Posts Tagged ‘Noir’

the best thing for you annabel lyon 001The Best Thing for You by Annabel Lyon ~ 2004. This edition: McClelland & Stewart, 2004. Softcover. ISBN: 0-7710-5397-5. 322 pages.

My rating: 10/10

Annabel Lyon is absolutely fearless in where she’s willing to go with these novellas, and there wasn’t a single jarring note anywhere. I am in awe.

I liked this collection in the same way I liked her high-profile Giller and Governor General’s Award nominee, and Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize winner, 2009’s The Golden Mean – sometimes I was deeply disturbed – and occasionally almost offended – by the images she conjured up, but I never, ever – even briefly – looked away. She kept me fully engaged the whole breathless trip.

This woman can write, people. If you haven’t already, you need to check her out.

Highly recommended.

*****

The Best Thing For You is a collection of three novellas. This is a form which I don’t see used much any more, but in this case it works wonderfully well, allowing an ambitious complexity of content and keeping the pace fast without the inevitable fluctuation in energy which occurs in a longer novel.

All three stories are set in Vancouver, British Columbia, the home of the author. The first two are set in contemporary times and the third is set during the ending days of World War II; the celebration triggered by the announcement of the end of the war plays an important part in the narrative.

Be prepared to pace yourself when reading through this one. Each novella deserves as much attention as a novel would; I found that I stopped cold after each one and only was able to turn my full attention to the next after digesting what I’d read for a few days. I wouldn’t recommend reading these in one fell swoop; I personally would have found that overwhelming. This is a collection that deserves – demands! – the reader’s full attention.

  • No Fun – A conventional enough narrative about a respectable middle class family, mother a doctor, father a university professor, well-adjusted, perfectly normal teenage son in high school. That’s the surface picture. When the son is involved (possibly? probably?) and criminally charged in connection with the brutal beating of a mentally handicapped man, the picture perfect impression dissolves into a dramatically realistic portrait of three people in personal crisis. As the mother of a teen boy myself, this novella (cliché alert!) touched me deeply in a very personal way. It made me smile in recognition, it frequently made me laugh, and it made me feel less alone in my occasional confused dismay at what our beautiful babies evolve into without our maternal permission (damn it anyway!) Lyons gets it so very right; how does she do that? The portrait of a marriage going on behind the issues brought about by the child is exceedingly well drawn as well.
  • The Goldberg Metronome – a young couple find a mysterious package taped to the pipes under the bathroom sink in their newly rented apartment. In it is a midnight blue, broken antique metronome. The story of the metronome’s history interweaves with the stories of the lives of the people it has joined tenuously in a thread of possession, passion, desire and loss. Gorgeous story.
  • The Best Thing For You – The strongest (of a strong three) and most elaborately plotted (of a beautifully complex three) of these novellas. A discontented young married woman involves a teenage delivery boy first in an adulterous affair and then in something much deeper and darker. Another teenager in the periphery of the events becomes deeply involved in a very different way. Cleverly noir, I thought as I read; I was vindicated in this assessment by reading in an interview here that film noir was indeed Lyon’s inspiration for the story:

I like film noir, and was interested in creating a femme fatale who’s both less and more than she seems.  Anna is a black-eyed adulteress who murders her husband for his life insurance, but she’s also bookish and melancholy and doesn’t really enjoy sex with her lover.  She’s also curious.  That’s one of her defining characteristics for me.  She doesn’t want to close her eyes and act as though everything’s all right when clearly–as a young woman with little formal education, no job, and no prospects, who is perceived basically as a sexually precocious child by everyone around her–her life looks quite grim.  She doesn’t want to play along, to pretend.  She wants to confront.

I guess the tone of the novella came about because I was constantly thinking about film.  I tried to keep the action quite external, to start scenes in the middle, to cut, to use dialogue in the slightly stylized manner of movies from the forties, and also to convey a sense of black and white through the prose yet with a complexity of texture that is a hallmark of some of the great movies from that era.

Again, here’s the interview link: Book Clubs. ca. Short, but well worth a read after you’ve enjoyed the collection. It added another dimension to my respect for the depth and general excellence of this author’s work.

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