June was an exciting month for me because I received not one but TWO advanced reading copies from ECW Press as part of their Insiders program! My previous blog post is a review of Pamela Mulloy’s As Little As Nothing, and today I’m reviewing The Things I Came Here With by Chris MacDonald. Two very different books—one historical fiction, one memoir—but both involve people trying their best to fulfill their dreams in spite of the bumps along the way.
Chris MacDonald’s story begins in Alliston, Ontario. He was born into an artistic family, the youngest of three brothers, and lived a tumultuous and raucous childhood in rural Ontario. A move to Toronto with his father once his parents split up was a major shift for MacDonald, and eventually led to a rift with his dad and saw him spend a lot of his teen years moving from place to place. He spent some time relying on the generosity of friends, living in shelters and rooming houses, and despite his often desperate circumstances, he never really let go of his dreams. And that might just be what saved him.
In The Things I Came Here With, MacDonald weaves lovely sentences that are often at odds with the subject matter he’s discussing and we learn to understand that his ability to find beauty in despair, and to long for beauty and art, even while at his lowest point, indicates a level of hope that resonates with his readers. His desire to seek out beauty (there is a great story about his attempt to steal some plants because that felt like something he needed to make his squalid living space seem more homey) illustrates a sparkle, a zest for life and for art that runs deep within him. Something that can’t be extinguished by even life’s hardest struggles.
MacDonald’s ultimate goal throughout the book is to become a tattoo artist, and since tattoos and tattooing are two of my favourite subjects, I was excited to follow his journey. The stories about his early days tattooing and some of his early clients and experiences are told with so much empathy and care, and these add an intimacy to the narrative that allows the reader to become immersed. At its core, The Things I Came Here With is a story about family; it’s a story of art, of loss, of grief, and of passion. It is raw and heartbreaking and funny at times—often within the same paragraph. And it is especially a story about love and finding your way home.