra Katsuri in the National Post on Mar. 12, 2011:


BOOK REVIEW The Woefield Poultry
Collective By Susan Juby HarperCollins 336 pp; $21.99

Human beings are perverse. There’s nothing we hate so much as what is good for us, and there’s nothing we find so irritating as people who are trying to improve us. Sure, we care about the environment, and we’re all for organic food, sustainable crops and free run chickens, with grain-fed this and homemade that … but the second someone tries to force it on us, well, that’s quite enough, thank you very much.

Which is why it’s so difficult to have a (theoretically) morally superior protagonist doing good works, and have them be in any way likeable. Susan Juby achieves this miraculous feat with her latest novel, The Woefield Poultry Collective, in which the earnest Prudence Burns of Brooklyn, failed young adult novelist and a bit of a cause-ist, inherits a farm on the west coast of Canada. Prudence decamps to Vancouver Island where she meets a cast of characters that can only be described as “quirky,” much as I dislike this word— it being suggestive of every silly dramedy on television with accompanying boop-boop music to signal that something amusing will ensue. But this novel is genuinely funny and tremendously charming. Juby is well known for her bestselling Alice series (Alice, I Think and its sequels) for younger readers, and she immerses us in similar humour here.

Prudence vows to save Woefield Farm from foreclosure, plans to grow all manner of crops for the local farmers’ market, become part of the community and generally live the good country life. She is, of course, completely unprepared, and is that particular type of city dweller who assumes she can run a farm simply by reading books about it. But Prudence is not entirely the clueless town mouse she at first appears to be: She’s fearless, energetic and she’s not afraid of hard work or making mistakes.

What saves Prudence from becoming annoying is Juby’s writing skill — she invests her main character with insouciant charm and makes her just fallible enough. Juby also allows us to observe Prudence through others. Enter Earl, the deeply cranky handyman whom Prudence convinces to stay and help her out, Seth, the alcoholic high-school dropout and heavy metal blogger from next door, and finally, Jr. Poultry Fancier’s Club member and very serious 11-year-old Sara Spratt. We get first-person accounts from each of these characters, and through them, we not only see Prudence in a different light, but we watch as their disparate narrative threads and emotional lives wind closer together.

When the bank officer assigned to her case is skeptical Prudence can make a living from farming, she takes a cue from a flippant remark of Seth’s, and states that she will be starting a rehab centre. This isn’t true, of course, but she wants to get the bank off her back and gain a reprieve from an approaching mortgage payment. Prudence also gets reluctantly roped into running a writers’ group for some truly terrible aspiring authors, and things just keep getting nuttier — the bank officer wants to send her niece to rehab, and young Sara wants to board her chickens there (the randy rooster named Alec Baldwin is a treat). Prudence is kind-hearted enough not to deny any of them, and much amusement ensues. The trope of “straight man in the land of the nutbars” (i.e. the Bob Newhart universe) doesn’t apply here: The weirdos in the Susan Juby universe are all pretty smart themselves and Prudence becomes less and less of a straight man as the story evolves.

It’s tough not to call The Woefield Poultry Collective “heartwarming” (even though that’s another word that puts me right off ). It’s that rare book that makes you feel good after reading it, without it ever being “good for you.” So, yes — it’s heartwarming. And yes, it’s quirky. And, to be honest, I never could resist a book with a chicken on the cover. My only complaint might be that I wanted to hang out with these characters a little longer.

As Seth states: “If the whole world was full of stern little kids in chicken hats who carry clipboards and people buying parts for their model helicopters, there might be a reason to live.” Susan Juby certainly gives us many reasons to keep breathing, not least the hope that another of her novels will quickly make it to a bookstore near us.

❚ Sandra Kasturi is a Toronto poet and critic.



