Category Archives: Fiction

Just Like A Real Person by Doug Diaczuk

If you love solving puzzles like Rubik’s Cube you may be enthralled by Doug Diaczuk’s latest novel Just Like A Real Person. The two alternating narratives are recollections and observations clouded by substance abuse, trauma, brain injury, and possibly deception. Only after I reread it did my anxiety and confusion subside enough to discern the underlying messages and appreciate the depths of the story. You need to consider the narrators’ points of view vis-a-vis the others before solid patterns can emerge. 

   The main character is a junkie and unlicensed serial car-crasher in partnership with Trevor, a tow truck operator. Targeting cars entering and leaving the city, considered to be more likely to contain worldly possessions, he deliberately crashes into them head-on or from behind. The mangled vehicles are then looted and taken to the impound lot. After multiple car crashes and death-defying injuries, the protagonist one night fatefully encounters Lola. She’s wearing a memorable yellow sundress, fleeing her own demons, and looking to crash her stolen car. This chance meeting sets in motion a series of further unfortunate encounters with other characters and tragic consequences.  

    The story is convoluted and requires patience to decipher. Some of the narrative is an unpunctuated lengthy stream of consciousness followed by more lucid punctuated recaps. The damaged characters use self-destructive behaviour to numb themselves from reality and avoid the responsibility of being “real people”. The rescuers and caregivers of the maimed and dying think of their wards as nonpersons to numb themselves enough to do their jobs. The fine lines between life and death, mental health and madness, hope and despair are a constant threat. The characters tempt fate and by facing death begin to feel alive.  

   As angry as the characters made me for their wanton disregard of the consequences of their actions, I felt sympathy for their haphazard attempts to heal themselves. They flirted with becoming ‘real people’, engaged in the world, living out ‘normal’ lives. We don’t learn all the details of what brought them to this crossroads, and it is unclear if they eventually emerge safely. But they have underlying strengths and determinations that give the story a sense of hope.   

   I accept that this is a puzzle of a book that I could never solve. But I am glad I tried.  


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

   Doug Diaczuk who lives in Thunder Bay is a two-time winner of the 3-Day Novel Contest. This book and his first novel, Chalk, are published by Anvil Press of Vancouver. 

  • Publication: June 2021
  • ISBN: 978-1-77214-176-4
  • Pages: 128 pages
  • Size: 5.5 x 8 inches

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Glenda MacDonald
Some Rights Reserved  

The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

One November morning, after staying up late to finish Premee Mohamed’s riveting dystopian novella, The Annual Migration of Clouds, I woke up to news that seemed similar to the fictional world I’d just left.

First, I received an email from my brother in BC, reassuring me that he and his family were safe. (Safe? Safe from what? I blithely wondered from my kitchen table in Toronto, having somehow failed to notice the words ‘atmospheric river’ in my previous day’s doom scrolling). The second sign of Mohamed’s prescience was a CBC radio interview with a woman whose back yard in suburban Pickering, Ontario was being invaded by Eurasian wild boars, an invasive species that, if it interbred with the local pig population, could actually cause them to devolve. Then, it was back to the usual roller coaster of Covid-19 updates. Reality seemed to be edging eerily close to the Alberta-based scientist-poet-fiction writer’s vision of a future transformed by climate emergencies, invasive species, and novel infections.

It’s not easy to build a believable dystopian fictional world that looks back with both longing and contempt at the simple pleasures of the Before Times (store-bought food, medicine, electricity, etc.) through the eyes of relatable, fully developed characters. The Annual Migration of Clouds succeeds on all levels.

“The Annual Migration of Clouds is a unique work of fiction written in a voice that is by turns poetic and gutwrenching, humorous, and tragic.”

A tightly compressed coming-of-age story, the book’s central character is Reid, a teenager who lives with her mom on a derelict university campus in what is clearly Edmonton of the After Times. Reid has grown up in a world that has lost most of its technology and systems of communication. The oldest members of her community can remember the Before Times but Reid doesn’t know what it’s like to touch a switch and have lights flicker on or eat food that wasn’t grown or hunted down (enter the feral hogs). Malnutrition is an ongoing threat, as is a creepy disease called Cad, a possibly-sentient parasitic fungus that sometimes does its best to keep its host alive, but other times kills its host in a gruesome fashion. Reid is aware that her own Cad infection may be controlling her decisions and actions, as well as her mother’s –– a chilling device which is all too believable, given the tough little son of a bitch (to quote from the movie Alien) that our very own coronavirus has turned out to be. The description of the attempts to learn to live with Cad sounds awfully familiar: “For generations we have waited for it to become normal. And it has not. We are still horrified. And there is nothing we can do about it.”

