Babble Book Club: Cool Water by Dianne Warren

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Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture
Babble Book Club: Cool Water by Dianne Warren

Babble Book Club's newest selection is Cool Water by Dianne Warren, an interwoven story about the inhabitants of a fictional Saskatchewan town. Warren has described this novel as her life's work as it is informed by the area she grew up in, the movies and books she consumed and partly her family history.

The final conversation will wrap up on Tuesday February 19 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST where the book will be discussed in its entirety. As always the thread is open for everyone to discuss the book and ask questions as they ease along on their reading process.

This book is widely available online, in bookstores, at the library or through the publisher Harper Collins.

Check out the blog post for more details on the book and the discussion or leave the below.

Also here is some praise for the book:

From the Governor General's Literary Awards Fiction Jury:

In this exquisitely constructed novel, Dianne Warren makes each moment shine; her narrative flows seamlessly from character to character, all stunningly depicted. The implied silences of her elegant minimalism amplify the lush prose. Cool Waterimmerses readers in the difficulties and joys of everyday life. This is powerful writing—gut-wrenching and inspiring. Its drama is quiet, but in the end you hardly know what hit you.

From Winnipeg Free Press:

Warren demonstrates a finely tuned understanding of the importance of everyday life that is reminiscent of Carol Shields' abilities to transform the quotidian into something meaningful

From Quill and Quire starred review:

The novel takes up the stories of a dozen of the town’s inhabitants. Particularly well-drawn are the portraits of Norval Birch, Juliet’s bank manager, and Vicki Dolson, a struggling mother of six. Although the two never meet over the course of the novel, their lives are inextricably connected, in the manner of folks who live in a small town. Birch is aware of Vicki’s situation and empathizes with her; thoughts of her and her family consume him throughout his day. Vicki, meanwhile, moves through the novel, herding her kids and demonstrating her sweet, clueless-yet-knowing nature with every word she utters. The two characters are simply and truthfully drawn, and Warren avoids the kind of cloying “just folks” attitude that could so easily overwhelm such portrayals.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Okies. I will check this book out. Anyone notice if it's available in the public library here in Vancouver?

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Bit of a departure read for me as well (or you seemed ti imply Catchfire). Also, when I checked the library, they had quite a few copies available at various locations.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I haven't yet started this book because I have been on a kick of finishing books that have been sitting on my shelf, unread. Also whever I finish a book it happens to be Sunday and the library isn't open so I start a different one -- vicious cycles.

Anyone starting reading yet?

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I've got it on hold at the VPL. My first hold ever. Does that count?

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Totally.

Sometimes I get confused with the whole 'holds' system and just wander into the holds section and see if my book is there. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's coming in from somwhere else, I just never know.

Oh, and in the US the book is called Juliet in August. Soooo different. I think they changed the town from Juliet Saskatchewan to Juliet Arizona.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I'm finding the names of the libraries confusing. There are so many of them, and most of them are not named after the neighbourhood they're in. Where's Doug Ford when you need him?

Also, that's funny about the US edits. I remember when Anne of Green Gables (I think? Maybe Little House on the Prairie?) Was moved to Minnesota or something so as not to offend patriotic sensibilities.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

The funny thing is, I believe everything is exactly the same except the name -- is there a problem with saying Cool Water? No idea. 

I'm just excited this one is available in my neighbourhood library

Caissa

Read the first 100 pages on the weekend. A mixture of stories with inter-related characters set in a fictional small Western town.

Left Turn

I think I'm gonna pass on this selection, as I'm still making my way through People Park.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Haha thanks Caissa. Any enjoyment from it thus far?

Caissa

I'm half-way through. Some of the characters are starting to annoy me so the author has done a good job of making me care. Another book I wouldn't have chosen on my own so I am thankful to BBC for having chosen it.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I don't think this is a book I would have read on my own either, so it is nice to have the incentive. 

I like your point on characters and character that are annoying. It's curious when people write a book review (etc) and say they hate the book or that the writing was awful because they hating the characters. I think most of the time it is indicitive of good writing that the author is able to get you to feel that annoyance like you said, although it is completely possible to dislike a book despite good writing. I always think of anything Jonathan Franzen has ever written -- good writing, the characters usually drive me crazy, and I end up disliking the book, but hopefully not discrediting the work.

[I think I just don't like Frazen, but he writes interesting stuff. Another thread, another time.]

Anyways, I've read that the largest critique of this book is that not all characters are given the time they deserve, and some, unforunately fall by the wayside.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Oh and Left Turn, if you still want to discuss People Park, I'm all for it (and I think Catchfire too). Hop on the other thread if you want to chat! I'm really curious about everyone's interpretations of the book!

Caissa

I was just beginning to feel one of the characters was falling by the wayside but we are returning to that situation with 40 pages to go. I guess the issue is whether or not there is some sort of closure with each of the interaconnected stories. I'll no the answer to that question this evening.

