Three Days in Vernon, BC

Wine, stand up paddle boarding, and tears of joy/ realization. What do these three things have in common? My recent trip to Vernon.

I’ve been telling so many people about it that I figured it might be useful to a few of you if I put all my tips and tricks into one long travel post. So here goes…

My mother moved to Vernon, BC a handful of years ago and the past three years I’ve gone on a road trip with a friend to soak up the summer. It’s becoming one of my most anticipated yearly traditions. Below are a few of my favourite things to do.

DRINK

If you don’t like wine, then I feel sorry for you. Lake country, between Vernon and Kelowna, has some fantastic wineries and drinking, aka “tasting,” is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Here’s where we went this year.

Intrigue – The tasting room has tonnes of tacky “I love wine better than my cat” type knick-knacks that make it look like a bachelorette party threw up in there but their wine is VERY drinkable. I took their Pinot Gris to a party recently and it was a huge hit. If you like bubbles, they have a pink sparkling wine with the awful name I Do. I don’t like bubbles, but my friend has purchased it all three times we’ve visited.

Blind Tiger – This was the first time we had heard of Blind Tiger and I found their wines to be a bit pricier than others. To their credit they were the only winery that I bought a red wine from. (It makes me sleep funny). They are an organic winery if you’re into that and they also have a food truck where you can order wood fire pizza at a decent price.

Ex Nihilo – I find this winery to be a tad on the pricey side for the region, also I’m cheap and don’t want to spend more than $22/ bottle. They have beautiful art on the walls and a nice outdoor patio where you can grab lunch. I brought back their Riesling.

Arrowleaf – If you want to have lunch with an amazing view go to Arrowleaf. Get a cheese plate and a bottle and enjoy the afternoon pretending you’re fancy trophy wives. Their wine is also very affordable and goes down quick. I’m a fan of their Rosé.

50th Parallel – Our last stop on our wine tour is also my favorite overall winery. Their building is beautiful – big, cement, strong, and modern with this ridiculously huge lampshade over the main entrance. All their wines are fantastic but I love their Rosé the most – I bought two bottles this time. They are planning to open a large dining room in the future and I’m sure it will give Arrowleaf a run for its money.

BX Press – I don’t know if you’ve heard but craft cider is the latest booze to nerd out on. That’s why Vernon is lucky to have the BX Press. Their Alexandria Lavender Raspberry is ERMERGERD, SO GOOD!  Also delicious are The Prospector and Ginny ciders. These are not the ciders you drank when you were 19 years old, these are proper, delicious, non-saccharine adult ciders.

ENJOY CULTURE

Every small town thinks that people will visit for the murals, even Vernon, and they’re wrong. I’ve been here dozens of times and I’ve never wanted to see the murals, but if you’re into that kind of thing knock your socks off.

The best thing to do culture-wise is to take a trip 40 minutes on the highway to Armstrong and catch a show at the Caravan Farm Theatre. This summer they’re presenting Our Town (runs until Aug. 21 – go now!). I had only heard about this play and that it had a reputation of being “schmaltzy” but OMGF it’s amazing. If you’re emotionally open and prone to crying in public, like me, bring a box of tissues and get ready for a life affirming Act 3. It was a PERFECT evening of theatre. Perfect. I’ve teared up several times just telling people about this play.

“Let’s really look at one another!…It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed… Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute? – Emily  – Thornton Wilder, Our Town

GET OUTSIDE

Let’s be honest, the real reason anyone goes to the Okanagan in the summer is for 30 degree weather and time in a bathingsuit by a lake. The prettiest one of the region with its stunning deep cyan hue is Kalamaka Lake. There are a several nice beaches around it for you to get your vitamin D. We went to the biggest dirt/sand patch, Kal beach, so that I could do a thing I’ve been making fun of for ages: stand-up paddle boarding. It’s actually pretty fun, especially if you’re a jerk like I am and you do yoga poses on it to show off your sick balance and flexibility. Here’s where we rented our boards. If you’re a baller you can probably rent a boat for the day from somewhere nearby too. Lucky you!

