Author Archives: Ian Colford

About Ian Colford

Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in Event, Grain, Riddle Fence, The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead and other literary publications. His previous books are Evidence, The Crimes of Hector Tomás, Perfect World and A Dark House and Other Stories. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Relit Award, the Journey Prize, and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. He lives in Halifax.

Nothing Could Be Further From the Truth by Christopher Evans

Christopher Evans’ collection of short fiction, Nothing Could Be Further from the Truth, is a tutorial in expecting the unexpected. These are unconventional, sometimes hilarious, sometimes disturbing tales from the frayed edge of the contemporary urban experience. Evans populates his fictional landscape with loners and misfits, mostly young men and women: disaffected, delusional, or well-meaning but misguided people adrift in an unfeeling world that seems to offer no direction and little purpose.  

“Evans populates his fictional landscape with loners and misfits, mostly young men and women: disaffected, delusional, or well-meaning but misguided people adrift in an unfeeling world that seems to offer no direction and little purpose.”

Typical of Evans’ self-effacing male protagonists is 20-year-old Richard in “Cakewalk,” who has returned to his old school. Charged with looking after his nephew, who has a project on display in the science fair, Richard wanders the familiar corridors, gazing impassively at class photos featuring his younger self, watching himself recede “a little deeper into the crowd each year,” until, in the photo from grade twelve, “He appeared not to be there at all.” When he encounters his grade-four teacher, her half-hearted attempt at faking familiarity when she obviously doesn’t remember him is a humiliating indicator of the negligible impression he’s left behind. The doormat narrator of “You Better Run” doesn’t mind watching his girlfriend Julie engage in physical intimacies with other men and women on the dancefloor because, as he explains, they have “something that Julie needs.” But everything changes one day when he arrives home from work unexpectedly at lunchtime, surprising Julie and discovering a strange pair of men’s Reeboks under the bed. Without acknowledging Julie’s betrayal, he immediately starts wearing the shoes and finds this act of rebellion endows him with unaccustomed strength and confidence.  

Other characters seem to operate at a slight distance from reality. Nora in “Nora, at the Cinema,” saunters through her entirely ordinary days as if the world is a movie set, her attitudes and behaviours driven by obsessive self-regard. The financially strapped narrator of “Soundtracker” is in for a shock after he advertises his creative services on Craigslist, offering to provide musical accompaniment for any activity, however mundane. And in “Always Hungry, Always Poor,” the narrator discovers brief respite from chronic loneliness in the company of a pack of coyotes.  

Family discord is a recurring theme, and children in these stories find themselves in the uncomfortable position of reversing roles with the adults who are supposed to care for them. “Of This, We Were Certain” is narrated by one of nine siblings who become bizarrely self-sufficient after their mother runs off and their father withdraws into his shed. And in “Aunts and Uncles,” youthful Carter is forced to accompany his alcoholic Aunt Cindy on a variety of pointless errands, aware that his burden of responsibility includes keeping her from lurching off the deep end.  

Absurdity blows through these pages like a refreshing breeze, and a couple of stories take it to a higher level, veering gleefully into the realm of the surreal (“I Don’t Think So,” “Over the Coffee Table and Down the Hall”). But even as he indulges his more arcane narrative impulses Evans never loses his connection with the reader’s heart. These are stories of quotidian struggle in which the author always gives us someone to root for, something to care about. Despite a bit of nuttiness and the occasional whimsical flourish, he maintains a firm grip on his material.  

In his relentlessly entertaining debut collection, Christopher Evans presents a series of arch depictions of what it means to be imperfectly human and vulnerable in a troubling and troublesome modern world. And despite the title, this is an author who forges a path to life’s painful truths more often than he might care to admit.  


About the Author

CHRISTOPHER EVANS is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing Program and a former Prose Editor for PRISM international. His work has appeared in Best Canadian PoetryNew QuarterlyLifted BrowEVENTMaisonneuve, and elsewhere and has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. He currently teaches creative writing to children in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Astoria (Feb. 1 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 248 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487010338
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487010331

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
Some Rights Reserved  

The Winter Wives by Linden McIntyre

Linden McIntyre’s troubling, captivating novel, The Winter Wives, takes the reader on a murky voyage through a world of shifting allegiances, fluid identities, moral ambiguities, hidden agendas, and plenty of closely guarded secrets. The story begins in the present day, with long-time friends and business partners Byron and Allan on the golf course. This is Byron’s story, and he describes with distressing immediacy the moment when Allan collapses at the tee. Allan has suffered a stroke, an event that not only sets in motion everything that follows, but which also brings the notion of mortality alarmingly into focus for everyone involved. 

Allan and Byron have known each other for decades, having met while both were attending an east-coast university. It’s an unlikely alliance. Allan—brash, athletic, ambitious—later quits university and embarks on a business career, an enterprise that seems to involve a veneer of legitimate undertakings masking some truly unsavoury activities, but which nonetheless makes him rich and takes him around the world. Byron—unassuming, smart, self-conscious about his limp, which is the result of a childhood accident—obtains a law degree but stays in Nova Scotia to nurse his mother through her struggle with Alzheimer’s. Early in his career, disillusioned with a position at a law firm that’s leading nowhere, Byron allows Allan to recruit him into the business. The other partners in the story are Annie (married to Byron) and Peggy (married to Allan). They are sisters and, by profession, accountants. Both work for Allan. Both seem to know more than they let on to Byron.  

Byron, our narrator, is shaped and haunted by the accident that scarred him for life. The precise circumstances of what happened are elusive: the violence of the incident has stayed with him, but his recall is limited to a few flickering, fragmented images. He has no one to ask since his mother refused to talk about it, and, with her passing, all the participants other than him are dead. In the absence of certainty, he’s left with suspicion and innuendo. 

McIntyre’s novel chronicles, over many years, the complex interweaving of business affairs, money, physical attraction, and emotional commitment among the four main players. Trust is an ever-present motif in this narrative journey, the erosion of which leads to intrigue and betrayal.  

As time goes by, physical decline rears its ugly head: Allan’s stroke and mental impairment, Byron’s memory troubles and his growing fear that he’ll share his mother’s fate and lose himself to dementia. But even when all seems lost, circumstances can change, the balance of power can shift, and as Allan’s business empire crumbles and damaging secrets are dragged into the light of day, Byron finds there’s an advantage to be had in standing back and letting people believe what they want to believe. As we approach an inevitable reckoning, Peggy and Annie seem to have gained control, but have they really?   