ETA: Finished the book last night. Some characters have epiphanies, some grow. When the story is over you just assume they go on with their lives. The book starts in the middle of their lives and ends in the middle of their lives.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Do you think it is worthy of all the accolades? I know that is a somewhat bated and potentially unanswerable question, but I'm curious. The reviews and critiques of this book and Warren's story-telling and writing ability seem very impressive. 

I picked up my Americanized version from the library on Saturday and am going to crack the cover tomorrow! I'm very excited to start!

Caissa

I thought it was a good book not a great one. My wife read almost the whole book yesterday and will finish it tonight. I'll see what her thoughts are on completion. I'm currently reading Indian Horse and probably enjoying it more although it is a darker book. 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I just cracked the cover and read a bit of it last night. It sure is Canadian!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Indian Horse has been getting RAVES from everywhere, especially Canada Reads people.

@Catchfire, I'm looking forward to the Canadian-ness of it and the whole Sashatchewan backdrop thing. It's like old, cliched CanLit gone modern? 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Also my book is completely Americanized. 

There is no mention of Sashatchewan at all! Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of the book -- like isn't it supposed to be exploring Canadian identity?

I guess 'mercian's don't want to read Canadian experience (which I think is a load of crap).

Caissa

Ms. C. wasn't sure what she thought of the ending.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Just started, and wow, yes, very Canadian with the pastoral style writing. 

Already can tell this is very outside of what I usually read -- the style, the content. Looking forward to getting into the meat of the novel when all the storylines start overlapping and I get to know the characters more.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

As always, this is going to be a bit of a last minute read for me, the bulk of which being done today! I'm excited to hear about everyone's thoughts on the books either tomorrow at 8:30pm EST or before -- please drop your thoughts on the book in the thread whenever you please, especially if you are unable to make it tomorrow night.

This book is a bit different from what we have been reading lately, so I'm curious about what everyone thought!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

WHOOPS! The conversation is in a week from tomorrow! I messed up the dates! APOLOGIES!

Next Tuesday February 19 8:30pm EST is final discussion! 

[phew no speed reading]

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I'm really struggling through this read -- for whatever reason, I'm finding it really hard to pick up the book and read

I don't know if it is subject matter or the style, but so far I'm definitely not, like, in it. I like the storyline and flashbacks of Lester and Lee so far. I like the incorporation of the past, and almost the confusion it makes when reading about how to tell from present and past.

I wonder if it is just a gap in preference though -- I usually like a bit more 'comtemporary' style (apologies, I've been watching Canada Reads and this word came up a lot) and stream of consciousness style.

Caissa

This is a book that probably reads better if you do it over a short period of time to mazimixe the 24 hour experience of the novel.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

That's a good point. I've been trying to stay on it, but it just keeps slipping away. For example, I'm not reading right now when I totally should be!

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Finally, an excuse for procrastination and consequent cramming!

Caissa

There are no excuses for procrastination and cramming says the man who is reading Nietzsche for Monday's class.Smile

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Pish posh, Caissa. Just crib off this old babble thread!

Caissa

No need, I finished it.  "On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral sense."

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Took an impromptu trip for President's Day, so I'm a little behind on finishing the read, but I will be finished for tonight and our final discussion!

Drop anything in the thread before/during/after 8:30pm if you are unable to make it at that time -- everyone's comments and questions are much appreciated!

Caissa

Past my bedtime. Wink

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I'm interested to her what your wife thought of the ending. There was an interesting point made by Quill and Quire and I'm wondering if it is similar.

[I also went to bed at 9pm last night.]

Caissa

What did Quill and Quire say?

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

They said:

Warren’s treatment of the town’s sand dunes as a metaphor for the lives of its inhabitants is problematic. The novel’s penultimate sentence reads, “The surface slowly changing shape.” The implication here is that the surface of the dune changes but the essentials remain the same, which seems to contradict the experience of the townspeople, whose surfaces never change although their depths roil with emotion and incident. It’s a puzzling way to leave these characters, who nevertheless remain in the reader’s mind, along with the town in which they live.

 

I think it is pretty obvious when reading through the book that the sand dunes/desert references represent something (even if not sure what it is) important throughout the book. The constant reference is almost obvious at points, probably due to the fact that it does seem odd in a book about Saskatchewan.

Quill and Quire makes a good points, I think, that the metaphor is flawed and isn't actually representative of the townspeople ... or is it?

What did Mrs. C think?

Caissa

I think she just felt that too many things were left unresolved. I was more comfortable with this since I felt that was the author's intent. I thought the desert was being used as a place people were to withdraw to and have a cathartic experience.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I agree with you about the author's intent, especially in this style of story. I believe it allows the reader to fill in the areas where the 'solid story' leaves off.

The desert does seem like a place for revelation, rebirth, etc, but I guess what Q&Q argues is that if this is the intent of the symbolism, then the metaphor doesn't make sense as it is the townspeoples' inner depths that are changed and not their surface. I wonder what her explanation is for this?

