Tag Archives: Olsen

‘The Hero of Blind Pig Island and Other Island Stories’ by Jimmy Olsen (December 14th, 2014)

Reposted from LiveJournal:

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Jimmy Olsen has done it again! Through his anthology, The Hero of Blind Pig Island and Other Island Stories (a medium more difficult to properly utilize than it seems), the reader gets an accurate glimpse into the outlook of a middle-class North American man, having lived and worked in the Caribbean, with startling clarity. Having spent some time out of my own North American country myself, I thought Olsen very skilfully captured the amalgamation of often confusing thoughts and feelings one harbours regarding one’s home country. It becomes both idealized and irrelevant when away, and the same happens to the country visited upon return ‘home’. One becomes neither a citizen of the United States or the Dominican Republic (Canada or South Korea, in my case), but somehow a visitor and citizen of both. One has become, rather, a citizen of the world. There is a global universality to the tone in these stories that is made somehow clearer by the emphasis on the commonality of human attitude no matter the city, country, or hemisphere.

I enjoyed the emphasis on how deadly the sea can be to those who are not wise enough or interested enough to learn, with the full knowledge that in winter, the prairie (where I come from and where the voice of the piece seems to hail from as well) can be just as deadly. I could see that these stories were drawn even more closely from the author’s own life than his previous book, Poison Makers, and having read that book, was fascinated at the similarity of its main character to that of Clive, the English teacher from Minnesota, who appears frequently in several short stories throughout the book. Both of them are clearly reflections of the author himself, whose writing I have come to consider some of my favourite amongst my entire library.

There were a few annoying spelling and sentence structure errors, and my main beef with the piece was its organization of stories, which I found ended up leaving the reader with a lot of heavy at the end of the anthology. Personal preference would dictate that the title piece be last, simply for its lighter ending, but the theme of respect for the forces of nature and for Death itself is indeed reinforced in ‘Wet Passage’, the final story, so it could have been intentional. Taking that into consideration, I still wasn’t convinced that the final story truly encompassed the message of the work as I would have preferred in a mixed piece like this. My favourite story of them all was ‘Denise,’ the twist at the end of that story being so unexpected, I ended up thinking about it for two days afterward. Possibly my favourite part of this book is the barefaced honesty Olsen uses in his portrayal of family and acquaintances – all of whom are most definitely not perfect. It is the fearlessness in his writing that makes this book so real and so endearing.

I hope someday to be able to write with such clarity and unassuming honesty as Olsen does, to truly capture the human spirit (or at least freely share mine with my readers), as he does. This is the third of Olsen’s works I have experienced, and he has become one of my favourite authors. I highly recommend anything written by him. I give The Hero of Blind Pig Island 4 out of 5 stars for the book itself, but 5 stars for his work in general. Mr. Olsen, you write good books!


‘Poison Makers’ by Jimmy Olsen (September 22nd, 2014)

Reposted from LiveJournal:

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I just finished reading Jimmy Olsen’s Poison Makers, a great novel set in the seventies, revolving around South and North American political conflict, and voodoo. There are ten years between Poison Makers and Olsen’s first novel,Things in Ditches. The years have been good to him. He has matured in his style and truly reached the heights of his potential in this novel. I enjoyed Things in Ditches, but Poison Makers actually taught me about a completely different way of life, a different time, and very different struggles than my own while still keeping the characters incredibly tangible and down to earth (I felt like EJ could be my next-door neighbour or someone walking the streets of my own city). Olsen manages to take voodoo (and specifically, zombies), topics that are often joked about or over-dramatized, and bring their realities to light, challenging misconceptions while still underlining the power of belief and the power of voodoo as something to respect and properly fear. After reading this book, I respect the combination of faith and drugs that is voodoo more than I ever did before, because the power of the human mind and will is something to be in awe of (and sometimes protect oneself from).

Mr. Olsen ties the zombie/voodoo drama into conflicts between the continents of North and South America, (specifically the countries of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the United States of America, even Cuba). This book has so many levels. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share one island (Hispaniola) and yet, as EJ (who is from the Dominican side of the island) states in the book about the people in Haiti,’Their poor are starving, ours are only hungry.’ Olsen makes a point of connecting that juxtaposition with the complications of life as a South American minority living in ’70s-era United States compared to the privileged life and condescension of the Caucasian majority. The general point is that we as people underestimate and abuse one another, for power, from bitterness, with hatred. My favourite part about this book is that Jimmy Olsen spent years living in the Dominican Republic and his opinions and observations are taken from first-hand experience, which lends a credence to this book that truly ups the ante.

All in all, even though I found the ending to be a little weaker than the rest of the book, there were a few spelling/grammar errors, and I think the cover of the book needs a different design to draw in more readers (the photograph really embodies the spirit of the book, but only after I had read it did that truly sink in, and I was a little put off by the cover at first), I give this book a 5 out of 5. Mr. Olsen, I love your books. Please keep writing more!


‘Things in Ditches’ by Jimmy Olsen (March 13th, 2014)

Originally posted on LiveJournal:

This was the lovely book sent to me to review by the ever-obliging Jimmy Olsen. AND I LOVED IT.

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I did not expect Things in Ditches by Jimmy Olsen to be as good as it was. A murder mystery set in a small town in Minnesota? What could be interesting about that? Plenty, it turns out. Having lived in small towns most of my life, I was pleasantly surprised by the true-to-life foibles and quirks of the characters of Willow River, Minnesota, who seemed as though they could step out of the pages at any moment to give me their small-town gossip. This book especially shone in comparison to an anthology I have recently read, all stories claiming to be in small towns of just over 700 people, yet complete with street gangs, multiple insurance firms, and booming coal businesses.

The mystery itself was intriguing and kept me guessing, even, at times, laughing. The conclusion was all one could hope for, with a resolution to every loose end and a twist at the revelation of the true killer that infinitely satisfying.

One other aspect I found endearing, being from Winnipeg myself, was Olsen’s mention of it as the protagonist’s possible getaway point.

All in all, I give this novel 5 stars out of 5 and recommend it to anyone looking for a mystery that could be happening right now, next door.

Congrats to Jimmy Olsen for a stellar first novel.