Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Giddy for Giller Part 3: The Sentimentalists

After watching the 2010 Giller show, I immediately ran out and bought three of the five finalists, including the winner, The Sentimentalists. I really debated which of my three purchases (including Kathleen Winter’s book Annabel and Alexander Macleod’s short story collection Light Lifting) I would read first.  I decided to go with the winner first.
It seemed to be the dark horse of the group: first novel (Skribsund had previously published a book of poetry), artisanal publisher, and was running against some serious competition including David Bergen and Kathleen Winter.  I was super excited to read it. 

The Sentimentalists is told through the voice of a woman who, dealing with her own challenges in life, decides to return to her father, Napoleon Haskell, a Vietnam Vet who we soon find out is dying.  Skribsund’s narrator mixes memories from her childhood with the day to day of living with and trying to manage her father along with their dear friend (who is the father of Napoleon’s fallen comrade, Owen.)
Napoleon is an alcoholic dealing with his demons of the Vietnam War.  I guess I can relate as my own father is an alcoholic with his own demons.  His daughter reflects on her father’s whimsies, abandonment and shadow ghosts with equal doses of sentimentalism and bitterness.  She claims an attempt to understand not so she can fix it but so she can avoid a similar fate.  I don’t know if I really buy that. As a child of an alcoholic, I wanted to understand because I thought I could fix it. I always knew I wouldn’t turn out like him. 
As far as the writing goes, I found the prose tended towards the over embellished and over worked (I imagine this is due to Skribsund’s origins as a poet).   The descriptive detail of the setting, environment and landscape was at times really lovely and other times, a bit much.
Overall, I really liked it.  It was definitely worthy of the Giller shortlist although I’m not convinced it deserved to win.  So, I’ll move on now to Light Lifting and see how it compares.  Stay tuned for part four of “Giddy for Giller” :-).