During the Q&A at the end of Vancouver Seen, a Tuesday evening panel of Vancouver writers Dennis E. Bolen, Kevin Chong, Zsuzsi Gartner, and Jen Sookfong Lee, an audience member reiterated a couple of the questions from the description of the event in the Festival program. “What kind of literary community exists in Vancouver? What is the nature of relationships between writers?” He was probably hoping for a more substantive answer than what had emerged to that point. I’m interested in Vancouver writing, but I’d also been attracted to the event, in part, by the series of questions in the program. They’re interesting questions, not throwaways used to fill out a few lines of copy. Here are the questions, which I’ll attempt to answer — or at least mull over — based on what the authors read from their work, and on the ensuing discussion, moderated by Vancouver Magazine executive editor John Burns.
It was during summer vacation a couple of years ago when I read Lionel’s Shriver’s soul-gutting novel We Need to Talk About Kevin while lying on a bed in a cabin on the Sunshine Coast and it took me days to recalibrate and start enjoying the ocean and the company of my family. And now it’s summer (or pretending to be) again and I’m nearing the end of Shriver’s latest, So Much For That, a novel about a decent man whose wife is dying of a rare cancer (and is not prepared to go gentle into that good night, but transforms into Über-Bitch) and whose politically anarchic best friend is going kind of nuts. It may seem like I’m a glutton for gloom, but Shriver’s wit is so acidic, her glare so unflinching, that reading a novel that’s at heart a condemnation of the U.S. health care system is, while not exactly a romp, pretty engrossing. Think Franzen’s Freedom, populated not by the over-educated liberal elite but by the hard-working middle class.