A review of “Except My Love For You,” a novel by John Hodgert
“Except My Love For You” by John Hodgert tells the story of a 45 year-old man named Gordon from Winnipeg, Manitoba. The novel begins with Gordon’s dramatic decision at the peak of his career to set aside his business and his marriage to explore the simplest way a man of his age can live ‘comfortably’ in the city. Guided by an underlying poetic structure and full of flashbacks and unexpected twists and turns, Gordon’s journey through this changing time in his life with nothing but a few possessions and a handful of friends to call his own is a difficult yet beautiful one.
While the appeal of “Except My Love For You” for the baby-boomer generation is clear, what is surprising is the way in which all readers are moved to journey alongside Hodgert’s protagonist and easily swept up in the questions his life poses of ours. Questions like: what do we idealize in life and should we idealize these things? What would it feel like to simplify our day-to-day and what would be the consequences of this change? Where will our choices lead down the road? How are our parents dealing with their life choices, how are they processing things in this phase of their lives? The way these questions linger in our minds and in our hearts well after we’ve finished reading the book is Hodgert’s greatest accomplishment and fine praise for his debut novel.
Hodgert’s narrative style is dense, however, and at times can seem impenetrable, especially on first reading. The many private jokes, alliteration and witticisms can sometimes leave the reader focused on the wording rather than the story. Although such wordplay in a short poem or scattered throughout a novel can be insightful, the high compression language in “Except My Love For You” can leave the reader grappling to really understand the characters. But, if one perseveres through the adjectives, one is rewarded as these characters are full, varied and outright charming. Indeed, Hodgert’s cleverness is spirited and holds promise for future writing.
The novel is enhanced with an accompanying CD of the author reading extracts of the book as well as performing songs composed for the novel. It is a delight to listen to as the world of the novel jumps off the page, and Hodgert’s love of the way words mix and mingle together shines through. It is our opinion that the novel, with it’s cinematic unfolding of story and character, would work well as a film
“Except My Love For You” is a love song to a specific generation that evokes timeless questions for all readers.
For more info on the book and to listen to the original song recordings visit: http://www.exceptmyloveforyou.com/
Written on behalf of ‘The Cool Club’ book club in Toronto, Ontario.
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Last night at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts I went to see the Calgary-based theatre collective One Yellow Rabbit perform one of their latest shows “Sylvia Plath Must Not Die”. I was drawn to the piece simply because my graduate performance thesis project was about Sylvia Plath. It was lovely to have a thorough understanding of the material that was unraveling onstage, but that is by no means a requirement for enjoying the richness of the words and the characters brought to life on stage. The piece, despite its title, was actually about both Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. This was a very pleasant surprise! Both Onalea Gilbertson as Plath and Denise Clarke as Sexton gave very powerful performances, inhabiting the essence of the poets in both voice and body.
The majority of the text was Plath and Sexton’s poetry, but there were also some key biographical facts woven into the dialogue. Ted Hughes and Kayo Sexton (played by Michael Green and Andy Curtis) also added an interesting element to the two women’s lives unfolding (and unraveling) on stage. It allowed the audience to jump from the reality of these women’s lives to the truth that was released through their poetry. As the show took you through certain important turning points in their lives, the key moments were marked with their poems. The construction of the piece was very thoughtful because not only did both Plath and Sexton have powerful dramatic arcs in their performances, but the audience was able to weave interesting links (thematically and through parallel choice of words in their poems like ‘panzer man’, for example) between the two women because of the construction of the piece and the placement of the poems. Plath and Sexton’s connection to each other – acknowledged at times or parallel without being aware of each other at others – created effective tension and allowed the audience to feel the painful isolation of both women in their respective worlds. The show builds to a parallel fight – physical for Sexton and verbal for Plath – between the women and their husbands. The choice to have music played loudly (so you couldn’t hear the shouts) was very powerful.
I found myself wishing I could have been a fly on the wall during the rehearsal process or even have had the opportunity to see the various workshop performances of the piece to watch it evolve into what it is today. Regardless, the show gives its audience a beautiful glimpse into the world of these two female icons, without imposing judgement. Their words are again given life, and that’s what they both lived (and died) for.
The show is playing until Saturday, December 13th and the link to the company’s website is http://www.oyr.org/index.html
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Last night I saw this fantastic production called “Norway. Today.” produced by Toronto-based company Theatre Smash. The basic premise of this ‘existential romantic comedy’ is that two characters, Julie and August, meet online in a chat room as Julie is searching for someone to commit suicide with her. August ends up being the ideal candidate. Julie flies August to Norway and the rest of the play takes place on the edge of an enormous fjord called Pulpit Rock. On the last night of their lives, what endues is an examination of life, with many trials and tribulations as the two characters try to get along. What results is a new-found trust and the potential for happiness “in the face of death.”
When I first heard the synopsis, I cringed a little (ok, a lot) at the topic of suicide + chat room = play. But I couldn’t have been more mistaken. The production was incredibly thought-provoking and moving. With the smart, poetic, yet blunt language of playwright Igor Bauersima, the strong and effective acting choices of Steven McCarthy and Ieva Lucs, and the polished direction by Sarah Baumann, this a production not to be missed.
The play touched on some rather important ideas and questions. For example, “define reason”, the philosophies of Kant, realities of communication in the modern age and the difference between what we feel is fake versus what is real in our lives. However, what made it so exciting was the theatricality of the production. This is what makes a play a play! I really don’t like going to the theatre and seeing a movie put on stage (i.e. sitting there thinking that this would be more believable on film), or feeling like I’m at a narrated book reading (though this has its place). I love seeing theatre that couldn’t exist anywhere else but on a stage. This was certainly the case with “Norway. Today.” – creative blocking, an imaginative set and justified interplay between actor and audience awareness are just a few examples.
Another element I have yet to mention is the use of technology. The two characters use a video camera to record their last night and say their goodbyes to loved ones. Hanging at the sides of the stage are rectangles, onto which the live feedback is creatively projected in a very organic way. Usually when I see technology used on stage it makes me really nervous becomes I’m so worried that there will be a technical glitch and of course I am then taken out of the action. However instead of worrying, I was so preoccupied thinking about not only the theatrical effectiveness of the camera in the play, but it also made me reassess why we take pictures, why we record moments and why we have the desire hold on to those memories. When you realize how much there is to see in life, it just might make you not want to let go of the things that are potentially still to come. Like witnessing an Aurora Borealis…for example…
“Norway. Today.” runs in the Tarragon Extra-Space every night (except Monday) until September 21.
For tickets go to: www.theatresmash.com
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