pulp (2007-45)

Wolves in Glass Houses


Canadian mystery and magazine journalism

Tender Mercy Stef Penneyâ’s debut novel The Tenderness of Wolves (Simon & Schuster) takes place in the barren, snow-buried and frozen area north of Toronto in 1867. A local trapper has been murdered, and as the community tries to catch the culprit, layers of secrets are revealed. But the story is more than a mystery. The charactersâ’ actions are the result of their needs, and sometimes those desires wander outside the boundaries of decency that have been set in their developing society, which mixes immigrants from Scotland, England, Ireland, and Scandinavia with native Canadian tribes.

As great as the whodunit is in The Tenderness of Wolves, perhaps the greater accomplishment is that this first-time author from Edinburgh, Scotland, who is primarily a filmmaker, once suffered from agoraphobia, has never been to Canada, and did all of the research for the novel in The British Library, could write such a remarkable debut.

Penney writes clearly, and with such a feel for ice-covered Canada that youâ’d swear she was channeling Jack London. When itâ’s 90 degrees outside and youâ’re searching for a blanket, you know a writer is good at creating a mood. The Tenderness of Wolves was first published in the U.K., where it won both the First Novel and Book of the Year categories of the Costa Book Awards, in 2006, but didnâ’t reach the United States until July 2007. Chances are this is the last time Penneyâ’s work wonâ’t be published simultaneously in both countries; sheâ’s much too good for Americans to wait. The Tenderness of Wolves may be the start of an impressive career. â" Shawn Oâ’Hare

House of Glass I donâ’t know how many times, working for the college newspaper, I was told, â“Thereâ’s no â‘Iâ’ in â‘Journalism.â’â” Meaning that in the telling of the news, thereâ’s no room for subjective opinion. We were supposed to be translucent filters through which facts passed, untouched by our own personalities, resulting in squeaky clean stories that couldâ’ve been written by any reporter, at any newspaper, anywhere in the world. That, they said, was good journalism.

â“I say phooey to that,â” Ira Glass writes in the introduction to his new anthology, The New Kings of Nonfiction (Riverhead Trade).

Glass is the producer and host of This American Life. His weekly broadcast usually starts with some abstract theme, then spirals outward into a series of true-life vignettes.

â“A lot of daily reporting and news â‘commentaryâ’ just reinforces everything we already think about the world,â” Glass writes.

The New Kings of Nonfiction offers a salve for drab, formulaic journalism. Itâ’s a selection of stories by a variety of authorsâ"some well known, some more obscureâ"who, even as they report the facts, also dig beneath the ribs of human experience and edge closer to the truths that so much journalism overlooks.

Consider Susan Orleanâ’s â“The American Man, Age Ten,â” originally published in Esquire. The plot is this: Orlean follows a fifth-grader through his day-to-day life, observing, asking questions, thinking through what it means to be a 10-year-old suburban kid. Written with a straight face, itâ’d be a ghastly read: boy wakes up, goes to school, plays in the backyard, eats dinner, goes to sleep. But Orlean manages to pick, from that string of uneventful events, the moments that are representative of something much bigger, much more important.

In â“Among the Thugs,â” Bill Buford embeds himself with a group of Manchester United football hoodlums on a match road-trip to Italy, and Coco Henson Scales writes of her celebrity interactions while working at a West Village hotspot in â“The Hostess Diaries.â” In each story, the authors donâ’t hesitate to speak their own mindsâ"what theyâ’re seeing, hearing, and feeling.

â“They make the world seem like an exciting place to liveâ,â” Glass writes. â“Thatâ’s a hard thing for any kind of writing to accomplish. In times when the media can seem so clueless and beside the point, thatâ’s a great comfort in itself.â” â" Leslie Wylie


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