Tuesday, June 18, 2013

First Spring Grass Fire by Rae Spoon

First Spring Grass Fire by Rae Spoon is one of those hard-to-categorize books: autobiographical fiction in the form of interlinked short pieces. Spoon is a transgender singer-songwriter who grew up with a schizophrenic father in a strict Pentecostal family in Calgary. Spoon's protagonist, also named Rae, rejects religion and finds a hard-won salvation through music in this poignant coming-out novel.

Spoon describes attending an immense Christian rally in the opening piece:

"Looking out over the crowd around the stage, [Billy Graham] exclaimed, with sweat pouring down his face and a tremor in his voice, that heaven was going to be exactly like this meeting, like church, only it would never end. It would go on for eternity. This was the beginning of doubt for me. I was nine years old and the best option that'd been presented to me was an eternity of Christian contemporary music. My mind was full of places in books where people didn't have to wait for the school bus with numb legs in the cold all week just to spend the weekends inside of a church imagining hellfire. I begged internally for the option of non-existence."

The way that landscape shapes our lives comes through in several of Spoon's stories:

"I couldn't run away from home in a city that was so expansive and cold. You could run for half an hour and not even get to the end of your own neighbourhood, and all of the neighbourhoods looked the same, so it didn't really feel like escaping at all. Instead I was trying hard to become nothing, eating only a granola bar during the day and then hardly anything for dinner."

The two dozen stories that make up First Spring Grass Fire hop scotch from young childhood into early adulthood. There are subtle connections between each vignette and a stronger link between the first and last piece, giving a graceful completeness to the work. Spoon's wry humour and lack of sentimentality add to the appeal. I liked this book very much.

Readalikes: One in Every Crowd by Ivan Coyote; What Night Brings (Carla Trujillo); This Is a Small Northern Town (Rosanna Deerchild); and Nobody Cries at Bingo (Dawn Dumont).

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