However, the central conflict that drives this superb book is not the creepy parasite or the survival of our species in a post-civilization world, but Reid’s struggle to decide whether to face the unknown dangers of traveling to a distant university that her mother suspects may not even exist. Mohamed has grounded her story in the ambitions, intelligence, and emotions of a young woman with a strong moral compass and powerful sense of self. We’re cheering her on, but we’re also afraid for her – what dangers will she face once she heads off into the Unknown? What will the Cad make her do, or prevent her from doing?

Readers may see flickers of other great works of dystopian fiction in “The Annual Migration of Clouds”, from to the genetically engineered pigoons of Margaret Atwood’s Flood trilogy, to the dangerous backwaters (and glimmers of hope) of Emily St John Mandel’s “Station Eleven”, and even the aforementioned Alien movies. Ultimately, The Annual Migration of Clouds is a unique work of fiction written in a voice that is by turns poetic and gutwrenching, humorous, and tragic. Premee Mohamed has created a dystopic future that is terrifying and yet hopeful: for what is a young woman daring to leave home for wider horizons than an expression of hope?

Personally, I can’t wait to see what Reid and her creator Premee Mohamed do next.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Premee Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and speculative fiction author based in Edmonton, Alberta. Her short fiction has appeared in a number of venues. Her debut novel, Beneath the Rising, is out now from Solaris Books, with the sequel A Broken Darkness due out in 2021.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (Sept. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 168 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770415939
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770415935

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Terri Favro
Some Rights Reserved  

Shapers of Worlds Volume II Edited by Edward Willett

In Shapers of Worlds Volume II, Saskatchewan-based author and publisher Edward Willett packages up 24 speculative short stories penned by writers who have been featured on his podcast, The Worldshapers. Published under the auspices of Shadowpaw Press, Willett’s own imprint, Shapers of Worlds Volume II offers stories ranging from alternate history to science fiction and fantasy. Though six of the tales have been previously published, the majority have not. Included between the pages are elves, mages, detectives, retired henchmen, ancient heroes, commoners, and athletes. Though a variety of characters and settings are employed, one thing is consistent—the stories are both engaging, and engagingly told.

Readers familiar with the Canadian speculative fiction scene will recognize a number of the included authors, including Ira Nayman, Matthew Hughes, Susan Forest, and Candas Jane Dorsey. Forest’s story, “The Only Road,” was one of the standouts. Historical fiction with a fantasy twist, “The Only Road” whisks the reader to India at the time of British occupation. Forest provides a strong description to aid the reader in making the trek. The story opens with the lines:

A tin wind-up drummer marched jerkily in its red uniform along the broad, flat surface of the Thangdu Temple balustrade as Orville waved a handful of the mechanical soldiers and cried out to buyers in the crowd. Above the restless flow of the market, the high, white cliffs of Khangchengyao sparkled in the clear morning air.

“Featuring a wide range of authors and settings, Shapers of Worlds Volume II performs the function of a speculative fiction sampler, offering a taste of different styles and themes.”

Though “The Only Road” reads like historical fiction, there is a mystical twist with references to the mystical land of Shangri, “a land of magic, a land said to perch at the top of a hanging valley, accessible only by no more than a gossamer ladder, a land that touched the realms of the Gods.” “The Only Road” is a backstory to Forest’s Addicted to Heaven series from Laska Media. The first two books in the series won Canada’s Aurora Awards for Best Young Adult novel in 2020 and 2021.

In “The Cat and the Merrythought,” decorated writer Matthew Hughes, author of the novels What the Wind Brings and A God in Chains, spins a tale of an ancient artifact that has more to it than meets the eye. The story, which features two good friends named Baldemar and Oldo, is packed with humour and makes for easy reading. In “I Remember Paris,” James Alan Gardner provides a re-imagining of the events that occurred after Eris, the Goddess of Discord, threw the ill-fated golden apple into the midst of a certain gathering. Entertaining and imaginative, the story is lent greater resonance by Gardner’s ending. In “Message Found in a Variable Temporality Appliance,” Ira Nayman shows the clever humour that is on display in his other works, including the Multiverse: Transdimensional Authority series. “Shapeshifter Finals” by Jeffrey A. Carver offers something of appeal for sports fans, describing a futuristic wrestling match between a human and a shapeshifter. At the same time, the story illustrates how the collaborative comradery of sport might transcend species boundaries. “Going to Ground” by Candas Jane Dorsey is also noteworthy.