Linden MacIntyre’s novels are populated by flawed characters who act selfishly, who are weak, who drink too much, and who regret their actions when it’s far too late to make any difference.  The Winter Wives follows a similar pattern. The world of this novel harbours shocking secrets in abundance and most of the relationships are built on lies. For these people, deception is a way of life. It may be lurid, but it makes for an extravagant, large-scale entertainment that leaves us pondering what it means to really know another person.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LINDEN MacINTYRE’s bestselling first novel, The Long Stretch, was nominated for a CBA Libris Award and his boyhood memoir, Causeway: A Passage from Innocence, won both the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-fiction and the Evelyn Richardson Award. His second novel, The Bishop’s Man, was a #1 national bestseller, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Dartmouth Book Award and the CBA Libris Fiction Book of the Year Award, among other honours. The third book in the loose-knit trilogy, Why Men Lie, was also a #1 bestseller as well as a Globe and Mail “Can’t Miss” Book. His novels Punishment and The Only Cafe were also national bestsellers, as was his 2019 work of non-fiction, The Wake. A distinguished broadcast journalist, MacIntyre, who was born in St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, and grew up in Port Hastings, Cape Breton, spent twenty-four years as the co-host of the fifth estate. He has won ten Gemini awards for his work. MacIntyre lives in Toronto with his wife, CBC radio host and author Carol Off. They spend their summers in a Cape Breton village by the sea.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Random House Canada (Aug. 10 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 344 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0735282056
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0735282056

Three for Trinity by Kevin Major

Three for Trinity, the third installment in Kevin Major’s Sebastian Synard Mystery series, finds our intrepid hero operating his boutique Newfoundland tour business in the days of Covid-19. After months of enforced inactivity, the establishment of the Atlantic Bubble means he can offer tours for small local groups, and it turns out there is sufficient interest in his services within the Atlantic region to justify going ahead. He decides to focus the tour on the scenic and historic Bonivista Peninsula and takes the group north, out of St. John’s, to the village of Trinity. Sebastian is serious about his responsibilities as guide. He’s not seeking distractions. But despite some doubts, he finds himself striking up a tentative romance with tour group member Ailsa Bowmore, a recently divorced inspector with the RCMP. As part of the tour of Trinity, the group attend a play at Rising Tide Theatre. But during the performance, one of the actors, a young man named Lyle Mercer, collapses on stage. Ailsa, assuming a first-responder’s role, and Sebastian attend to the stricken actor and see him rushed off to the hospital. But by next morning Mercer is dead. Speculation leans toward a drug overdose, but the toxicology analysis finds traces of poison. This is murder.  

“Kevin Major keeps the reader guessing in this propulsive narrative that features abundant twists and turns along with plenty of quirky humour and briny Newfoundland atmosphere.”

From this intriguing setup Major’s novel takes off. Acting on his own, Sebastian, a registered private investigator, goes undercover within Rising Tide to see what he can find out about Lyle and his relationships with the other actors. Ailsa leads the official investigation. Sebastian’s inquiry takes him beyond the theatre, into the community, where he meets local folks with whom Lyle came into contact, and ultimately deep into the past, where secrets and lies abound. Inevitably, he finds himself butting heads with the RCMP, and Ailsa in particular, who seems stubbornly disinclined to pursue the leads that Sebastian’s uncovered, and whose distant manner and overly decorous conduct leave Sebastian wondering if their evening of intimate disclosures actually happened.  

Kevin Major keeps the reader guessing in this propulsive narrative that features abundant twists and turns along with plenty of quirky humour and briny Newfoundland atmosphere. Once again Sebastian’s family life comes into play: his delicate balancing act with ex-wife Samantha, the worry and second-guessing that go along with helping to raise their smart, curious teenage son Nick. Three novels in, Sebastian Synard (“rhymes with innard”) remains an attractive protagonist, a shrewdly observant and empathetic pragmatist whose voice is peppered with snarky asides and cheeky observations on family, love, scotch, and the challenge of making ends meet in Newfoundland at any time but especially during a pandemic. Readers on the hunt for an engaging, fast-paced entertainment will not be disappointed. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Governor General Award winner Kevin Major is the author of twenty-one books—fiction, literary non-fiction, poetry, and plays. His first novel, Hold Fast, is considered a classic of Canadian young adult fiction, and was recently released as a feature film. As Near To Heaven By Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador was a Canadian bestseller. Land Beyond the Sea is the final book in Major’s Newfoundland trilogy of historical fiction, which also includes New Under the Sun and Found Far and WideOne for the RockTwo for the Tablelands, and Three for Trinity are the first three books in Major’s new series of crime novels. He and his wife live in St. John’s. They have two grown sons.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Breakwater Books (Oct. 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550819143
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550819144

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Chemical Valley by David Huebert

The world of David Huebert’s second collection of short fiction, Chemical Valley, is a poisonous, inhospitable place. In some respects, as we turn these pages, it’s easy to imagine we’re visiting a future world: the one that awaits our elder selves and our descendants should humans continue to obliterate CO2-absorbing flora and allow toxic effluents and emissions to pour unchecked into the land, sea and air. One might assume that the author intends these tales of struggle and longing in a tarnished landscape to be cautionary: prognostications of environmental cataclysm, annihilation at our own hands. But as we read, what David Huebert is really telling us becomes clear: this is the world in which we currently reside, and the confusion and desperation his characters experience as contaminants seep unseen into the earth and the biological slowly succumbs to the chemical is everyone’s here and now. 

This is serious business. 

But though the messaging is palpable, there is nothing heavy-handed in his approach: no doomsday declaration, no portentous drumbeat. In Chemical Valley, as in his previous volume of stories, Peninsula Sinking, David Huebert’s knack for creating engaging characters and finding interesting things for them to say, do and think is on abundant, boisterous display. 

“Huebert’s characters are Every-man and -woman, people whose daily rituals, quandaries and tribulations mirror our own.”

