Review //
The Mystics of Mile End by sigal Samuel

the review

HLR: When and where did you write the review published in this issue?

I wrote the review at home this summer, but some of the thinking about the book happened in the car while delivering my kids around this vast province. I find short-haul drives to do errands completely annoying, but road trips—lulling yet somehow productive—let me work through writing problems.   

HLR: What drew you to the book you reviewed?

I’ve always been attracted to books dealing with Judaism and religious orthodoxy in general. As a teenager, I went through a phase binge-reading Isaac Bashevis Singer stories and the novels of Chaim Potok, which focused on urban Hasidic families the likes of which I (Catholic, small-town) had never known. Later, after coming to Canada, I read Mordecai Richler and encountered Richler’s Montreal. Later still, David Bezmozgis. (Natasha and Other Stories is one of my favourite books, and I loved The Betrayers.) So Sigal Samuel’s novel, with its contemporary religious conflicts and Mile End setting, was irresistible.   

HLR: What other kinds of writing do you do? 

I write fiction and essays. And lots of notes toward fiction and essays.  

HLR: Do you consider your work to be cross-pollinated by other disciplines?  

If parenthood and politics can be considered disciplines, then yes. By politics I mean following and studying, not running for office. Whatever you give close attention to finds a way into the writing, it seems, as a filter or a frame. And I just thought of a third P that actually is an artistic discipline—plays.   

HLR: Where is your favourite place to write outside the home?

Anywhere away from the distractions of home is good: on trains, in airports, or hiding out in someone else’s empty home or office. I’m considering committing a crime just to get a stretch of solitary time in lockup.  

HLR: How does travel affect your writing?

Travel creates so many possibilities, not least of which is new language. Just listening to conversations on the street or at the grocery check-out—so different from the ones I’m used to hearing—is a reminder of the richness of dialogue and dialect. Day to day it’s easy to settle into comfortable ideas, bolstered by like-minded friends, but traveling forces questions. It blows up the routine and exposes the traveler to other views of how the world is and how it should be. 

HLR: How does the Internet and your presence on the Internet affect your thinking and writing?

I’m sure it’s hurt my thinking, at least long-form thinking. I suffer from the same shortened attention span as most Internet dwellers. And every corner of the Internet, whether it’s offering work or entertainment or even literature, as it’s now fed to us in daily poems and stories posted online, is a time-suck. No question. But. The ease of research. Endless access. Real-time information. Connection. I wouldn’t want to give up any of that.     

HLR: What are you currently reading?

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.


Laura Rock's fiction has appeared in Canadian, Irish and US publications including The New Quarterly, U of T Magazine (online), The Antigonish Review, and Southword, among others. Her essays have been published in The Globe & Mail and the anthology How to Expect What You're Not Expecting (TouchWood Editions, 2013).