One of the stories I found most enjoyable was S.M. Stirling’s “A Murder in Eddsford,” a detective tale set against a backdrop of an alternate-history Earth. In Stirling’s story, events occurring just prior to the year 2000 resulted in the total failure of all machinery: “under the laws of nature as they’d applied since . . . March 17 of 1998, you couldn’t get mechanical work out of heat, not in any really useful amount. Not in an engine, not in a firearm.” Set at a time just over 50 years after The Change, as it is referred to, “A Murder in Eddsford” portrays a world in which wind pumps, thatched roofs, and horse-drawn coaches are ubiquitous. Besides the intrinsic appeal of a well-rendered and familiar, yet different, world, Stirling provides an intriguing mystery as Detective Inspector Ingmar Rutherston attempts to unravel the circumstances behind the death of a much-disliked man named Jon Wooton.

Featuring a wide range of authors and settings, Shapers of Worlds Volume II performs the function of a speculative fiction sampler, offering a taste of different styles and themes. Besides being entertaining in itself, the collection might inspire further exploration of the works of authors the reader finds appealing.


About the Editor

EDWARD WILLETT is the award-winning author of more than sixty books of science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction for readers of all ages, including the Worldshapers series and the Masks of Agyrima trilogy (as E.C. Blake) for DAW Books, the YA fantasy series The Shards of Excalibur, and most recently, the YA SF novel Star Song. Ed won Canada’s Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English in 2009 for Marseguro (DAW) and for Best Fan Related Work in 2019 for The Worldshapers podcast. His humorous space opera The Tangled Stars comes out from DAW in 2022. He lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. Find him at edwardwillett.com or on Twitter @ewillett.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Shadowpaw Press (Oct. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 544 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989398286
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989398289

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

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  

Excerpt: This is How We Love by Lisa Moore

(Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the forthcoming novel by Lisa Moore, the celebrated author of February and Caught comes an exhilarating new novel from House of Anansi that asks: What makes a family? How does it shape us? And can we ever really choose who we love? Planned released date: May 3, 2022)


She knew the [pregnant}social worker wasn’t talking about the scratch on the bumper but expressing a solidarity. They were both terrified because they’d found themselves in situations beyond their control.

This would be the way of it for the foreseeable future. The social worker would not lift a hand help Trinity after this moment, but she was here now, they were joined together by the social worker’s grip on Trinity’s hands. They had shared something, the complicated fripperies of fate, the social worker had been brought to her knees in the hard sunshine, spit washing the child’s face, gripping the child’s hands, really looking at her, taking her in.

She was saying they both had to accept their situations.

I’m after ruining my stocking down here on the sidewalk, she said. The social worker was letting Trinity know that she was definitely worth the pair of stockings, maybe all the stockings in the world. But she was also telling Trinity that she was on her own, going forward. No matter what was on the other side of the screen door, Trinity would have to make do. All the social worker could offer was a concentrated moment of mutual sympathy. Then, with sudden vehemence, the social worker slapped her own neck. It was as if, like everything else about her body, the social worker’s hand had acted by itself. The print of her hand on her white neck and there on her palm, a squashed mosquito, which she held out for Trinity to see.

I got it, she whispered. She rubbed the dead insect off her hand onto her floaty dress and got up from her knees. The moment was over. The social worker was rapping on Mary Mahoney’s screen door.

They’d done the tour of the house and Mary Mahoney had sat with her back to the window, so all Trinity could really see was the foster parent’s hands loosely clasped on her lap and a stillness that was unnerving. Out of nowhere, creeping with stealth, a white and caramel cat leapt up onto Mary Mahoney’s lap.

One of the old woman’s hands buried itself in the fur, and her strong bony fingers arched and dove, over and over, in rhythm with the social worker’s speedy, unrelenting monologue about her doctor, whom she was convinced was a drunk.

This is Butterscotch, Mary Mahoney said, speaking over the social worker, who didn’t stop to acknowledge the interruption, although the old woman had already told them the cat’s name upstairs.

Nice cat, Trinity said.

Wasn’t nice when I got him, Mary Mahoney said. With the one eye hanging out on his cheek.

They’d had to take the eye, she said. Didn’t they? What else could they do? It took Trinity a moment to realize Mary Mahoney was addressing the cat. She’d thought at first it was a skill-testing question.