Huebert’s characters are Every-man and -woman, people whose daily rituals, quandaries and tribulations mirror our own. The narrator of the title story, set in Sarnia—hub of Canada’s petrochemical industry and nicknamed “Chemical Valley”—works at a processing plant. His partner, Eileen, is off work, suffering from a mysterious, debilitating malady. With the indifference of his employer as a backdrop, we witness him floundering under domestic and professional pressures while grappling with manifestations of community contamination so widespread they have infiltrated his home. “Swamp Thing,” tells the story of teenage Sapphire. Bouncing between her separated parents, embroiled in a clandestine affair with her female English teacher, Sapphire and her friends Dee Dee and Jenna are members of the ultra-climate-change-conscious generation meeting the disastrous consequences of the previous generation’s environmental profligacy head-on. The story, set during a punishing heatwave, chronicles Sapphire’s emotional awakening through a series of catastrophic climate/environmental incidents, culminating in “a super-flare, a major melt-down, and a death at the plant.” 

Elsewhere in the book, we encounter Deepa, a young mother barely coping with a recalcitrant newborn, a complacent husband and a rodent infestation (“Cruelty”), a reluctant hockey enforcer whose personal life is a mess (“Six Six Two Fifty”), Zane, whose partner Geoff is obsessively preparing for the coming environmental apocalypse (“SHTF”), and fifty-year-old socially-challenged Edward, bullied all his life, afflicted with a maddening fungal skin infection, whose man-made companion (the GenuFlesh XS-4000, “a fully customizable” “anthropomorphic robobride”), named Lily, is just about done for, worn out by his constant need (“The Pit”). 

Throughout the book, Huebert’s prose shines, frequently catching the reader off guard with startling but memorable turns of phrase and delirious imaginative leaps. And while the manic energy, eccentric humour and wry observations on life and love keep us entertained, the book’s rich emotional core draws us in, touching us at the most profound level.  

David Huebert writes in a pulsating, kinetic contemporary voice. Still, at an early point in his career, he has complete command of his craft. These quirky, artfully composed stories are a gift worth savouring.

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Huebert’s writing has won the CBC Short Story Prize, The Walrus Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for the 2020 Journey Prize. David’s fiction debut, Peninsula Sinking, won a Dartmouth Book Award, was shortlisted for the Alistair MacLeod Short Fiction Prize, and was runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. David’s work has been published in magazines such as The WalrusMaisonneuveenRoute, and Canadian Notes & Queries, and anthologized in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Stories

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Biblioasis (Oct. 19 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771964472
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771964470

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Even So by Lauren B. Davis

The uniquely challenging (and fascinating) recent novels of Lauren B. Davis inhabit a blasted moral landscape of human weakness and depravity. In Our Daily Bread and The Empty Room, she fearlessly chronicles the myriad ways in which people damage themselves and hurt one another as they go about satisfying cravings and fleeing responsibilities. The world of these novels is a contemporary one filled with temptation. However, Davis is first and foremost a storyteller, primarily concerned with immersing her reader in an engaging drama. She is not interested in preaching or moralizing. Even So is another example of her consummate art.

“Davis is first and foremost a storyteller, primarily concerned with immersing her reader in an engaging drama. Even So is another example of her consummate art.”

Chic, attractive forty-something Angela Morrison lives a pampered life in affluent Princeton, New Jersey. Married to Philip, a successful financier many years older than her, Angela is comfortable but bored. It is a dangerous sort of boredom that afflicts Angela, the kind that breeds bitterness and frustration. Fed up with her husband’s priggishness, Angela wants to feel young again. Her craving is for romance and adventure. But Angela also has a good heart: she loves her son Connor (who is just about to start university) and volunteers at Our Daily Bread Food Pantry in nearby Trenton, a town that long ago lost its industrial base and where poverty and homelessness are rampant.

The Pantry is run by Sister Eileen. Sister Eileen is suffering from a crisis of faith: deeply troubled by God’s silence and tormented by guilt over an unforgivable act from her youth. Sister Eileen does not like Angela—she thinks the woman is spoiled and irresponsible—but her disapproval serves no purpose: she must, for the good of the Pantry and to remain true to her faith, view Angela through the rosy glow of God’s love.
When an opportunity arises to turn the vacant lot next to the Pantry into a community garden, Eileen asks Angela to oversee the project along with Carsten, a professional landscaper. It turns out Carsten is exactly what Angela is looking for—unattached, attractive, attentive, with a mysterious air of foreignness—and a playful flirtation quickly blossoms into a full-blown affair. When Carsten gives her keys to his house, Angela begins to imagine their future together.
Angela Morrison’s downfall, when it comes, is nobody’s fault but her own: the result of overblown, unjustified expectations and willful blindness. But when her reckless behaviour turns tragic, she seeks an unlikely saviour in Sister Eileen.

It is not unusual for Lauren Davis to take risks in her fiction—to place weak and reprehensible characters front and centre. In Even So, she has written a novel about a profoundly selfish woman who acts to satisfy her own desires with little regard for consequences or the pain she causes others. When those desires are thwarted, she becomes petulant and self-destructive.
But Davis knows what she’s doing. The story she tells is suspenseful and moving, characters and setting are vividly drawn with precise attention to detail, the psychology of the novel is persuasive, her prose sparkles. The novel’s lesson is embedded in the drama and arises naturally from the action. Despite her main character’s deceitful nature and personal failures, we are drawn into a compulsively readable narrative that is impossible to put down.
Readers may not like Angela Morrison, but Lauren Davis ensures they will be captivated by her story.

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauren B. Davis is the author of The Grimoire of Kensington MarketAgainst a Darkening SkyThe Empty RoomOur Daily Bread, and The Radiant City. She has been longlisted for the Giller Prize and the ReLit Awards, and shortlisted for the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Lauren lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press (Sept. 14 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 336 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 145974764X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1459747647

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Sound of Fire by Renée Belliveau

In her splendidly engrossing and poignant novel, The Sound of Fire, Renée Belliveau recalls a true event that brought tragedy to a small town in the Maritimes. In December 1941, with WWII spreading devastation across Europe and fear across the rest of the world, a fire gutted the men’s residence at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. Many were injured. Four young men died.

