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The Review: Holding Still for as Long as Possible, Zoe Whittall

Holding Still for as Long as Possible
The Review:  Holding Still for as Long as Possible, Zoe WhittallBy Zoe Whitall
978-0-88784-234-4
Harper Collins
$29.95
Reviewed by University of Toronto Bookstore Staff, Anne Burbidge

It’s hard to conceive of a more dramatic story line than that of a year in the life of a young paramedic in Toronto.  In Holding Still for as Long as Possible, Zoe Whittall follows in the great footsteps of Vincent Lam and writes about the journey of medical professionals in Canada. Lam’s Giller Prize winning Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, is a collection of inter-related stories about the lives of doctors, many of which are also set in Toronto. Whittall takes this kind of fiction — complete with medical jargon — one step further and examines themes of love, loss and death.

 Just as she did in her very successful first novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, Whittall creates characters who are both memorable as fictional beings, but who are also very real in their responses to challenges. In order to deal with his relationship issues, Josh, a gifted paramedic and transsexual, relies on texting on his cell phone to weather all manner of storms.  Amy, a filmmaker and Josh’s longtime date, uses email to reconnect with a lost love and her bike to find a measure of freedom.

Reading about and beginning to understand the drama faced by paramedics is enlightening and, as Whittall observes, many of our “petty” problems are put into perspective. She argues that producing art is also a “fight against. . . death”, a fight that is perhaps as important as the job of first responders. This creativity also can provide comic relief as in the case of former teen pop starlet Billy’s songwriting ability (“My Little Pony Ran Away”.) Along the way, plot lines take us to cultural hubs like 401 Richmond Street West and “that bookstore” on Harbord.  Like a seasoned paramedic of the soul, Whittall cares for the vitality of her readers in an incomparably fearless fashion.

Buy Holding Still for as Long as Possible Now!

The Great Los Angeleno Novel?

Bright Shiny MorningJames Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning is set in Los Angeles, and intersperses quick historical facts about the city in between introducing his many and varied characters, from a young couple who have fled abuse and boredom in the MidWest in search of their dreams in the City of Angels to the owner of a gun shop who hates everyone equally and doesn’t care who his guns kill (you just know he’s going to come up hard against a life lesson later in the book). The characters are interesting and show promise. Frey’s style takes a little getting used to, with its lack of commas and slight stream-of-consciousness flow.

Frey is of course (in)famous for the scandal around his “memoir”-later-revealed-to-be-fabrication A Million Little Pieces, but hopefully the incident won’t hang over his career forever.