EAT

A trip to the Okanagan isn’t complete without bringing fresh fruit and veg back to the city, so you’re going to want to checkout the Vernon Farmer’s Market (Mondays and Thursday’s 8 AM-1 PM) or any of the numerous fruit stands along the highway. We always stop at Davidson’s Orchards right before we leave to bring back frozen pressed apple juice and frozen peach pies. If you have kids, or are young at heart, I highly recommend their petting zoo and play area. Just don’t try to live up to their body standards (see below). If you’re going to a Renaissance faire and need some mead you can pop next door to Planet Bee. They also have some decent lavender honey.

Farm fat-shamming. #Farm #Donkey #Salsa

A photo posted by Sara Bynoe (@sarabynoe) on

If you’re looking for places to eat out, sorry, I don’t have any recommendations. My mom is a great cook and she has a fridge full of booze. Yes, one normal sized fridge that is full of booze. It’s amazing.

Word on the street is Ratio and Triumph are the best places to get coffee. My inside scoop is that Ratio has the best pastries and Triumph has the best coffee, but why not try them both? You’re on vacation!

On your way back to Vancouver don’t forget to stop at a corn room in Chilliwak and pick up some peaches and cream.

Summer is coming to a close now, go out and enjoy as much of it as you can. Grab a friend, some sweet booty shaking tunes (ones that tell you to put your hands in the air are the best), and hit the road. Maybe you’ll make it an annual tradition.

I Am A Fake Mom – A True Short Story

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I’m getting back into sharing things I have written. Remember that was a thing I used to do? I should do it again. For fun. Why not?

I posted this on Facebook a week ago and it got a big response, partially from the tribe of mothers on there. 

This is the first in a series of true short stories I hope to share with you. Enjoy. 

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Obviously, this is a stock photo. I’m not paying going to pay for it. I bet this fake mom made $500 for her day of posing with babies. Good on ya, woman!

Today at a casting office a guy asked me to watch his baby while he went in to his audition.

The child was maybe a year old, walking, carrying a blankie, and wanted nothing to do with me. He started to fuss 30 seconds after he was left in my care and tried to get into the room where his father had gone. I tried to distract him with his books- I used to be a storyteller at the public library in Calgary and I was very good. This child didn’t think so. The baby started to cry. I scooped him up to try to calm him and not disturb the audition. He screamed in my ear. I carried him away. He screamed louder.

I tried to explain to the baby that I wasn’t abducting him and that his real parent would come back soon and we wouldn’t have to deal with each other ever again. I told the baby that his father was in an audition to make money so that he could pay for the baby’s college tuition, but the baby didn’t understand me.

All the young hip women auditioning for a fun road trip car commercial in the other room stared at me. ‘Who the hell is this lady and what is wrong with this baby?’ they must have thought. Also, ‘ugh, stop it.’

After about 3 minutes of baby screaming, the dad was done his audition, the child was reunited with his father.  He stopped crying instantly.

See, stupid baby, I told you so.

Then I was called in to do my audition. I didn’t ask anyone to watch my purse while I was in the room.

Moral of the story: I might audition for mom roles, but I’m not the mothering type.

Update: I didn’t get a callback for that audition. Thanks, screaming baby.

New Year’s Thoughts: A Post With Over Sharing

My life is fun and very odd. #costume #oddjobs #actorslife #maskedselfie #fancybathroom

A photo posted by Sara Bynoe (@sarabynoe) on

A friend of mine doesn’t do New Year’s resolutions; she does words. She finds a word, or sometimes a phrase, that encompases how she wants to live her year. It’s like the Ally McBeal theme song tactic only much shorter.  I like this idea since there seems to be a lot of evidence that resolutions rarely pan out. Over time I’ve tried to adopt this habit but it hasn’t stuck. I can’t remember what the word I chose for 2015 was. It was probably something silly and slightly new-agey like joyful or radiance. In an effort to make this one stick I have decided to share this year’s word and write about it.