The fire started in the early morning hours in the basement of the 40-year-old four-storey structure and rapidly spread upwards to engulf the entire building. With the end of term looming, students were in party mode, blowing off steam, getting ready to head home for Christmas break. As they awoke to noise and panic, some, groggy from the effects of the previous night’s drinking binge, were slow to grasp what was happening. Others, unable to find a passage to safety, were forced back into their rooms. None were prepared for a life-threatening emergency. In the first minutes after the alarm was sounded, as the stairwells and hallways filled with smoke and the flames gathered strength, confusion reigned.

“Belliveau has constructed her novel around two central pillars: a vividly imagined historical setting and a solid core of diverse human emotion.”

The first third or so of the novel graphically depicts the night of the fire, describing in urgent and harrowing terms the struggle of students to escape the inferno and the reactions of onlookers and those who answered the call for help. The rest of the novel explores the tragedy’s aftermath: its impact on the town and the effect it had on individual lives. In the immediate wake of the fire, people are too shocked to do anything but respond to the needs of the injured and those left without shelter, clothing and food. But in the weeks that follow, the response of the community extends beyond practical needs. For those wishing to alleviate the pain and loss that the tragedy has caused, it becomes a humanitarian enterprise, an act of love and caring. Others, watching from the sidelines, speculate on causes, cast blame, spread rumours, raise suspicions, but offer little of use.

Belliveau has constructed her novel around two central pillars: a vividly imagined historical setting and a solid core of diverse human emotion. By telling the story from multiple perspectives she poses a huge challenge to herself as a novelist: bringing more than a dozen characters to life by endowing each with a rich personal history. Belliveau draws her sizable cast from among the students and staff of the university—survivors of the fire, administrators, witnesses—and the people who inhabit the town and view the event through a more distant and objective lens. If The Sound of Fire were a film, it would be described as an ensemble piece. Indeed, the novel is cinematic in its scope and structure, the story delivered in terse fragments, revealed in sharp and soft focus and from an exhilarating variety of angles.

The Sound of Fire moves briskly but leaves a deep and lasting impression. It is a polished work of great empathy and a remarkable feat of imaginative reconstruction. With this, her first novel, Renee Belliveau shows she is a writer to watch.

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Renée Belliveau is a writer and archivist who gladly spends her days surrounded by records from the past. She holds a BA from Mount Allison University, an MA from the University of Waterloo, and an MI from the University of Toronto. She published her first book, Les étoiles à l’aube, at the age of seventeen. She currently lives in New Brunswick with her Nova Scotian partner but calls any shore in the Maritimes home.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nimbus Publishing Limited (Sept. 9 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 272 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1774710188
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1774710180

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
Some Rights Reserved  

Day for Night by Jean McNeil

In Day for Night, Jean McNeil’s sixth novel, it is 2018. Writer and filmmaker Richard Cottar is approaching two significant milestones: he’s turning fifty, and he is soon to begin directing a movie about Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), the exiled Jewish German scholar and philosopher who killed himself in Spain rather than face deportation to France and what was sure to be a disagreeable fate at the hands of the invading Nazis. Richard’s wife, Joanna, a successful producer, has found investors to bankroll the film. The Cottars live a comfortable if hectic life in London with their two children, Nathan and Lucy, a life that becomes more hectic whenever Richard is working on a film and is grappling with endless details and the daily roller-coaster of triumph and crisis such a project entails. But Richard and Joanna have other concerns: both feel unsettled and anxious about the Brexit vote and suffer apprehension over how England’s impending departure from the EU will impact their lives and careers. Will they be forced to pull up stakes and establish themselves elsewhere? How will this affect their children, both born in England? Suddenly the future is uncertain, and they are resentful when the politics of Brexit throw obstacles in the way of their creative endeavours. In the novel’s first half Richard immerses himself in prep work for the film. But he’s oddly restless, not feeling quite himself, and even he can tell his behaviour is uncharacteristic: the upcoming birthday has thrown him into a state of turmoil, causing him to suffer disturbing premonitions of mortality. And he becomes irrationally fixated on Elliott, the attractively androgynous young actor who’s been cast as Walter Benjamin, an attachment that he struggles to keep from his wife, who’s balancing a variety of responsibilities while trying to keep the film’s financing in place. In the novel’s second half the focus shifts to Joanna, her own ambiguous relationship with Elliott, and the many challenges she faces as she guides the film toward a satisfying resolution.

“This is a book about the struggle to maintain some measure of self-determination amidst the barrage of forces that shape our lives in a chaotic world.”

Themes of exile and displacement permeate McNeil’s probing and geographically peripatetic narrative. Richard, from Kenya, and Joanna, an American, live in an England that, having taken a sharp turn to the political right, feels like it’s closing the door on the rest of the world. England is home, but they can’t avoid suspecting that, like Trump’s America, it’s growing mean-spirited and inward-looking and is no longer a welcome destination for immigrants. And so where does that leave them: Joanna, who prefers stability over uncertainty, and Richard, who, like Walter Benjamin, feels within himself the nostalgic push-pull of the voluntary exile and sees his own life as open-ended, liable to lead anywhere?

McNeil tells us that the phrase “day for night” refers to a filmmaking technique whereby a nighttime scene is filmed during daylight hours. But the term takes on political overtones when it is applied to the choice that the British people have made with their vote: choosing darkness over light. In the end, this is a book about the struggle to maintain some measure of self-determination amidst the barrage of forces that shape our lives in a chaotic world. It is about artistic versus personal integrity, the many faces of love, and the challenge of remaining true to oneself while enduring unwelcome, unexpected disruptions. The notion that to some extent we are all exiles—that every one of us has been compelled to move on from where we were—is not new. But in this engrossing novel the author puts an intriguing twist on it. In Day for Night, Jean McNeil has written another in a series of powerful novels, one that draws the reader into a world that is at once familiar but rapidly becoming unrecognizable.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean McNeil is the author of 14 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and travel. She has twice been the winner of the PRISM International competition, and her work has been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Journey Prize, the National Magazine awards, and the Pushcart Prize. She is a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Originally from Nova Scotia, she lives in London, England.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (May 25 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 280 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770415750
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770415751
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Watershed by Doreen Vanderstoop

In her debut novel, Watershed, Doreen Vanderstoop envisions a future in which water, a life-giving resource that we take for granted, is not easily obtainable. Indeed, in Alberta in the year 2058, water is being rationed and the government’s scheme for water distribution to the province’s parched southern region is a subject of debate and controversy and even sparks a violent response from a terrorist group determined to preserve Northern Alberta’s water supply. 

