Review: Summer Cannibals

Monday, 3 December 2018
This review originally appeared at The Hamilton Review of Books.

Stately homes that shelter family secrets have long been familiar in literature. With creaky floorboards and winding corridors, some dwellings become characters with personalities independent of their inhabitants. However, when thinking of such settings, one might think first of Misselthwaite Manor or Jay Gatsby’s West Egg mansion. Less often we think of a home in our very own city.

Perched atop the Niagara escarpment and weathered by years of neglect, the three-storey home in Melanie Hobson’s debut novel, Summer Cannibals, has three floors, two staircases, seven bedrooms, a coach house, a library, a butler’s pantry, and many secrets. While David and Margaret Blackford, the husband and wife who live inside the house, are fictional, the house itself is not — it is created in the likeness “with a few embellishments” of Hobson’s childhood home on Hamilton’s mountain brow.

It’s to this Georgian-style mansion, owned by the Blackford family for more than 30 years, that David and Margaret’s three adult daughters — Georgina (known as George), Jacqueline (Jax), and Philippa (Pippa) — are summoned. Pippa, the youngest, is pregnant with her fifth child, having left her husband and children behind in New Zealand. She is unwell, and her sisters plan to tend to her, but very quickly, readers discover that Pippa isn’t the only Blackford sister desperate for an escape. The result is a dark, twisted tale of long-buried secrets, unquenchable lust, vengeance, and greed.

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Review: Wages for Housework

Monday, 12 November 2018
This review originally appeared on

Wages for Housework: A History of an International Feminist Movement, 1972–77
By Louise Toupin; Translated by K├Ąthe Roth

In order to understand the context in which Wages for Housework — a global feminist movement organized around the idea that domestic (or reproductive labour) was as "crucial for the survival of the capitalist system as more typically male 'productive’ labour'" — was born, one must consider or recall what it was like to be a woman in the 1970s.

In the first chapter of her ambitious book Wages for Housework: A History of an International Feminist Movement, 1972–77, feminist writer and retired university professor Louise Toupin provides a glimpse into daily life for women in the early 1970s — a time in which housework (also called domestic work or care work) was not considered to be real work, rather it was a "labour of love," or a biological duty imposed almost always upon women.

"In Quebec, for example, women could not serve on juries, and civil marriage and divorce had just been legalized, as had homosexuality 'between consenting adults,'" writes Toupin. She adds that access to abortions was only in the process of being liberalized, advertising of contraceptive methods was illegal, and "pay equity was an illusion." At the turn of the 1970s, "very few books dealt with the question of women as a political issue," and scholarly feminist studies were at their earliest stages.

Born in this climate, Wages for Housework saw the absence of earned wages as oppression, and waged men as the oppressors, giving women little, or no, bargaining power to negotiate their own conditions of work. "In reality, a wage is much more than money. It must be understood, in political terms, as a power relationship that structures society," writes Toupin.

Chronicling the Wages for Housework movement from its beginnings emerging from the International Feminist Collective in Italy in the early 1970s, Wages for Housework is divided into two parts — "The International Feminist Collective: Historical Overview and Political Perspective" and "Mobilizations around Women’s Invisible Work." It is the first international history of the Wages for Housework movement, which is much overlooked in the history of second-wave Western feminism.

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Review: The Amateurs by Liz Harmer

Thursday, 6 September 2018
This short review was originally published in This Magazine.

Quotable: I've Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter by David Chariandy

"But I find myself wondering just when a child begins to dwell in that place of tomorrow. I wonder, most often, about your life in the place of today, and what you have already seen and heard, have already understood and been made to feel. I wonder if there are moments, despite your tough postures, when you have felt neither confident nor safe. I wonder about the persistent message sent to girls in the news, in movies, in language and image, and in the rhetoric of politics and business, especially girls who share your ancestry but who have not had your special opportunities."
— David Chariandy

I spent a lot of time reading in the garden across from my office this summer, and of all the books I read this season, none has stuck with me as much as I've Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter by David Chariandy. Chariandy, of course, wrote one of my favourite books of last year, Brother. In both books, he reveals an ability to pack so much depth into small, tightly packed, volumes where each sentence is perfectly refined and meaningful. I can't recommend both enough.