Are you ready? Here goes.

My word is COURAGE.

Brene Brown, the shame researcher/ storyteller you might know from her a kick-ass TED talk, the power of vulnerability, had this to say about courage:

“The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and, today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics are important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics are often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.” – Brene Brown

Here’s the thing, I know many of  you that follow me online or attend my events are likely to see me as I’ve tried to present myself; as a strong and fairly open-hearted woman. You’re likely thinking, ‘Courage? But you’re the one that can get up on stage and publicly embarrass herself by reading her awful teenage poetry in front of a large crowd. You dressed up in a sailor suit and tap danced at Novelty Act to a bizarre song you beep-boop sang.‘ You’re right, that’s what I do. That type of courage and vulnerability comes easily to me.

For the last few years I’ve held back my creativity and voice because I became fearful. I was afraid of failure, afraid of rejection, afraid of embarrassing and disappointing myself. To be honest, I still am, but it’s time to work though that shit. Silencing my creative voice, particularly my writing, made me feel small and repressed and then I got depressed. Like really truly, hard to get out of bed depressed.

I spent the better part of 2015 recovering from depression, which was exacerbated by horrible, negative self-talk. I went to a psychologist who specialized in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and I did THE WORK.(I’ve got a blog post about this and my recovery drafted – stay tuned!) For many months now I’ve felt more secure and happy in my life and I’m ready to move forward, work on projects/goals/ myself in a heartfelt, vulnerable, and courageous way.

So you’ve been warned; my blog is going to change its tone.

Of course, I’ll still be posting about my shows. If you want to unsubscribe to my overshares, go ahead.

You can subscribe to my newsletter and find out about my fun events on a monthly basis.

Here’s to new beginnings. Or at the very least a reset.

The Bench

The Bench from Sara Bynoe on Vimeo.

This video is the result of a workshop I did this January with Ant Hampton during the PuSh Festival.

His workshop is called Fantasy Interventions.

It’s a workshop on imagination and writing for site-specific theatre / live urban interventions. For artists and practitioners from a wide variety of backgrounds – theatre-makers, actors / directors, as well as choreographers, stage-designers, architects, poets and writers of many kinds.

Basically what we did was find a location on Granville Island, choose a view point for the audience and write a short imagined fantasy, or play or story or whatever you want to call it, that would be listened to with headphones at the location. I really enjoyed this work as it gave me an opportunity to flex my writing muscle in a way I haven’t in a long time.

I’d love to know what you think; please comment below.

What The F*ck Is Up With That Novel ‘Bear’? Let me tell you

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My story with Marian Engel’s book Bear started in late 2012.

As many of you know I’ve been hosting and producing a comedy show called Say Wha?! where funny people read from terrible books since 2010. Sometime in 2012 a fan of the show told me to check out the novellla Bear that had been assigned to her to read at some point in her educational career (I’m hoping first year college and not high school).

My first public reading of Bear at Say Wha?! was in January 2013. I shared the book several times at Say Wha?! shows and other events over the year and eventually podcast of of those readings in early June of 2014 – listen and enjoy it here. This summer the cover image came out of hibernation (see what I did there?) when someone posted it on imgur with the click-bait title “What The Actual F*ck, Canada?!” Then I wrote this article for Hazlitt (see below). About a week later the Globe and Mail covered the novel and even gave a nod to my piece. Then CBC Radio’s Q covered the hubbub the book was getting. Coincidence? Who knows?

The most important thing is that I’ve heard rumblings about the book being rereleased with the original cover art, which means we’re all going to win in the end.

You can read my article below or online at Hazlitt.

There’s More To ‘Bear’ Than Bear Sex

The first thing you need to know about Marian Engel’s 1976 novel Bear is that it is about a woman who has sex with a giant bear. Not a metaphorical, figurative, concept-within-a-creature bear: a real, furry, wild brown bear. There’s more to it than that, but why bury the lead?