“Vanderstoop’s dystopian future is alarming but similar to the present day in which violent conflict can erupt over scarce natural resources.”

The main action of Watershed centres on the Van Bruggen goat farm, located near the southern town of Fort MacLeod. Willa Van Bruggen inherited the farm from her father and feels a primal connection to the land that is shared by her husband Calvin. But this is not the case for their son Daniel, who left the farm to study and as the novel begins has accepted a position as hydrologist with a crown corporation called Crystel. Crystel has been contracted to adapt the pipelines left over from the days of big oil for the purpose of moving water, and also to extend the lines south. But the project is plagued by a lack of trust. People in the north suspect the water distribution scheme is a ruse, and that Crystel’s real objective is to push the pipeline across the US border and sell water to thirsty Americans at enormous profit, leaving the northern supplies depleted. 

Vanderstoop’s dystopian future is alarming but similar to the present day in which violent conflict can erupt over scarce natural resources. Thankfully, she doesn’t focus solely on the politics. 

Willa and Calvin’s dedication to the farm and their struggle to keep it going against mounting odds is the novel’s primary focus, though most readers will recognize early on that it’s a losing proposition. Willa Van Bruggen’s stubborn commitment to the farming life, which is all she knows, seems misguided—driven more by nostalgia than practical considerations—but she remains a character for whom the reader feels great empathy as, in addition to the financial squeeze, she faces a serious health issue, a rift in her relationship with Daniel, and the death of a close friend. 

In the end, Watershed is a suspenseful, thought-provoking, layered and emotionally potent novel informed by science and the looming threat of catastrophic climate change. But it is also written with the human element front and centre, which encourages us to reflect upon the value of honest human striving, knowing when to pack it in, and caring for one another and the things that matter most. 

In addition, and perhaps most indelibly, Doreen Vanderstoop builds her successful first novel around a vision of the future that is frightening and disturbingly plausible.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doreen Vanderstoop is a Calgary-based writer, storyteller and musician. Her short fiction has been published by Loft on Eighth and Prairie Fire and has appeared online at Montreal Serai, Prairie Journal, Epiphany Magazine and others. As a storyteller/musician, she intersperses songs among tales of all genres, including her own original stories. Doreen performs for audiences of all ages at schools, libraries, festivals, conferences and more. She leads workshops to ignite in others a passion for the power of story, oral and written. Watershed is Doreen’s debut novel.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Freehand Books (May 2 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 360 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1988298598
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1988298597

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks! https://amzn.to/2UhKntW

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

The fourteen stories in Souvankham Thammavongsa’s first collection of short fiction are narrated in terse, economical prose largely shorn of lyrical embellishment. It is prose that thrusts hard and deep, its emotional impact landing with little to cushion the blow.

The majority of Thammavongsa’s stories revolve around the immigrant experience: the aspirations, disappointments, the blunt-force strategies for survival that people are compelled to adopt in the struggle to adjust to unfamiliar, confusing, sometimes hostile environments. The title story, which opens the collection, describes the struggle of a school-age Laotian child to learn English. Because his wisdom is unquestioned (he is “the only one in their home who knew how to read”), she consults her father about the puzzling word “knife.” But the advice he provides is flawed, and she is humiliated in class. After this experience she sees him with new eyes, recognizing his limitations and realizing that a lonely, gruelling struggle awaits her.

“The majority of Thammavongsa’s stories revolve around the immigrant experience: the aspirations, disappointments, the blunt-force strategies for survival that people are compelled to adopt in the struggle to adjust to unfamiliar, confusing, sometimes hostile environments.”

In “Paris,” Red, an immigrant, works shiftwork at a chicken plant and is careful to never be late. Believing herself ugly, she’s convinced that if she could only get a nose job her boss Tommy would treat her differently, and her chances for advancement would improve. But when she witnesses the shabby manner in which Tommy treats his stunningly beautiful wife, she realizes that altering her looks to conform to a glamorous ideal will accomplish nothing: “The only love Red knew was that simple, uncomplicated, lonely love one feels for oneself in the quiet moments of the day.”

And in “Edge of the World,” the daughter of Laotian immigrants looks back with an aching heart to the time when her mother abandoned her. Now in her forties, she is able to see that her mother had been unable to adapt to life in a new country. Lonely and hopeless, the young woman had one day packed a suitcase and walked away, leaving her bewildered husband and helpless daughter behind. The narrator allows herself to imagine the depths of the despair that must have taken hold in order to drive her mother to such an extreme. But she is not resentful. Yes, the loss has marked her, left a gaping wound, an emotional void that she’s been unable to fill, but it also toughened her for the life she has had to live.
Thammavongsa’s stories zero in on moments like this, when a character attains a stark or painful realization: that despite the hopes and dreams that refugees carry with them to a new country—despite their best efforts, years of sacrifice and valiant, honest striving—life in the real world is brutal and unfair and comes with no guarantee that the sacrifice will be rewarded. Thammavongsa’s poignant, powerful stories speak openly of this blunt, unadulterated truth.

  • WINNER OF THE 2020 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
  • WINNER OF THE 2021 TRILLIUM BOOK AWARD
  • FINALIST FOR THE 2021 NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD, the PEN AMERICA OPEN BOOK AWARD, and the DANUTA GLEED AWARD
  • #1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

SOUVANKHAM THAMMAVONGSA’s fiction has appeared in The New YorkerHarper’sGrantaThe AtlanticThe Paris ReviewPloughsharesBest American Non-Required ReadingThe Journey Prize Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. Her debut book of fiction, How to Pronounce Knife, won the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN America Open Book Award, the Danuta Gleed Award, and the Trillium Book Award, and one of Time‘s Must-Read Books of 2020. The title story was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Thammavongsa is also the author of four poetry books: Light, winner of the Trillium Book Award for Poetry; FoundSmall Arguments, winner of the ReLit Award; and, most recently, Cluster. Born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, she was raised and educated in Toronto, where she is at work on her first novel.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Random House of Canada (March 17 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 192 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0771094604
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0771094606

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop & support independent bookstores! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3C4GeKX

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
Some Rights Reserved  

We Two Alone by Jack Wang

Jack Wang’s first collection of short fiction, We Two Alone, is a superior example of the form, beautifully crafted, emotionally resonant, and dramatically satisfying. Wang’s characters are primarily Chinese nationals and the sons and daughters of Chinese immigrants, people who are struggling to acclimatize to shifting geopolitical environments and/or deal with crises that threaten their way of life and sometimes their very survival.