Couldn’t they just stick it back in? the social worker said. Why did it have to come out at all? She sounded plaintive, weary.

Mind you, they did a nice job, sewing it up. Smart, though, this cat. Like the whip. You couldn’t get one over on this old fellow.

They’d each fallen into a kind of stagnant pathos, hypnotized by the scratching hand on the cat’s back, the knuckles too large, rigorous. The social worker had nearly been swallowed by the couch, she was listing to the side and had to put her arm out straight on the armrest to keep from falling over. It was clear the social worker wanted to get going.

This is my last job, she said. Before I go on maternity leave.

You’ll want to get that bath poured, for the birth, Mary Mahoney said. Even at seven, Trinity understood Mary Mahoney was poking fun. It was clear to both of them the social worker was terrified of the birth, and maybe even the motherhood that would follow.

Trinity had never been told about giving birth, as the social worker called it, but she understood motherhood to be an inescapable torment that happened by accident and that “giving” was a euphemism. Doesn’t the baby get taken out of her somehow? What does giving have to do with it?

The cat turned its horrible face into a shadow cast by the armchair, and Trinity saw the cavity where the eye had been.

She thought of the stiffness in Mary Mahoney, the timbre of her voice, when she said the cat had needed privacy

It was the first sign that the new home might be better than the last. The tiers of frozen cookies, way too many for them to eat, was the second good sign. It was about show, and Trinity knew the importance of appearances. The cat’s missing eye was the third good sign. Mary Mahoney cared about appearances only to a point. She could love something no matter what it looked like or how vulnerable it was.

The two of them sat in silence while she social worker continued with her story about the last visit to the doctor. She suddenly rose up out of the couch and wrenched at her dress, pulling it tight against the medicine ball stomach, and approached the cookies, took a chocolate chip cookie in one hand, and held the other like a plate underneath her chin. She spoke through the crumbs on her lips.

I’m after leaving a few papers in the car, she said. That’s all that’s left, the papers. Then I’m done. I just have to get the papers, have you sign them, bring them back to the office, and get this thing out me.

She went out the front door, and they could hear the beep of her keys unlocking her car.

Will you help yourself to a cookie? Mary Mahoney asked.

Trinity said, No thank you. They said nothing more, as if they were in church. Then, the social worker was back. She laid the papers out on the side table. She stood with her hand on the small of her back.

Sometimes I feel like the spine is going to crack right off me, she said.

Mary Mahoney signed and signed. Then she gathered the papers and knocked the bottom edge of them against the desk and passed them to the woman. She picked up a square of paper towel, of which there were three, next to the cookie display, and she stacked three chocolate chip cookies, two shortbreads, and a date square and handed it to the social worker.

I couldn’t, the social worker said. I’m at high risk of diabetes. I’m not allowed to eat sugar.

My guess is that baby will be here in a couple of days. You can eat whatever you like, Mary Mahoney said. The social worker put one of her hands on her belly.

I need more time than that, she said.

Two days, Mary Mahoney said. Not a moment more, I guarantee.

I haven’t packed my bag, my hospital bag.

You best get at it. Tell the doctor that if you feel like it, you’ll be doing handstands or cartwheels or swinging from the light fixtures while you give birth. It’s your birth, you tell him.

He said I’ll be in so much pain I won’t know what I’m at.

Nonsense, Mary Mahoney said. And with a hand on the woman’s back, gave her a little nudge out the front door.


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Lisa Moore, House of Anansi
Some Rights Reserved  

Buffoon by Anosh Irani

Reading a dramatic work, even when it’s only a one-act play, presents a different kind of challenge to readers than any other genre. Besides just following a plot, we have to imagine the various characters and create at least some semblance of those voices while we read. And yes, readers of fiction must do this to some extent, but they get much more description and exposition to aid them as they go along.

Anosh Irani’s Buffoon takes the challenge of reading drama further, as his play unfolds with a cast of one.

But that’s not to mistake this as an extended monologue. Buffoon is peopled with a range of supporting characters, but each of them must come to life via the actor who’s portraying the main character, Felix.

As the play opens, all we know of Felix is that he is in prison, though we know not what his crime may have been. The set is minimal – the only item on the stage with him is a chair. He is in chalk-face, like a clown who’s just begun applying his make-up.

It isn’t long before other characters appear – all thanks to the interpretations of them given to us by way of Felix.