After my slow, somewhat painful start, the book really grabbed me, and what felt like 5 mins would be 20pages later. I find the story of Vicki Dolson particulary great, in that her character is really well written with all her intensely frustrating characteristics yet charming demeanor!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Thinking about it, it could also be a larger reference to the history of the town, since the town of Juliet seems to be the main character in this story.

The surface, i.e. the people, change (life, death, moving), but the essentials (how the town operates) remains the same. I think this is illustrated through the 100 mile race, the outlook and treatment of women (Justine as the flag person, Vicki forced to stay home, etc.) the generational farming.

I think even this is a bit flawed as the landscape of farming and production is changing, as she notes with debt, equipment, govt laws, conglomerates.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Hey everyone, so 'final discussion' officially starts in 15mins! Please drop your comments, questions, impressions of the novel for all to read and discuss!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

On a separate note:

One of the aspects of this book that I found compelling was its distribution internationally and how that portrays Canadian writing to different audiences. As we've all learned from trying to get books to read in the club, it is difficult to find widely released selections sometimes, and for me (and others) living in the states, it is especially difficult.

Without getting into the aspects that slowly Can books are becoming more available, it made me chuckle to think that someone with limited understanding of Canadian would pick up this book and read it thinking "oh this is Canadian writing." I find it funny because it is sooo heavily pastoral and Canadiana that it reminds me of that inside joke of the Vancouver Olympics closing ceremony that nobody else got.

Canadian writing has become so diverse, so i is a bit funny that this is one of the wide releases!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

And we begin!

So what did everyone think?

kim elliott kim elliott's picture

I really enjoyed this book. It is a style of Canadian writing that I haven't read for a long time -- reminded me a bit of Audrey Thomas or Alice Munroe.  Interesting comments about the sand dunes above.  I find it hard to see the dunes as being a metaphor about some kind of constancy about the people of the town. If anything, I could see the *movement* of the sand as a metaphor for the lives of the people of the town - the dunes, like the town, being the constant. Their lives being swallowed up by time, just as their artifacts are swallowed by the sands? Je ne sais.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I agree, I haven't read this style of Canadian writing in a long time, and after a slow start, I really got into it. I found the creation of most of the characters, particularly Vicki, Lee, and Norval and Lila, really well done. I couldn't wait to get back to their stories specifically when they would come around.

In comparison to People Park, which had similar structure of overlapping narratives, I wish Cool Water would have culminated in more of the characters overlapping in the end, like how People Park had everyone, or more people, all rush in together at the end.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Ya, and as far as the sand dunes go, I feel like they were mentioned so often, either in just landscape, or references to the camels and things, or as a "Saskatchewan has a desert!" way, that they had to have significance.

I'm not sure if Q&Q's interpretation of the ending is correction or what the author was trying to get across with that metaphor.

kim elliott kim elliott's picture

What I'm sure is obvious to other people, is what the meaning of the hundred mile ride was? And why begin with that story?

kim elliott kim elliott's picture

And I agree Kaitlin, it took me a long time to get into the book -- it seemed so slow slow paced. But once I got into the rythym I came to really enjoy and appreciate the pace of the narrative. There was a point in the book where I suddenly felt that I "knew" each of the characters.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Oh geez, I don't know! An ode to the history of Juilet? A melding of the old and new?

I'm not sure what I took away from that other than the visceral experience of the horse ride, in all honesty. After that discussion with Pasha Malla, I understand why an author doesn't want to go through their writing in a trivia like manner describing every bit and piece of something and that a lot of power of story telling is what the reader breathes into it themselves. 

I get the merit of that reader response, but also love knowing why an author wrote specific parts and the significance of the 100mile race fits into that.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

[quote=kim elliott]

And I agree Kaitlin, it took me a long time to get into the book -- it seemed so slow slow paced. But once I got into the rythym I came to really enjoy and appreciate the pace of the narrative. There was a point in the book where I suddenly felt that I "knew" each of the characters.

[/quote]

Ya I mentioned earlier when talking with Caissa that all of a suddened I would be 20pages deeper in what seemed like a minute. I think a lot of that has to do with the writing and the easy of reading it. Also, it can be confusing to start interwoven narrative stories because the story lines are always changing. I think that definitely deters people from continuing to read and finish these types of stories.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Hi everyone! Sorry I'm late...

I hear what you're saying, Kim, but I'm not sure I'm entirely on board with the Munro comparison, although I hear the echoes too. I see Miriam Toews (like the Quill review starts out with), but only because it's also a woman struggling to write a prairie novel. So in that sense, and probably because I just finished a whack of her books last fall, I see Willa Cather and the tenacity and last of the characters. I haven't reached the end yet, but the comments about the sand dune ring true to me too.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

[quote=kim elliott]

What I'm sure is obvious to other people, is what the meaning of the hundred mile ride was? And why begin with that story?

[/quote]

My guess is partly what Kaitlin said about the old and new, and about the "single day" motif, and telling a story which reaches to the four corners of the community?

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