Racism is present in many of these stories, either hovering menacingly in the background or playing a dominant role in the lives of Wang’s characters. For instance, “The Valkyries” takes place in Vancouver and Banff shortly after the end of the First World War. Teenage orphan Nelson, who lives in Vancouver’s Chinatown and works in a laundry, loves hockey and is highly skilled, but being Chinese he’s denied the opportunity to play in an organized men’s league. Instead, when he discovers a women’s league, he assumes a disguise, passes himself off as “Nelly,” and becomes one of the stars for his team, the Valkyries. But when his deception is uncovered, the price he pays goes far beyond a mere settling of scores.

“There is an effortless and seamless quality to Jack Wang’s writing that is particularly impressive.”

A remarkable feature of Wang’s fiction is his ability to convincingly evoke an assortment of cultural and historical contexts. In “The Nature of Things,” it is 1937. Young Chinese couple Frank and Alice must flee Shanghai because of the escalating hostilities with Japan. Frank, an American-educated physician, puts his pregnant wife on a train to safety but refuses to leave the city himself because of his work. From this point, the story chronicles Alice’s desperate yearning and fears for her husband after the Japanese invasion, and her eventual realization that she will never see him again. The narrator of “The Night of Broken Glass” is recalling the time just prior to World War II when he, his father and stepmother lived in Vienna. The narrator’s father is a Chinese diplomat, versed in the ways of the world, wily and pragmatic, and the story tells of the father’s careful navigation of shifting political winds when the Nazis move into Austria and begin victimizing Jews, minorities and foreign nationals. “Everything in Between,” set in South Africa at the beginning of the Apartheid era, describes a Chinese family’s efforts to live a normal life under exceedingly challenging circumstances. “Bellsize Park” takes place in contemporary England and poignantly depicts the doomed relationship of two students: Peter, who is Chinese, and Fiona, who is English. And in “All Hallows” divorced Ernie’s irresponsible nature is thrown into sharp relief when he takes his children, Ben and Toby, trick-or-treating the day after Halloween because he’d failed to show up the night before as he’d promised.

As good as these stories are, the outstanding piece in this collection is the masterful novella from which the volume takes its title. Leonard and Emily, both actors, are divorced. Leonard, in his late forties and still hunting for the Big Break, is entering a premature cognitive decline, which he recognizes because it is the same disorder that left his mother debilitated before her death. As he struggles with worsening symptoms, he recalls his years married to Emily, who finally gave up on the dream, retired from acting and left Leonard when he refused to do the same. Wang chronicles their life together from beginning to end: the shared aspirations, thwarted idealism, the minor triumphs countered by heartrending setbacks that marked their marriage and their careers. In the end, a crisis brings Leonard and Emily together one more time to enact a final scene before Leonard slips into the darkness and is unable to remember what they meant to each other.

There is an effortless and seamless quality to Jack Wang’s writing that is particularly impressive. The nuts and bolts of craft, the scaffolding of plot, never intrude on the reader’s experience. In each of these tales, Wang generates considerable narrative momentum by introducing his characters in place, slowly revealing their hopes and fears as he ramps up the stakes and the tension, and then letting the drama unfold in a manner that is patient and never forced. There is nothing cheap or maudlin going on here. Wang frequently elicits an emotional response from the reader, but without exception, this reaction arises naturally out of the drama we’re witnessing.

We Two Alone is a thoroughly engaging volume of short fiction by an exceptionally talented author. These are near flawless tales of personal struggle and modern angst: deeply empathetic, humane stories by a writer whose command of form and technique is unfailing.

Winner of the 2020 Danuta Gleed Literary Award

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!


About the Author

JACK WANG received a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto, an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona, and a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in creative writing from Florida State University. In 2014–15, he held the David T. K. Wong Creative Writing Fellowship at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Stories in his debut collection, We Two Alone, have been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and longlisted for the Journey Prize, and have appeared in PRISM International, the Malahat Review, the New Quarterly, the Humber Literary Review, and Joyland. Originally from Vancouver, Jack Wang is an associate professor in the Department of Writing at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, where he lives with his wife, novelist Angelina Mirabella, and their two daughters.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (Sept. 1 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 296 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487007469
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487007461

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop & support independent bookstores! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2VWhxzJ

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
Some Rights Reserved  

You Are Not What We Expected by Sidura Ludwig

Contentious family dynamics are at the heart of Sidura Ludwig’s collection of linked stories, You Are Not What We Expected.

Set primarily in a Jewish community in suburban Thornhill, Ontario, Ludwig’s stories chronicle the domestic tribulations of the Levine family and other characters from the neighbourhood. These are tightly written stories of people at odds with one another and with their circumstances.

Chief among Sidura’s cast of characters is seventy-something Isaac and his sister Elaine Levine. Isaac has moved back to Ontario at Elaine’s behest to help take care of her grandchildren, Ava and Adam, after the death of Elaine’s husband Oscar. Elaine’s daughter Carly, the children’s mother, has skipped town and is no longer in the picture.

Elderly Isaac, cantankerous with strong opinions and eccentric fixations, is not shy about making demands and voicing objections. In “The Flag” he becomes enraged when he sees two flags flying on a single pole in front of a Jewish school, with the Israeli flag flying under the Canadian. He berates the principal over this insult to Israel but can only watch, exhausted and breathless, as his concerns are dismissed with platitudes. Later he returns to the school and commits an act of righteous thievery. In “The Elaine Levine Club,” Elaine asks Isaac to mind Ava and Adam while she meets with a group of women she encountered on Facebook, all of whom share the same name: Elaine Levine. And in “The Happiest Man on Sunset Strip,” Isaac, older now and living with the effects of a debilitating stroke in a long-term care facility, receives a visit from his grand-niece, Ava. Ava, home from Israel for a wedding and intending to stay with her uncle for only a few minutes, is nonplussed when Isaac asks her to take him to McDonald’s, and then grows resentful and increasingly desperate as things spiral out of control.