It helps that nearly all of them have some identifying pattern of speech – a Russian accent, a British one, a Scots brogue. Nonetheless, the role of Felix and his task of presenting these many characters – men, women, children – young and old – is staggering.

I’ll admit that trying to envision a production of this work (and yes, it has been performed) requires a stretch of imagination. Yet reading it was satisfying, providing a different kind of experience than the last time I read Irani’s work (his novel The Parcel).

I see the work as being in the tradition of Absurdism, yet this may seem like a dismissal, though that is not my intent. Bearing similarities to the auto-fictions of Robert LePage, a deep thread of tenderness runs the length of it; a winsome Romanticism, somewhat akin to that in Cyrano de Bergerac, is inherent. Throughout this work Irani riffs on an apparently apocryphal quote that’s long been mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain: “…that the two most important days in your life are when you were born and when you find out why.” Birth, death, the impermanence of things; sometimes it takes a clown to reveal the most important truths.

Books by this highly original author have been widely honoured; he has twice been a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Third time may well be the charm.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ANOSH IRANI has published four critically acclaimed novels: The Cripple and His Talismans (2004), a national bestseller; The Song of Kahunsha (2006), which was an international bestseller and shortlisted for Canada Reads and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize; Dahanu Road (2010), which was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize; and The Parcel (2016), which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His play Bombay Black (2006) won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play, and his anthology The Bombay Plays: The Matka King & Bombay Black (2006) and his play Men in White were both shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Buffoon, his latest work of drama, was critically acclaimed and won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards, for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role. He lives in Vancouver.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (Sept. 7 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 88 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487009836
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487009830

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Heidi Greco
Some Rights Reserved  

Lullaby: Revisiting Ru by Kim Thúy

As part of my pandemic retrospective look at contemporary classics*, I’ve fallen back in awe of the lyricism of the novel Ru by Kim Thúy, a collection of non-linear vignettes that read like prose poetry, like we’re one with the narrator sailing on a 1975 refugee boat from South Vietnam into uncertainty with the gracious world view of a child, carried by her cadence of flowing sentences and imagery. It was first published with Libre Expression in 2009, won the Governor General’s Award for French-language fiction in 2010 and was translated exquisitely to English by Sheila Fischman in 2012, where it went on to be nominated for further prestigious Canadian literary awards.

“The lullaby mood of the book is felt throughout as juxtaposition is woven seamlessly in euphonic sentences vivid with consonance and colour, sprinkled with onomatopoeia, the repetition of hard “k” drumming heights of acoustic texture folded into an overall nuance of being cradled and rocked in a rhythmic memoir.”

Thúy opens with an explanation of the title, “In French, ru means a small stream and, figuratively, a flow, a discharge – of tears, of blood, of money. In Vietnamese, ru means a lullaby, to lull.” With this in mind, Thúy’s words lull the reader through the heartache of displacement and loss with unique detail that creates a presence of place, often a place of between, a song of humanity. Her firsthand experience living with her family as a Vietnamese refugee in a Malaysian camp designed for 200 but housing 2000 and then starting a new life in Montreal resonates through the narrator’s nurturing notes, comforting even in grief.

The lullaby mood of the book is felt throughout as juxtaposition is woven seamlessly in euphonic sentences vivid with consonance and colour, sprinkled with onomatopoeia, the repetition of hard “k” drumming heights of acoustic texture folded into an overall nuance of being cradled and rocked in a rhythmic memoir. “I came into the world during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, when the long chains of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of machine guns. I first saw the light of day in Saigon, where firecrackers, fragmented into a thousand shreds, coloured the ground red like the petals of cherry blossoms or like the blood of two million soldiers deployed and scattered throughout the villages and cities of a Vietnam that had been ripped in two,” Thúy writes, her landscape of sound and colour holding the tension and grief of human experience amid natural and cultural beauty still clinging to existence, diction like “fragmented” setting the inner and outer experience tempered by a lullaby tempo. It’s fluid how her similes for red embody both cherry petals and the sacrificial blood of so many lost lives as we feel for fallen humans on both sides, for those who volunteered to fight and die for what they believed was best for humanity and those who had no choice. Thúy brilliantly doesn’t mention the nationalities of the soldiers, only that their blood permeates the soil in her vision “coloured the ground red,” so that each reader can bring their own empathy to the story. Her choice to use just the noun “soldiers” and a collective number in with the colour red, both cherry petals and blood, connects emotionally with each reader in an individual way as we grieve being a species that allows wars to happen. Much like poetry, each phrase connects individually with readers to bring them into her overall unifying theme, a lullaby for the universal heartache of war.

