A human mistake

Each year, there are a number of tragic news stories about “hot car deaths”–too many really. A few friends sent me this one, about Elena Petrizzi, who recently died after being forgotten in her father’s car, and so I thought I’d comment on it.

It was a similar story that first inspired Ismail’s character in my novel, Six Metres of Pavement. I wondered how a father in this situation could manage to go on with his life after making the absolute worst mistake a person can make.

Through my continued reading on the subject, I came to understand that such a mistake is a truly human one, a mistake caused often by sleep deprivation, distraction, schedule changes. None of us would ever want to see ourselves making such a fatal error, but any of us could. I don’t think the majority of these cases are of a criminal nature, or that parents should be charged with manslaughter, as Lucio Petrizzi was. My heart goes out to he and his family as they recover from this heartbeak.

Review: Dodici Azpadu’s “Living Room”

I had the opportunity to hear Dodici Azpadu read from her third novel, Living Room, at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival last week in New Orleans. She’s an excellent reader, and I was glad to have her expressive voice in my head while I read her book on the journey back home to Toronto.

Living Room is a story about Carmen Khalise, an Arab-Italian-American woman in her sixties returning to Brooklyn for her mother’s four-day wake and funeral. She has to deal with her estranged family, both those who wish to protect and love her, as well as those who misunderstand and resent her. Adding complication is the unexpected appearance of a past lover with a secret she urgently wants to confess to Carmen.

Azpadu’s characters are well drawn, especially her protagonist, an older butch lesbian who is an outsider amongst her family. Carmen is beautifully flawed; she drinks heavily and too easily betrays her girlfriend. At the same time, she has a strong sense of fairness, and rather than accept the condo her mother has bequeathed to her, she puts it “back into the kitty” to share amongst her siblings and their wives.

There is some beautiful writing, including a scene where Carmen meets her cranky mother’s bingo friends, who surround and “herd” her away from the wake so that they can offer her mother’s winnings. Elsewhere, she describes her ambivalence towards an ex-lover who falls asleep beside her:  “she pulled the blankets over us and stretched her full length against me, leaving my torso and legs free to run off in my dreams if I needed to bolt”.

Fatigue and illness permeate this novel; two characters are being treated for cancer and Carmen, too, is recovering from a serious illness. She often doesn’t eat enough, pushes past her tiredness, and in one poignant scene had to walk,  “close to the buildings” so that she “wouldn’t fall over”. At the same time, Azpadu deftly tightropes between serious and silly, offering the reader levity when needed.

If I had to criticize anything, I would say that there were a few passages where I felt Azpadu meandered into over-writing, offering more explanation than I needed. As a novelist and reader, I know that this balance between suggestion and telling is a delicate and subjective one.

I began Azpadu’s Living Room at Louis Armstrong International Airport but soon found myself on the streets of Brooklyn. By the time we touched down at Pearson International, I was deep within Carmen’s world, worrying about her, rooting for her, and rushing home so I could find out how her story would end.

Find it at your local independent bookseller or on Amazon

Leaving Del Rio

It’s been dry for seven months. On the way in from Del Rio International Airport, my father told us that the local church congregations have been saying rain prayers all spring.

Dad, my step-mother and younger siblings moved here almost ten years ago. Del Rio is his long-awaited escape from Southern Ontario winters, a Texas border town just 3 miles from Mexico. I’ve visited a number of times over the years; its low-key charm and arid climate make it a good vacation spot and writing retreat for me.

I toured Stealing Nasreen through here three years ago and am back with Six Metres of Pavement for a couple of readings, a book signing and a creative writing workshop. Each event has been attended by welcoming, interested readers, people who asked lots of questions about writing process, and the characters and setting in Six Metres of Pavement. They wanted to know about Toronto, Ismail’s mistake, Celia’s agonias. Del Rio is a frontier town with an artist’s heart.

It’s now a week later, and my partner and I wait at the airport. There are only two outbound flights a day, and ours has been grounded due to a thunderstorm with hail the “size of golf balls”. The airport staff have made us coffee, and changed the channel in the waiting room to Disney to entertain the children. They got the rain they prayed for after all.

Dad at Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Del Rio