 "Go west, young man, but try to have some reason for doing so": I cut out this article by Scott MacDonald in the National Post on Mar. 12, 2011:


West of Here
By Jonathan Evison
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
486 pp; $29.95
Reviewed by Scott MacDonald

If you travel in egg-head literary circles, you know you can always get a good argument going by asking if modern life is a worthy subject for literary fiction. The David Foster Wallace types will pipe up first, declaring — nay, insisting — that modern life is the only suitable subject for fiction, after which the more wistful may venture that modern lives — spent in cubicles all day, watching television all night — are maybe too frivolous for great literature.

I won’t get into that argument here, but it’s a useful introduction to Jonathan Evison’s West of Here, which seems to have been written with the debate in mind. An epic look at a fictional Pacific Northwestern town, the novel — one of the more hotly tipped titles at last year’s Book Expo America — alternates between two eras. In the late 1800s, a bevy of pioneer types, each dreaming dreams of manifest destiny, descend on the muddy burg of Port Bonita, Wash., with the goal of transforming it into a bastion of civilized society. In 2006, those same pioneer’s descendants bewail the declining fortunes of the town and their inability to escape its confines.

Perhaps inevitably, the historical sections are filled with larger-than-life characters: a resourceful entrepreneur aims to remake the town in his own image, a great explorer sets out to conquer the country’s last remaining wilderness, a fiery young woman boldly attempts to emancipate herself by becoming a journalist. Meanwhile, the present-day sequences are occupied mostly with losers spinning their wheels — a fish plant worker hunting for proof of Bigfoot, a parolled felon taking a stab at wilderness survival, a sexually confused biologist grappling with an ambivalence towards men.

Though it’s never quite clear what Evison wants us to glean from this compare-and-contrast structure, it’s fair to say he probably ain’t in the David Foster Wallace camp. The book’s tone is decidedly nostalgic, envying the freedoms of the past while mourning the stifling aspects of modern life. Evison’s ambivalence toward progress is visible even in the historical sections — while the white folks are busy blazing trails, the various Indian characters are mired in depression or alcohol, their freedoms having been stifled long ago.

So it’s all the more ironic that Evison isn’t a better historical writer. His pioneer characters are, to a one, under-imagined stock types (Whore with a heart of gold? Dastardly brothel owner? Indian wise-man? Check, check and check!) and their exchanges are woefully stilted and expository.

While Evison works hard to keep the old-timey narratives moving, he’s surprisingly careless with continuity. On several occasions, characters express certain attitudes, then later express contradictory attitudes for no reason. Elsewhere, essential details are given short shrift: We never learn anything about the utopian colony Eva, the young journalist, belongs to, even though it’s mentioned constantly as a significant part of her life; we’re never told what the explorer, James Mather, hopes to achieve with his expedition (which makes his entire narrative thread feel especially aimless); and we’re never given the information we need to decide if the hydroelectric dam Ethan, the entrepreneur, eventually builds — which provides the book with its central, time-spanning motif — is a good idea or not.

And I have to take a moment here to complain about Eva, the supposed spitfire whom Ethan doggedly pursues and whom Mather names mountains after. We’re meant to admire her independence, her dedication to journalism and her protofeminist leanings, but she’s ultimately just a pain. If she’s not haughtily lecturing someone on the equality of women, she’s either pitying herself, coming up with presumptuous solutions to other people’s problems or taking dubious, rigid stands on complicated issues. Her abrupt departure from the novel — more than 100 pages shy of the ending — is a mercy.

As for the modern-day characters, they’re more appealing and their voices are more convincing (if a little too steeped in Stephen King-style little-people humour), but they have nothing to do except flounder about. And Evison never bothers to illustrate what’s gone so wrong with the town. He simply notes that several of the old fish plants have closed down, then name-checks Walmart and KFC a couple of times, as if this explained everything.

Late in the novel, in an effort to link its two halves, Evison ventures a mystical touch involving an Indian boy who somehow occupies both eras at once, but the conceit has no payoff. It just ends with a bewildered Indian tribe aping the electronic sounds of a Circle K door opening and closing. If this is all Evison had in mind, why’d he even bother?





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