“I was born in the shadow of skies adorned with fireworks, decorated with garlands of light, shot through with rockets and missiles,” she continues, contrast in each part of the sentence flowing in the overall lyricism that well-crafted long sentences create. The construction of her sentences with poetic devices such as alliteration make the book a lullaby through the stream of loss, sorrow and hope she articulates. Even translated from French to English, melodic poetic devices carry the prose, the translation a work of art.
The vignettes through Ru cover humorous moments in Montreal, scenes that evoke pathos as the narrator’s father proudly wears a woman’s hand-me-down sweater, the kindness of Canadians treating the narrator’s family to trips to the zoo and other outings twice in one weekend, the hard work of picking crops in fields and doing menial labour with a positive attitude to rebuild a life in Canada, the narrator’s parents taking any low paying job they could with a sense of service to their children’s futures, all told in a lyrical lullaby, a soothing song of life. From the gentleness in the telling of people falling off the sides of the boats from Vietnam and disappearing in the ocean to first impressions of snowy Quebec, “After such a long time in places without light, a landscape so white, so virginal could only dazzle us, blind us, intoxicate us,” the lullaby tone of Ru offers hope of restoration of life, peace and the loss of language and therefore intergenerational cultural connection through colonialism, what struggles to be communicated from Vietnamese into French separating generations, with a musicality that reaches across those aching chasms.
As someone who loves long sentences where phrases and dependent clauses flow in poetic harmony, I especially love the style Thúy uses to construct her lullaby, an understated acceptance of sorrow in luring, safe rhythms, an affirmation that we are allowed to speak softly regardless of subject matter.

*See Cynthia’s revisiting of Rob Taylor’s The News here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in Saigon in 1968, Kim Thúy left Vietnam with the boat people at the age of ten and settled with her family in Quebec. A graduate in translation and law, she has worked as a seamstress, interpreter, lawyer, restaurant owner, media personality and television host. She lives in Montreal and devotes herself to writing. Kim Thúy has received many awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2010, and was one of the top 4 finalists of the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2018. Her books have sold more than 850,000 copies around the world and have been translated into 29 languages and distributed across 40 countries and territories.

Sheila Fischman is the award-winning translator of some 150 contemporary novels from Quebec. In 2008 she was awarded the Molson Prize in the Arts. She is a Member of the Order of Canada and a chevalier de l’Ordre national du Québec. She lives in Montreal.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Vintage Canada (March 25 2015)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 160 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0345816145
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0345816146

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Cynthia Sharp
Some Rights Reserved  

Because Venus Crossed An Alpine Violet On The Day That I Was Born by Mona Høvring, trans. Kari Dickson and Rachel Rankin

Do you like challenging, experimental fiction? Do you like less focus on plot and more on meditations, philosophy, and transformation? Pull up a chair, because Because Venus Crossed An Alpine Violet On The Day That I Was Born by Mona Høvring and translated by Kari Dickson and Rachel Rankin is for you. If not, if you prefer more plot-driven novels and less time in exploring thoughts and self, you absolutely will not enjoy this novel. However, as a solid lover of challenging and experimental fiction, Because Venus was exactly for me, and it’s been a while since I enjoyed such a tightly written, magical, and thought-provoking novel. It won the 2018 Norwegian Critics’ Prize for Literature, and so it’s a delight to read it in translation – while I can’t directly compare the original Norwegian text with the English, I can say that Ella, the narrator, has a strong and unique voice, and the language use is honestly delightful. Kari Dickson and Rachel Rankin did a wonderful job in translation.

“…as a solid lover of challenging and experimental fiction, Because Venus was exactly for me, and it’s been a while since I enjoyed such a tightly written, magical, and thought-provoking novel.”

Ella and her sister Martha head to a small Norwegian village in the mountains, to stay in a hotel and let Martha rest after a mental breakdown. While Ella embraces the holiday and carefully observes their temporary surroundings with a sense of wonder and peace, Martha shows little interest in the hotel, the other guests, the hotel workers, or her sister. Ella befriends Ruth, a member of the staff of the hotel, and Dani, Ruth’s lover. Before Ella is able to realize her own attraction to Dani, Martha calls her out on it during breakfast, and after a confused argument, vanishes from the hotel. Given the gift of time and space while waiting for Martha to come back, Ella explores who she is without the responsibility of her sister, learning about her sense of self and her preferences, as well as leaving her room to explore a relationship with Dani.