The second thing you need to know, however, is that this is not some fringe underground chapbook: it won the Governor General’s award—the highest Canadian honour for the literary arts—in a year in which the jury included Mordecai Richler, Margaret Laurence, and Alice Munro.

We’re talking about Bear right now, though, because someone recently posted its cover and some particularly raunchy sections of the book to Imgur under the title, “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK,CANADA?” There was even a little boost in e-book sales after the book’s cover—an illustration of a lithe, topless woman with flowing brunette locks being embraced from behind by a bear standing on its hind legs—went viral. It looks like a Harlequin romance novel: ursine Fabio and his eager human companion, lost together, alone in a world that will never understand the depths of their potentially life-threatening interspecies love.

The story, ultimately, is not as sexy as all that, though it’s not without its moments of high erotica. It begins with a librarian named Lou heading to an island in remote northern Ontario to catalogue the library of an estate bequeathed to the institute for which she works, and, as luck would have it, finding a bear living on the property. Their affair truly blossoms two-thirds into the book, though, when, one night, she’s lying by the fire with the bear, feeling incredibly lonely. Overheating, Lou takes off all her clothes and proceeds to “make love to herself,” as women are wont to do. The bear, apparently knowing how to take a hint, starts to lick her—as bears are wont to do.

As the bear begins to survey the landscape, Lou remarks upon his “moley tongue,” which is, “as the cyclopedia says, vertically ridged.” (Ever the librarian, our Lou—her head in the books even as the head of Stephen Colbert’s number one threat to America is between her legs.) After a few laps, Lou begins to emit little horse-like “nickerings,” and goes on to call the episode, on the whole, “warm and good and strange.” This is probably as accurate a description as possible of the experience of reading Bear. It’s remarkably poetic: “Bear,” Engel writes, “take me to the bottom of the ocean with you, bear, swim with me, bear, put your arms around me, enclose me swim, down, down, down, with me.” And, “Bear, I cannot command you to love me, but I think you love me. What I want is for you to continue to be, and to be something to me. No more. Bear.”

As time goes on, Lou realizes she’s in love with the bear. Bear, being a bear, does not reciprocate her feelings. Is there a more total rejection than being turned down by a wild animal? He can’t even get an erection for her, “his prick [not coming] out of his long cartilaginous sheath.” In one desperate moment, Lou pours honey on herself to entice the bear to stay. “Once the honey was gone,” though, “he wandered off, farting and too soon satisfied.” It’s possible to see Lou, who has had bad luck with men in her past, as a stand-in for Engel herself, who was going through a divorce of her own while writing the book, imbuing it with equal parts empowerment and loneliness. Bear is dedicated to “John Rich—who knows how animals think.” John Rich was Engel’s psychotherapist at the time.

As time goes on, Lou realizes she’s in love with the bear. Bear, being a bear, does not reciprocate her feelings. Is there a more total rejection than being turned down by a wild animal?

Canadian Literature is sometimes prematurely marginalized in the minds of readers for its supposed over-reliance on rural narratives and abundance of stories about humans at some sort of critical or bittersweet impasse with nature; imagine a CanLit drinking game in which you have to empty your glass every time you read the words, “the sound of the loon cry.” But Bear subverts the cliché: here, after all, is a woman actually getting down on all fours and presenting herself to an animal, almost as if to say, “You think we love nature? Oh, I’ll show you how much we love nature.”

Bear garnered largely favorable reviews upon its release, finding support among respected writers and editors. As Canadian novelist, playwright, journalist, and fellow GG winner Robertson Davies wrote in a letter to Engel: “I’m fearful that the book might not be taken as seriously as it is intended and that you might be exposed to comment and criticism of a kind which, in the long run might not be helpful to you.” Considering the context of the book’s current moment of Internet fame, it’s tough to argue with Davies’ assessment. One notable pan at the time came courtesy of the critic Scott Symons, though, who, in his West Coast Review essay “The Canadian Bestiary: Ongoing Literary Depravity,” called the book “spiritual gangrene… a Faustian compact with the Devil.”

