The Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist was presented on Tuesday, September 16 and was met here at the Literary Hoarders with a mixture of excitement and surprise. There were a few titles on there that were fully expected to be seen, delighted to be seen and then some that we were surprised to be seen. And, we here were actually (for once) somewhat ahead of the game! We had read 4 of the 12 titles listed already! (Waiting for the Man, Watch How We Walk, All My Puny Sorrows and My October.) Not too shabby!
One title I only first heard of was right before the longlist was announced and it appeared on Jennifer D’s longlist predictions on Goodreads. That title, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is by Shani Mootoo. Oddly, I had never heard of this, and with that quirky title you would think it would have popped onto my radar before? And then there, on that day of the longlist announcement, there was that book again! I quickly searched to see if the WPL had it – there it was! Shazam! It was on its way to me quickly after that.
When reading the first few pages or chapters, I was slightly confused by the characters and/or the people that made up Jonathon’s family. But after reading in closer detail the description in the book’s jacket cover and making a stronger connection, it became easier to understand and follow along that Jonathon was raised by two mothers. So, after closing and reflecting on this story, I believe this was Mootoo’s intention as Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is a moving exploration of identity, gender identity and what it is that makes a family.
Sid/Sydney is an Indian woman from Trinidad that spent 10 years with her partner India and the first decade of Jonathon’s life raising him, before she seemingly disappears from their lives without a trace. Jonathon begins a quest to find where Sid is and to get the answers to the questions he’s had for so many years as to why she left so suddenly. Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is the journey we take with Jonathon as he finds Sid back in her native Trinidad, but also discovers she has changed her gender and now goes by the name Sydney.
Once he finds Sydney, he develops another 10 year long adult relationship with him, but still feels that Sydney is not telling him all he wants to hear, and all Jonathon wants to hear is the reason why he left so suddenly and just exited his life without ever once trying to contact him. However, as Sydney is now dying, he takes Jonathon (and us the reader) on a journey of discovery and the pain of what his life has been like. But for Jonathon he remains upset because he only wants to piece together why he chose to just disappear from his life. It takes Jonathon some time, and really only following Sydney’s death to understand who exactly Sydney was and from the stories Sydney has shared over the years with Jonathon, can he begin to understand why he left. In a moment of grief can he finally grasp some of these reasons.
“Here, Jonathon, have this house instead of me, who, you might notice, you’ve never really had. Take this, and in exchange for it forgive me for my absence, for my self-absorption, for destroying the vessel that held images of all that you were as a child. I will give you this house, but I can’t give you myself. Ever.” (pg. 231.)
“How do I explain it so that he doesn’t think I ran away, gave up, failed?” (Sid writing in his notebooks, about Jonathon)
No one knew me so well as you, Sid. And you told no one else but me your stories. It has taken me a while to see this was your way of telling me what I needed to hear from you. Thank you, my dearest Sid.” (pg 302.)
“I wanted to say how he and I had been apart from each other for many years but were reunited nine years ago and how in those nine years he had bared himself to me, and I had learned about his courage, his humanity and his unfathomable ability to love… And I opened my mouth to speak, but no sound came out…I had no sense of how much time passed before a voice I did not recognize came out of my mouth. It said simply that Sydney had been the best parent anyone could hope to have.” (pg. 291)
I’m sure I haven’t come close to explaining this story as well as it should be explained. It was a very moving story of two people struggling to find their (gender) identity and what family means to them, and what that one person you considered your parent really meant in your life. The pages turned effortlessly and it was a very moving discovery for this reader. To understand that Sid’s decision to alter her body and the journey she had to make to the hospital, all alone. All alone, these are the final and very moving thoughts Sydney shares with Jonathon. She went in to this all alone and knowing that she would be all alone after the surgery as well. Again, simply a very moving story.
Paradise & Elsewhere, by Kathy Page
paradise & elsewhere, short stories by Kathy Page was an intriguing title for me and they were published by (a local publisher) Biblioasis (Yay Biblioasis!). I went into these not knowing a great deal, but only knowing/reading of how they were “strange”, “moody” and “weird” (words by others to describe the stories).
Certainly, strange is a good word, but compelling is also another applicable one as well. So strange and mystical you can’t stop reading, is how I would best describe this collection.
The two that stood out the most for me read or were the most enjoyed of the collection, although there were more than just those two, but those were almost like they were taking place in far off civilizations and/or had tourists/intruders wandering into a remote civilization.
I will say it is somewhat difficult to describe or discuss really, the stories or say anything more than, while strange, that they are oh so compelling too and honestly, I’m really glad I read them. I think coupled with reading them at the same time as Mootoo’s novel, because of their common themes of belonging and identity made them a pleasure to read.
Certainly, we are eagerly anticipating the Monday, October 6 (tomorrow!) announcement of the Shortlist. Will Shani and Kathy appear on it?