This is a relatively short novel, clocking in at 142 pages. Høvring, and Dickson and Rankin, did not waste a word, bringing us deep inside Ella’s mind as she goes on this trip to the country. Ella’s thoughts and observations about the hotel and the village are funny and endearing, and we get to watch Ella gain confidence, rethink the path her life has taken so far, and take a few chances. Like I said at the beginning of this review, this is not a book for those who like a plot-driven read, but for those who enjoy a thoughtful study of a character, Because Venus will not disappoint. An excellent novel in translation.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mona Høvring is the author of six poetry collections and four novels. Her previous novels include the acclaimed Something That Helps (2004), The Waiting Room in the Atlantic (2012), winner of the Unified Language Prize, and Camilla’s Long Nights (2013), nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize. Because Venus Crossed an Alpine Violet on the Day that I Was Born won the 2021 Dobloug Prize, the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature, was a finalist for the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize, and was included on numerous critics’ Best of 2018 book lists.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Book*hug Press (Oct. 5 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 140 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771667060
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771667067

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Householders: Stories by Kate Cayley

I’ve spent more time than usual mulling over Kate Cayley’s Householders. In nine separate yet interwoven stories, Cayley creates a complex world inhabited by a set of distinct characters that, in different ways, seem to whisper something of themselves back to readers and to each other. Likewise, while the settings central to each story shift and change, memories of shared places emerge between stories and create pathways of meaning. The pieces navigate past, present, and future; they centre urban mothers, struggling artists, young dreamers, wanderers, children, the elderly, the godlike and the god-less. They are rooted in rural poverty, in the gentrifying city, in disconnected communities, in European flats, in university dorms, and in post-apocalyptic bunkers. Householders is not easily distilled into a summary note. Instead, the way each piece echoes into the next, and the interwoven threads that run throughout the collection, require readers to sit down with suspended expectation. We must wait to figure out what is really going on as the collection moves forward, and learn to be ok with never really knowing the full story even as it is spelled out on the page.

Though each story is different, several are connected to life in a commune in rural Maine. Some pieces are set in this space, where a seemingly brilliant but troubled (and troubling) messiah figure named John uses his knowledge of various histories to entice people to live together on the land. As one character tells us, showing anger was not allowed in this community nor was maintaining any connection to one’s past. Family photos, keepsakes, and even birth names must be renounced, generating a pseudo-blank slate from which to build toward a sense of collective understanding. In different ways, this philosophy is questioned by the various characters connected to the commune. We hear from children of community members who struggle to come to terms with their place in the world, members of the community who have been left behind, and more tangential figures like a mother who “had grown up in a ramshackle commune in Maine.” This kaleidoscopic portrayal of one space over time and through different vantage points affords readers diverse perspectives of the rippling power of shared experience.

“Cayley is adept at using tight sentences and purposeful language to get to the quick of a narrative thread, and her prose lays bare the struggle between perception and reality.”

Even when a story is not related to the commune, reflections on community are central. In “The Crooked Man,” a seemingly innocuous neighbourhood in Toronto sends a young mother into an emotional spiral. She is overwhelmed by what she can and cannot comprehend about her life and surroundings, and feels at once both too connected and deeply disconnected from her own reality. In this way, the story navigates the beauty and pain of community to a tense and uncertain end. Here and elsewhere, questions of leaving and change bubble to the surface. For example, “A Beautiful Bare Room” reflects on the lasting vestiges of relationships in a fallen world and ponders the consequences of escape. The impacts of the narrator’s decision to leave, and her own understanding of this outcome, leaves readers with a sense of unease that lingers long after the story ends.

Cayley is adept at using tight sentences and purposeful language to get to the quick of a narrative thread, and her prose lays bare the struggle between perception and reality. These stories are not easy, often upending reader’s expectations just when we think we know what is going on. The outcomes of such shifts are, at times, a bit disorienting. I found myself returning to certain passages or whole stories, or looking for hints of characters between pieces as a way to create my own connections.