Ludwig’s simply constructed sentences are a pleasure to read. Her straightforward prose is lucid, precise and vividly alive with evocative detail. These gently humorous stories are not overly complex but gain emotional heft from the characters’ intricate backstories. You Are Not What We Expected is a thoroughly entertaining and notable short-fiction debut from a compassionate author whose great strength is depicting the subtle (and not-so-subtle) tensions that simmer within families.


SIDURA LUDWIG is the author of the widely successful novel Holding My Breath. Her short fiction has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. She works as a communications specialist and creative writing teacher, and her creative nonfiction has appeared in several newspapers and on CBC Radio. She is currently working on her M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults through the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, she now lives in Thornhill, Ontario, with her husband and three children.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (May 5 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 192 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487007345
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487007348

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop & support independent bookstores! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3B67FDO


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
Some Rights Reserved  

The Crooked Thing: Stories by Mary MacDonald

In The Crooked Thing, her debut collection of short fiction, Mary MacDonald writes confidently and sensitively about love, loss and memory. The stories strike a variety of moods—regret, levity, confusion—and range far and wide geographically—convincingly so—from the Canadian west, to France, The Netherlands and Norway. 

The book is divided into two sections. In the first, “Love’s Long Contour,” we encounter characters who are in emotional disarray and seeking stability and direction. Often, MacDonald’s characters have reached the end of something and are searching for a new beginning. In the enigmatic “You Can’t Drive to Kaua‘a” Chester, regretting the loss of his partner Tanya, plans to take his Vancouver ferry off route and pilot it all the way to Hawaii. He sets out after dropping off the last of his evening passengers, but to his shock discovers that he is not alone: with him is a mysterious French-speaking man dressed in monk’s garb who ends up sharing the piloting duties when Chester takes a rest but vanishes when the ill-planned voyage comes to an abrupt end with the arrival of a police boat. “The Same River Twice” speculates on the possibility of rekindled love after unfaithfulness. Following his dalliance with her best friend, the narrator has broken up with her husband David, reinventing herself and even assuming a new name. She believes she is happy, but David persists as a presence in her life, reappearing periodically and most meaningfully at an outdoor dinner where she and David both lose their dates to other guests. 

The second section, “Bend to Love,” examines lapsed and missing connections between family members. The narrator of “No Ordinary Light” struggles with guilt over the family rift that thirty years ago separated him from his twin sister Martha, who is now dying in Amsterdam. And in “Simple Gifts,” Alexandra, a cellist, finds her music silenced after her parents are killed in a house fire. 

A few of MacDonald’s unconventional, experimental efforts—“Almost Like Life,” “Lost Lake”—while competent and interesting, leave a muddled final impression. Considered overall, however, The Crooked Thing, largely centred around themes of loss and missed opportunities, lingers in the reader’s mind as a mature and ambitious debut collection that succeeds in evoking love’s diverse manifestations.



Mary MacDonald is a poet and writer and holds a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia. She has written poetry for ballet, public art, and libretto. Her fiction has appeared in ROOM MAGAZINE and nonfiction in PIQUE newsmagazine. Her chapbook, GOING IN NOW, was published in 2014 by NIB Publishing. She is a member of the Whistler, BC writing group, The Vicious Circle, sits on the board of the Whistler Writers Festival, and serves as curator and moderator for the poetry division of the festival.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Caitlin Press (Oct. 2 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 200 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773860313
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773860312

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop & support independent bookstores! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3yESWh6

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
Some Rights Reserved  

Good Citizens Need Not Fear by Maria Reva

In her sure-handed debut volume of short fiction, Good Citizens Need Not Fear, Maria Reva writes with an insider’s familiarity about the last days of the Soviet Union and what followed in the months and years after the Communist regime’s ignominious collapse. 

Reva’s stories, filled with absurdist twists and farcical comic moments, describe her characters’ struggle for survival in a world of decaying infrastructure, chronic shortages and surly, inflexible bureaucrats. Somehow, despite severe economic hardship and great physical discomfort, Reva’s people find ways to fudge a rigid, rule-bound system and make a go of it. 

The stories, divided into two sections (“Before the Fall,” “After the Fall”), centre on the residents of the apartment building at 1933 Ivansk Street in the Ukrainian town of Kirovka, a building that, in the opening story, “Novostroika,” has its very existence called into question by a government official even though the story’s protagonist, the hapless Daniil, who is visiting the town council hall to make a complaint about the faulty heating system, lives there with thirteen other family members.

“…a notable debut by a uniquely skilled and confident writer.”

“Little Rabbit” introduces the reader to one of several recurring characters. As a newborn with a harelip, Zaya is consigned to a home for unwanted infants—the “baby house”—and raised by staff caregivers, known as sanitarki. Despite the odds against her, little Zaya fiercely embraces life but is eventually committed to the internat, a facility for hopeless cases housed in a decommissioned monastery. There, she falls ill with pneumonia but escapes the shallow grave awaiting her by burrowing into the catacombs beneath the building, where she forms a deep attachment to the mummified body of a saint.

In “Letter of Apology” the narrator, Mikhail Ivanovich, an official with “the agency,” is sent to Kirovka to discipline the poet Konstantyn Illych, who has been overheard telling a joke about the regime. Konstantyn Illych can avoid punishment by retracting his “wrongful evaluations of the leaders of the Communist Party and Soviet society at large” and issuing an apology in writing. But Konstantyn Illych is unfazed by Mikhail Ivanovich’s threats and steadfastly ignores him. In the meantime, Mikhail Ivanovich, who has never heard the joke because it is forbidden to repeat it, unravels under ever greater pressure from his superiors to extract the apology. In the end, Mikhail Ivanovich reaches a fragile understanding with the poet’s wife, Milena, finally concluding that the joke is really on him.

And in “Miss USSR,” Konstantyn Illych, engaged in another subversive activity, organizes a beauty pageant in Kirovka and thereby brings down on himself the wrath of the new Minister of Culture. When the Minister organizes a national pageant modelled on but splashier than the one in Kirovka, Konstantyn Illych decides to show her up by entering a contestant. But with the winner of his Miss Kirovka pageant exiled to Siberia, he ends up recruiting Zaya. Predictably, things do not turn out as he had hoped. 