But if the book were all bear-on-broad action, it wouldn’t have the resonance it does today. It’s not simply a bizarre bestial farce; it’s a modern Canadian fable, an ironic play on romantic pastorals, and, above all, totally readable. Margaret Laurence wrote in praise of the book, calling it “fascinating and profound… [a] moving journey toward inner freedom, strength, and ultimately toward a sense of communion with all living creatures.” It won the Governor General’s award because of the strength of its writing, and because it challenges the reader as much as it strikes an emotional chord. It was published towards the tail end of second-wave feminism in North America, as women’s sexual empowerment was being pushed to the foreground; it wasn’t just gonzo—it was the zeitgeist. Recently, author Andrew Pyper wrote a defence of Bearrecommending it to readers “not because it’s a feather ruffler of a book … [but] because it brings something to the conversation that wouldn’t be spoken if we didn’t read it, if we kept things strictly appropriate. Bear is brave. We should be too.”

The book was far from Engel’s only significant contribution to CanLit. None of her other novels were quite as noticed or acclaimed, but the small group of Toronto writers that organized the Writer’s Union of Canada did so on her front porch in 1972; she was elected chair at its formation, and spearheaded the Public Lending Rights, which gave authors and editors payment for their titles in library circulation.

Engel died in 1985; we’ll never know how she might have felt about her sudden burst of Internet fame, four decades after the fact. But her place in history is secure: a friend to publishing, an award-winner alongside the authors of The Diviners, The English Patient,and The Stone Diaries, and a woman who, one day in the tumultuous 1970s, sat down, and, with full command of her craft, wrote of a lonely librarian in love with a bear: “She cradled his big, furry, asymmetrical balls in her hands.”

PuSh Festival Sunday Roast

Sunday Roast 2

Early this year I was asked by Minna Schendlinger, the Managing Director of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, to MC a roast she was organizing for the 10 year anniversary. I was thrilled to be asked and so very nervous to do it. Those of you who know me, know I’ve worked for the festival for the last 5 years in some facet or another. It’s a festival very dear to me.

The event took place last Sunday, January 19. I had a lot of fun, despite the hours of fretting I put in wondering if I was too mean or not mean enough.

For those of you who are interested here are my script notes for the evening. I’m sure I said things a little differently, but this is the gist.

TAKING THE PISS OUT OF PUSH

Hi, I’m Sara Bynoe and I will be your host for this evening’s Sunday Roast. Before I begin I’d like to make one thing clear– No! we will not be serving Yorkshire puddings or roast beef.

A roast is an event, in which an individual (or organization) is subjected to a public presentation of comedic insults, praise, outlandish true and untrue stories, and heartwarming tributes as a mock counter to a toast.

It’s a Sunday Roast because it happens to fall on a Sunday. If you don’t get that cheeky wordplay/joke , we are in big trouble.

This evening we are here celebrate the tenth anniversary of the PuSh festival by taking the piss out of PuSh.

Now many of you might be asking yourself who the fuck am I? Well, I’m here because Charlie Demers was unavailable. Also, because we all know CTV anchors make worst hosts for live events – but they look so darn pretty while they read … from… their … scripts (awkward fake smile).

Seriously, it’s my honour to be your MC this evening. I’ve been involved with the PuSh festival for the last few years. I assisted Theatre Replacement in casting 100% Vancouver or as I liked to call it the search for a 60-year-old unmarried Indian man who and speaks Cantonese and lives in Shaughnessy. I also produced the opening galas in 2012 and 2013 – also known as the fun ones.

Honestly though, as far as PuSh is concerned it’s my job to be the last person on the dance floor of every party. It’s strange, as much as PuSh supports dance, they rarely participate in it. Guys, I’m not getting any younger. It’s time for me to pass the torch! I know, I know, the SFU kids are working on it, but they’re still in “process.”

