Book Review: Cake Or Death Heather Mallick
It was a few years ago when I first was introduced to the joys of a Heather Mallick column. This is not to be confused with a Doric Column with a cap that supports old Greek ruins, but a collection of around 900 words that was written usually in a fit of pique by a woman writer for The Globe And Mail newspaper in Canada.
On alternate Saturdays I would eagerly click the generic link "Columnist" on the newspaper's home page (they very rarely gave her a name link maybe hoping people wouldn't find her so as to cut back on the irate letters to the editor) and jump into her pool of righteous indignation. It was wonderful – somebody was actually writing about all the issues I would have written about and in a style that made me weep with envy.
Not only was her wit so acerbic that it could eat through the walls of the Teflon uber-bunkers that politician, pundits, and other spewers of lies, and garbage live behind, but she could also break your heart with her minimal description of real misfortune. She doen't have a drop of sentimentality in her blood, just real emotion and a formidable intelligence.
When she had occasion to turn upon herself and remark upon her own idiosyncrasies it wasn't to enlist our sympathy or even out of some masochistic need for public self-humiliation. It was more along the line of showing people how easy it was to admit to your humanity and to revel in your own eccentricity. Who needs to be the same as everyone else – even if it's only in the way you've planted your rows of flowers this year – it is still a statement of your uniqueness as an individual and you should be proud of it.
On occasion I would be moved enough by one of her writings to email a commentary or words of approval. To my surprise she actually would answer her mail, and not just with a thank-you for writing form letter either. I was beginning to enjoy our sporadic correspondence and I think she was beginning to recognise the name at the end of the letters when all of a sudden it ended.
A polite form letter informed me that she was no longer able to answer her mail as she was writing a book and she hoped I'd (and everyone else I assume) understand how she just couldn't spare the time anymore. I was a little disappointed but that was nothing to what was to come.
One Saturday as usual I clicked over to the Columnist section only to find her gone. There was no notice, no hints as to her whereabouts, nothing. It was if she had been abducted by Aliens or worse spirited away by some secret government plot to abolish free speech. Of course it was something far scarier – she was on publicity tour for her first book Pearls In Vinegar: The Pillow Book Of Heather Mallick.
Maybe it was some dark recess of hidden resentment, or the fact that I was broke, but I never got around to either buying or reading book one. Now that Knoff Canada has released Cake Or Death, her second collection of essays on modern life I decided to let bygones be bygones (the nice people at Random House Canada sent me a review copy) and see if she's changed at all in her new digs.
Will she have moderated her tone in the hopes of increased sales? Will she stop accusing Tony Blair of being the most duplicitous man on the planet and describing George Bush as the ultimate spoiled rich boy in the hopes of attracting the moderately well heeled to shell out the necessary readies to buy her book?
I guess Heather figures there are enough people out there (here) with as highly tuned sense of outrage as she has because she has not moderated her tone a whit. Oh certainly she might spend some time ruminating on the finer things in life. Those that allow her a respite from the reality of a world where in certain countries she's unable to leave her hotel room without crying because of how the people are forced to live.
I'm not going to deny her those two weeks in Paris because she is astute enough to know that the glamour she is revelling in for those fourteen days is an illusion, is in fact a glamour, a spell. If she were to live there all year round, as she occasionally fantasises, she knows that reality will exist in spite of where you live. That death and cake are always going to be our choices and the former in all its shapes is far more plentiful than the latter.
She makes no secret of her loathing for what she calls the unfeeling nature of conservative politicians who justify everything through greed and the bottom line. She declares her unstinting support for those people everywhere and anywhere who are appalled by what their leaders do in their name. She avows undying love for the Americans who have sent photos to the site apologizing to the world for re-electing George Bush. And she loves taxes. (Read the book)
She's opinionated, gutsy, bull headed, pretty much all the things that most people who use the words family values in a sentence despise in a woman. She has a marvellous conversational writing style that let you walk alongside her through the pages of her opinions. Even if the chat is a little one-sided in that you can't address her directly with your response at least you feel like you're involved and not just being lectured.
When I started writing articles, if I was attempting to emulate anyone, it was Heather. She sees no shame in expressing how something makes her feel, and doesn't hesitate in using herself as an example when the need arises. She's honest in a world where that means something and she speaks from the heart. Those are two attributes I will always admire and that still haven't changed an iota in her writing. Obviously fame hasn't gone to her head.