Saturday, May 28, 2011

book review: The Boy in Me by Alvin Ens

The Boy In Me is the fictional account of Edgar Schroeder, the prairie boy who, like the book’s author Alvin Ens, grew up in Saskatchewan and then moved to Abbotsford, British Columbia. When Edgar’s 85-year-old mother can no longer live alone in her Saskatchewan home, his siblings volunteer him, a recently retired teacher and new widower, as interim caregiver till a spot in a care home opens up.

The book begins with “Still Waters,” the story of Edgar driving his mother through an Alberta blizzard to her new home with him. Their conversation jogs the first of Edgar’s many memories – reminiscences of his childhood and adolescence – that reveal the boy inside the man.

These spill out in rich chronology as his mother spends the next five months with him. Her question about where he will get ham for the Mennonite kielke noodles she’s making, for example, revives the memory of the days his family spent butchering and preparing their winter meat supply. His promise to cook her some west coast cuisine – a salmon perhaps – brings to mind fishing for goldeyes in the Saskatchewan River. Her query about the cost of his golf equipment reminds him of the hours of fun he and his friends had playing with an inexpensive rubber ball.

Each of the 23 chapters is a self-contained story. Many have been previously published in places like Canadian Stories and several have won prizes. But they feel like one story too, due to the single narrator and his first person telling which ties them together well and makes the book an organic unity.

Ens is a great storyteller, managing to grasp what is going on under the surface, articulate complicated emotions, and describe revealing interactions between characters. In his typical style he often plays with words, extracting every ounce of goodness, like a dog chews a bone. Here, for example, is a paragraph from “Ready” – a story about Edgar and his typing teacher:
“’You have ten minutes for exercise 33 and then we’ll hand it to the person behind you and correct. Are you ready?’ said McCredy the Ready, that battle-ax, Battle X, Battle M. McCredy, the Ready. With her favourite question, ‘Are we all ready?’ McCredy the Ready. McCredy the ready, always ready with her whip. In front of me everyone was typing. What? Had I missed the signal? I typed frantically.” p. 106.
The stories touch on a multitude of themes – parenting and being a parent, discovering yourself, learning values of honesty, truthfulness, compassion, and obedience, and showing how a slide into skepticism doesn’t necessarily mean the end of faith. There is lots of prairie boy risk and delight, adolescent coming of age and first love, with a dessert of adult romance, all garnished with fattening dollops of Mennonite deliciousness.

As someone whose ethnic upbringing is similar to Edgar’s (and Ens’s) I found The Boy In Me resonated on many levels. But its exploration of ageless human themes transcends ethnicity. This novella-length book is pure gold in its detailing of childhood memories, its sly humor and its generous portions of life-wisdom. Readers across ages and backgrounds will delight in these homey stories.

Title: The Boy In Me
Author: Alvin Ens
Publisher: Ensa Publishing, Abbotsford, B.C., paperback, 140 pages
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-9732224-4-9
Price: $15.00

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Alvin Ens will be launching The Boy In Me at a Blue Moon Reading (MSA Poets Potpourri Society)
Launch Details

Monday, May 30th
Clearbrook Library,
32320 George Ferguson Way
Abbotsford, B.C.
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Copies of The Boy In Me will be for sale at the event.
$15.00 ($12.00 for MSA PPS members)

Order by email.

Or order by surface mail:

Alvin Ens

3947 Paradise Place,

Abbotsford, V2S 8E3

(Add $3.00 for mail delivery.)

Violet Nesdoly / poems
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2 comments:

DebD said...

this does sound like a lovely book. Thanks for sharing your review.

Nicola said...

Oh, this does sound good! I love these types of stories and I don't know why but I am so attracted to tales of boyhood. Perhaps it's a longing for what my own boys have missd out on growing up in this technological age.

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