I think the real reason I’m here is that I’m also a host and comedic performer about town. I am always taking the piss out of things. Screw it, I’m also a shameless promoter so I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about two shows I’ve been running in this city for many years. The first is a confessional comedic storytelling event called Teen Angst Night where adults read from their teenage diaries and the second is my monthly comedy show Say Wha?! Readings of Deliciously Rotten Writing a show where funny people read from the worst books ever published. They’re so edgy Norman Armour has never been to either one.

I’ve been a fan of the PuSh Festival since my formative years, growing up in Calgary when it was the High Performance Rodeo. Congrats to One Yellow Rabbit for celebrating its 28th annual HPR. PuSh is the largest January interdisciplinary international arts festival in Western Canada? You mean, west of the Rockies, right? Because I know at least 1/3 of the programming is shared with the HPR.

Yeah, that’s right. I said it. It’s called the PuSh Festival Roast – We’re going to cross the line tonight.

What is PuSh? Besides a typographic nightmare? –  P for Pretentious, capital S for bullShit.

What if I told you could see grown men get naked and throw their shoes at each other, then fight and get so sweaty that they wipe themselves off with the Dance Centre’s curtains. What if I told you that’s art?

What if I told you would pay $45 to be blindfolded and have a stranger lead you around the city, and get you to molest buildings and bushes?

What if I told you that people actually like to watch modern dance?

What if I told you the most amazing performance piece you’ve ever seen was it town and you MUST GO AND SEE IT – only … it’s sold out.

Would you believe there would be a five minute speech before every show thanking sponsors and donors and then a huge ask for money from an audience full of underpaid unemployed artists.

That’s PuSh.

In the dark, dark, dark, cloudy, grey, depressing, mildewed, leaky condo, bedbug infested pioneer village that pretends to be a world-class city that we live in there is a festival that intrigues the arts community and confuses the hockey-rioting people of Surrey.

PuSh is an opportunity to see Vancouver theatre legends get drunk in this very room.

Ok, enough of me. It’s time for me to hand over the roast.

Look up here – see the few brave souls who are ready to roast our beloved PuSh.

You might be thinking, “Hey! There are only two women on that stage and everyone is white.” Relax, it’s just a representation of this year’s programming.

I love PuSh. Lots of great shows in the next few weeks. Make sure you see something. Seriously, I’m seeing a lot. Just check my Twitter feed or ask me for recommendations.

Sunday Roast

All The Ways I’m Turning Into My Father

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* Sometimes I eat chips and salsa for dinner.

* I get annoyed when people don’t obey traffic laws. “That’s why the good lord invented signals  – you twit!”

* I use my bicycle bell like my dad uses his car horn.

* I phone my family (and friends that I consider family) every week.

* My excuse for buying high-priced good-quality items is that is’s a good investment. It’ll last longer than the cheaper alternatives.

Happy Father’s Day!

I have one of the best, most supportive, generous, caring father’s a girl in the arts could ever hope for. Also, he used to have a sweet moustache that I bugged him to shave for years. Dad, I’m sorry about that.

SOME THINGS THAT ARE WORSE THAN BEING ALONE ON VALENTINE’S DAY

This blog post is inspired by this McSweeny’s list 

SOME THINGS THAT ARE WORSE THAN BEING ALONE ON VALENTINE’S DAY

Getting food poisoning from your favorite restaurant

Being on death row

Eating slimy carrots

Showing up to an award ceremony and your nemesis is wearing the exact same dress as you, and you end up on the pages of People’s “Who Wore It Better,” also you’re Paris Hilton

Watching a loved one disappear into dementia

Visiting a foreign country and finding out the airline lost your luggage and you have no travel insurance

Getting punched in the face on New Years Eve in Edinburgh

Being stuck on a desert island and the only book you have to read is Fifty Shades of Grey

Being stuck on a desert island and the only song you have to listen to is Blue by Eiffle 65

Finding out you’re pregnant when you have a baby and ending up on the show ‘I didn’t know I was pregnant

Ebola

Being a teenager

Feeling so sorry for yourself that you drink a bottle of vodka, order Dominos pizza, and vomit all night long while crying

Getting dumped on Valentine’s Day

 

See, things are not so bad.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Globe and Mail Book Reviews

In April I pitched a review of Fifty Shades of Grey to the Globe and Mail, instead they got me to review two comic novels. Here they are. It was wonderful to read two intentionally funny novels for a change.  

