Travel Blog

22 Sep

Book Review: Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner

Gartner will appear at the 2012 Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Oct 12 – 14th.

Gartner’s latest book is a loud, colourful – and often exuberant – collection of short stories. The stories stand individually, connected just by Gartner’s zany sense of humour and their Vancouver setting.

Every story is packed with action, as dramatic as a headline news story and full of gossipy gory details. Gartner tackles themes of religion, terrorism, homelessness, science, tragedy and child rearing with her wry wit. The pace of everything is fast, a tight whirlwind of action and crisis, with a little magical realism thrown in.

Gartner is a master of description: she delights in the absurd, the grotesque and of course the macabre. The garden of a Harley driving neighbour has vines with “ropy tendons like the neck muscles of dehydrated bodybuilders.”

Gartner isn’t afraid to experiment grammatically, she deftly uses the first person plural in Summer of the Flesh Eater – a story about a group of male friends. The whole story has a populous feel, as if hearing a story told at a lively dinner party. “We had prided ourselves on raising children with a high emotional IQ, but these little creature had become alien to us, and we could only watch them from an increasing distance as if from the reverse end of a telescope.”

The stories are sometimes melancholic, in The Adopted Chinese Daughters’ Rebellion, the daughters abandon their parents. “The lights on our houses are of the insistent blinking variety. The bulbs don’t wink on and off at random, but blink in unison day and night. Come back, come back, them whimper. S.O.S.” But Gartner’s poetic license never lets you forget that these tales are fiction, not fact. The murders, bodies in garbage bags and homeless drug addicts are sketched playfully.

In short, Gartner takes her readers on an action-packed ride through urban Vancouver; she mixes truths and absurdities, never allowing her drama to become too serious, or the flights of fancy to become fairy tales – it’s not surprising the book was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Gartner will appear at the 2012 Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Oct 12 – 14th.



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