Review: Shrewed by Elizabeth Renzetti

Tuesday, 24 July 2018
This review was originally published at the Hamilton Review of Books

Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls
by Globe and Mail columnist and award-winning novelist Elizabeth Renzetti is dedicated to “my mother, the light at one end of the tunnel, and my children, the light at the other.” This affectionate tribute is a fitting introduction to a fierce and insightful collection of essays that draws on the heartbreaking injustices women have faced in the past, while looking toward a future that only sometimes looks bright.

In nearly thirty years as a journalist, Renzetti has written about the challenges, failures, and triumphs of the women she has profiled. This, of course, doesn’t make her an expert on all women, and in Shrewed, she’s careful not to make generalizations, noting the diversity of women’s experiences, especially among those in marginalized communities. However, as a woman in a male-dominated field, Renzetti has amassed insight into the many barriers women face in the workplace, in politics, online, and in the streets, forcing her to ask herself why and how the world is so inhospitable to women.

With pithy titles like “The Voice in Your Head is an Asshole” and “Weddings Are Satan’s Playground: A Letter to My Daughter,” Shrewed is conversational and funny, even when dismantling the cultural, social, and historical inequalities women are confronted with daily. While relying heavily on her own experiences and observations, Renzetti also shares the stories of remarkable women she has interviewed or admired who have “refused to be bound by convention,” including Germaine Greer and P.D. James.

What makes this collection spectacular is how nuanced it is, looking at the complexities of what it means to be a woman in a time of #MeToo and the persistent wage gap. This is no truer than when Renzetti talks about the "useless concept" of fearlessness that is drilled into the heads of young women everywhere, giving them just one more unattainable standard. “Of course young women will fear, and should not be ashamed of it. The structures of the world were not built for their comfort,” she writes.

Women of all ages will delight in Renzetti’s wisdom, and, often nod at her astute observations. This is especially the case when she writes about the ridiculous prices attached to gender and the $32-billion dollar women’s intimate apparel industry. In her chapter, “You’ll Pay for Those Breasts, or the Cost of Being a Lady,” Renzetti tracks her own spending, which included a $43 tube of lipstick, nearly $50 on waxing, and a $107 night treatment.

In Shrewed, Renzetti writes a letter to each of her children, and in the one addressed to her son, Griff, she tells him that, “Boys have been just as crushed and exploited by institutional sexism as girls have.” Neither letter is overly hopeful; however, there are shreds of optimism in Shrewed, especially when Renzetti writes about her mother, a former nurse, revealing how far society has come.

“As women demand more space, the backlash will continue. Enemies of our freedom will attempt to drive us inside; enemies of our power will attempt to silence our voices. We can answer the threat any way we choose. We can answer the threat with more freedom,” writes Renzetti in one particularly hopeful moment.

Shrewed isn’t eye opening. We already know the anxieties, complexities, and inequalities of being a woman in a male-dominated world; however, it’s Renzetti’s ability to capture these lived experiences with wit and candour that is exceptional. “The world would be a better pace if women had more say in the running of things. At the very least it would be less fucked up,” she writes.

Photos: Doors Open and Jane's Walks 2017

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Every year, I write about my favourite Doors Open Hamilton discoveries; however, despite taking dozens of photos last year, they never found their way to the site. Because Doors Open Hamilton,  Jane's Walks, and the City of Hamilton Museum Crawl are happening this weekend, I thought now was my last chance. (Please note that some of these sites aren't on the schedule for 2018). 

Click to read posts from previous years:

Century Manor 
(Part of a Jane's Walk)

Auchmar Manor House
(Part of Doors Open Hamilton)
See more photos of this visit over at The Inlet

Mohawk Trail School
(Part of Doors Open Hamilton)

The Barracks Inn
(Part of Doors Open Hamilton)

Fieldcote Memorial Park & Museum
(Part of City of Hamilton Museum Open Houses)

Griffin House
(Part of City of Hamilton Museum Open Houses)

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