Globe and Mail – The Daily Review, Thursday, May 24

Two satirists named Christopher

Published Online Wednesday, May. 23, 2012 5:00PM EDT

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? By Christopher Buckley. 12 Books, 352 pages, $28.99

Sacré Blue: A Comedy D’Art, by Christopher Moore. HarperCollins, 394 pages, $29.99

The theme of the book is fabricated fear. The Senate nixes defence project “Dumbo,” which kills a lucrative defence project for Groepping-Sprunt.

Firm CEO Chick Devlin instructs Bird to grow American fears about China so Groepping-Sprunt can get funding for another top-secret U.S. defence system. Enter Ann Coulter-inspired Angel Templeton, a sexy, military-minded woman with a PhD, an eight-year-old child and a closet full of miniskirts.

Bird and Angel must set out to find – or create – a motive for war with China. Then comes the answer to their prayers: The Dalai Lama gets sick while visiting the Pope. It’s just food poisoning, but Angel and Bird leak a story to an Indian website, The Delhi Beast, offering an alternative explanation: The Chinese government poisoned him. After all, “the Dalai Lama is the one thing with China that the Americans actually care about.”

Meanwhile, members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, who “look like a delegation of identical, overpaid dentists,” surround Fa Mengyao, president of the People’s Republic of China (who has nightmares about seeing the face of his dead father on a dumpling). The president is a moderate, but some of his party feel that killing the Dalai Lama might not be such a bad idea.

The American-Chinese relationship is timely fodder for a political satirist. Buckley’s humorous take on serious issues such as China’s treatment of Tibet, America’s financial dependency on China, and gun-toting flag-wavers are what make this book worth the read.

Christopher Moore set out to write about the colour blue in his “Comedy d’Art,” Sacré Bleu.

Set mostly in Paris during the Belle Époque, the novel opens with the murder of Vincent van Gogh, a typical Moore-ian twist. Lucien Lessard is a baker and aspiring Montmartre artist. When Lucien first hears of the death of his friend van Gogh, presumed to be a suicide, he seeks out Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, famous for his paintings of the Moulin Rouge, diminutive stature and love of women and booze.

Lucien and Henri develop suspicions about the true nature of van Gogh’s death. As they start to seek the truth, they unravel a mystery that has lurked for centuries in the shadows of the art world: a gnarled character called only Colorman has been providing artists with unique paints that have mystical powers like the ability to stop time.

Complicating the story is Juliette, a muse of exceptional powers, who walks back into Lucien’s life. Lucien begins to paint like he never has before, causing him to abandon his familial duty of testing baguettes by getting hit in the head with them. Matters are complicated when it’s revealed that the muse is entangled with Colorman.

At times, Moore’s characters are themselves thinly painted. Juliette, the main female character, amounts to nothing more than a glorified sex object. Her attraction to Lucien is barely justified and underdeveloped. Moore’s de Toulouse-Lautrec is restricted to two modes of operation: fornicating and drinking. It’s amusing at first, but the joke gets old after the first 100 pages.

Despite this, Moore’s story is impressively crafted. He takes the reader back and forth through time, weaving through memories and impressions to unravel the mystery of the Colorman.

Art lovers will appreciate the appearances of the Belle Époque’s iconic creative community, including Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas and Cézanne. Full colour pictures of their great paintings appear in the text, and Moore populates the book with characters inspired by them. The attention to detail runs throughout the book, right down to the rich blue text the words are printed in.

Sacré Bleu is an art-history lesson, paranormal mystery and love story, combined. Like a Monet or Seurat painting, it works from far way, even if up close it can be a bit of a mess.