Maria Reva’s brand of humour in these stories is broad and laden with irony; her action sequences tend toward the slapstick and highly improbable. For the most part the reader is pleasantly entertained, though Reva does occasionally indulge a fondness for illogic and weirdness, allowing the story to meander. This happens infrequently, but when it does the joke wears thin and the comic scenario becomes over-familiar and tiresome (“Lucky Toss”). 

But despite the occasional minor misstep, Good Citizens Need Not Fear remains a notable debut by a uniquely skilled and confident writer with huge talent that, based on the evidence, will only grow with time.

  • FINALIST FOR THE WRITERS’ TRUST FICTION PRIZE
  • FINALIST FOR THE RAKUTEN KOBO EMERGING WRITER PRIZE
  • GLOBE AND MAIL BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

MARIA REVA was born in Ukraine and grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. She has an MFA in fiction and playwriting from the Michener Center at the University of Texas. Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories (2017 and 2019), McSweeney’s and Granta. She currently lives in Vancouver, and also works as an opera librettist.

  • Publisher : Random House of Canada (Jan. 27 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0735281963
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0735281967

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
Some Rights Reserved  

Goth Girls of Banff by John O’Neill

John O’Neill’s stories aren’t really all that gothic but they can be grisly as they turn a sardonic, clear-eyed focus on hazardous and occasionally fatal human encounters with the natural world. The stories are set in the Canadian Rockies and depict characters grappling with an array of problems, from thwarted desires to chronic pain to tricky family relationships to feelings of being at odds with where their lives are taking them.

“These stories are thoroughly engaging, inventive and often wryly humorous. But there is violence in these pages too.”

The collection opens with a story of taut suspense in which a hitchhiker on the run is picked up by a family in a VW van—mother, father, two daughters. The narrator, beginning to feel a connection with the family, is wondering how much he can safely reveal about himself when tragedy strikes. In “Athabasca,” Karen, who suffers from migraines, has ventured west, leaving Toronto to visit her sister Sylvie on a trip that’s supposed to be therapeutic. Disappointed though to find that their relationship is just as combative and complicated as it’s always been, she begins to suspect that the difficulties are mostly her fault. “Rudy” is the story of a socially awkward, grossly overweight man with impulse control issues who is shocked and confused when people show him kindness. And in “The Book About the Bear” a veterinary surgeon whose days are spent performing necropsies is in for a surprise when he cuts open a bear that killed a man.

John O’Neill, primarily known as a poet, is also an artful writer of fiction whose stories gradually build tension and achieve sharp and startling focus as the action reaches its denouement. The western setting is lovingly evoked. These stories are thoroughly engaging, inventive and often wryly humorous. But there is violence in these pages too. In Goth Girls of Banff nature is freely available for anyone to enjoy, but only the naïve and reckless turn their back on it.

Shortlisted for a 2021 ReLit Award in the short fiction category.


John O’Neill is the author of the novel Fatal Light Awareness and four poetry collections, Animal Walk, Love in Alaska, The Photographer of Wolves, and Criminal Mountains. He was raised in Scarborough, Ontario, where his parents worked for many years as building superintendents, an aspect of his history explored in The Photographer of Wolves. He was a winner in the Prairie Fire Long Poem Contest and Sheldon Currie Fiction Prize, and the recipient of a ‘Maggie’ – a Manitoba Magazine Award – for Best Story for his “The Book About The Bear.” John was a finalist, with his manuscript Goth Girls of Banff (Newest Press 2020), for the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction. He taught high-school English and Dramatic Arts for 29 years, and now lives and writes in the Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto. He and his artist wife Ann make frequent trips to Canada’s Rocky Mountains, and this landscape continues to be a major influence on his writing.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ NeWest Press (Nov. 15 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 208 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1988732956
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1988732954

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2Sp8YMA Thanks! 


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Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
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Dear Hearts by Barbara Miller Biles

The stories in Barbara Miller Biles’ debut collection, Dear Hearts, display a quality of raw emotion that is deeply affecting. These stories—presented in five sections: “Tender Hearts,” “Geneva Stories,” “Surreal Hearts,” “Janet Stories” and “Sorry Hearts”— trace the progress of naïve young female characters from childhood or adolescence toward a state of greater maturity. At times, this passage is marked by a tragic loss of innocence. 

The first two stories, “Lila” and “Sylvia,” chronicle the abrupt changes that take place in the lives of the title characters as they grow into sexual awareness. The “Geneva Stories” are set in small-town Canada and told from the perspective of young Geneva Roberts. In “Rockin’ Around the Royal Bank of Canada,” Geneva and her friends are fascinated by a family that has recently moved to their town of Bradshaw—classmate Diane Wedder, her mother and brother—and the rumour spreading that Mr. Wedder is in jail somewhere. Diane never really fits in, and there is something about the Wedders that seems unsavoury: Geneva muses, “Diane is on the shady side, unacceptable, like nail polish.” Eventually, the Wedders live up to the rumours and rampant speculation by skipping town, leaving behind an accumulation of debt. And in “Marrying Stationary,” Geneva, now an art history major, is planning her wedding with Kevin, whose father owns a chain of stationery stores. But a call from a former boyfriend and a mediocre mark on an essay cause her to second-guess her decision.  

Later in the volume we meet people confronting end-of-life situations and others trying to control over-active imaginations.  

The lives Biles writes about are nothing special but are tinged with yearning, romance and wistful backward glances into the past that touch us on a visceral level. Barbara Miller Biles writes stories that make us think about where we’ve been and where we’re going. This is a smart and thoroughly engaging debut volume by a writer who knows much about the workings of the human heart.

  • Finalist, 2021 High Plains Book Awards – Short Stories

Barbara Miller Biles is a Calgary writer. She attended the University of Alberta and taught primary school until her own daughter and son were born. She explored fiction writing in extension courses and local writing groups. Her short fiction has appeared in Canada, the U.S., the UK, and Sweden, in various literary magazines including, FreeFall, The Nashwaak Review, The Antigonish Review, The Windsor Review,The Broken City, Turk’s Head Review, Femmuary and others.

  • Publisher : Inanna Poetry & Fiction Series (Sept. 10 2020)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1771337532
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771337533

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3vOYDI3 Thanks! 


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
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