In the end, I think it is a testament to the strength of the collection that I’ve struggled to untangle my thoughts about it. Trying to parse through the stories is difficult because they are all affective in their own way. These pieces stick with you because Cayley’s writing is beautiful and hard. The style used to depict a range of weird and wonderful characters is compelling, and the experiences navigated throughout tap into tensions that feel gripping and present. Ultimately, Householders is a movement through contrasts, confusion, and moments of clarity. It reflects on the familiar and the disparate, and successfully brings together a patchwork of unique moments into something beautiful.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Cayley has previously written a short story collection, two poetry collections, and a number of plays, both traditional and experimental, which have been produced in Canada and the US. She is a frequent writing collaborator with immersive company Zuppa Theatre. She has won the Trillium Book Award and an O. Henry Prize and been a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. She lives in Toronto with her wife and their three children.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Biblioasis (Sept. 14 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771964294
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771964296

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Gemma Marr
Some Rights Reserved  

The Little Animals by Sarah Tolmie

Canadian author Sarah Tolmie’s The Little Animals provides a fictional recounting of the discoveries of Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch draper who had a side interest in producing “fine optical instruments,” including microscopes. Van Leeuwenhoek used his microscopes to examine drops of water, blood, and other objects, observing single-celled organisms, red blood cells, and other entities visible only under magnification. He referred to the creatures he saw as “animalcules” or “little animals,” hence the book’s title.

Van Leeuwenhoek was born in 1632 in Delft, Netherlands. His discoveries were cutting-edge at the time.

With the aid of his microscopes, Van Leeuwenhoek “sees monsters: creatures more bizarre than those painted by Bosch, with many legs and no heads and bodies that make no sense.” He finds his discoveries dizzying. His thoughts “give him vertigo,” and

“They make him fear that he is living through a monstrous time, in which infinity is creeping into everything. Occasionally he has looked through the artificial eye of the microscope and has had to clutch the table for fear of falling in. Into the inexplicable, teeming world of the animalcule, in which he would not last a minute but would be torn apart by millions of chomping jaws.”

Evocative prose like the paragraph above is one of the factors that makes the book enjoyable. The Little Animals is an engaging story recounted with vivid and striking prose. The novel provides a strong sense of time and place, reflecting Tolmie’s background research.

In a short section titled “A Note on Historicity,” Tolmie notes that she has taken liberties with certain aspects of Van Leeuwenhoek’s life. One example is the time line of his discoveries. Another is the addition of a character called the goose girl, whom Van Leeuwenhoek meets in the opening paragraphs of the book. Though uneducated and socially awkward, the goose girl, too, believes in the presence of the little animals, for a different reason. She thinks she has heard them talking to her. While Van Leeuwenhoek has seen them with his eyes, she has seen them with her heart.

The goose girl is a colourful character who lends mysticism to the proceedings. Tolmie notes that the goose girl is “broadly drawn from the Brothers Grimm,” but she rings true as a character nonetheless. Tolmie’s description of the goose flock, each with their own personalities, is also striking. The novel includes other interesting characters as well, including a young artist, a painter friend of Leeuwenhoek’s, and a male sex trade worker.

The Little Animals received a Special Citation at the 2020 Philip K. Dick Awards.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Tolmie is the author of the poetry collection The Art of Dying (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018), the 120-sonnet sequence Trio (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015), and the chapbook Sonnet in a Blue Dress and Other Poems (Baseline Press, 2014). She has published two novels with Aqueduct Press, The Little Animals (2019) and The Stone Boatmen (2014), as well as two short fiction collections, Two Travelers (2016) and NoFood (2014). She is a medievalist trained at the University of Toronto and Cambridge and is a Professor of English at the University of Waterloo.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Aqueduct Press (May 1 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 384 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1619761610
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1619761612

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.


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  

I Am the Earth the Plants Grow Through by Jack Hannan

Introspective and lyrical, I am the Earth the Plants Grow Through by Jack Hannan takes us on a cross-country trip through time, away from Montreal of the 1970s and Montreal of the present day, following a love story and an art story. Hannan sinks us into the story of Tomas and Marie: Tomas, the photographer son of a Prince Edward Island fisherman, and Marie, the engineer daughter of an Algerian immigrant, meet while Marie is married to another man, a painter. Drawn to one another, Marie ends up leaving her husband and entering a relationship leading to marriage, and a child, while also acting as a muse for Tomas. He takes hundreds of photographs of her through their lives together, including many of his most striking works. Splitting their story into two pieces: Hannan details a motorcycle trip Tomas and Marie take to Vancouver, for a gallery showing of Tomas’s work; and the present day, where Marie has since died and Tomas, at 74, is a presence in the life of David, their son; Lorca, their daughter-in-law; and Charlie, their grandson. Lorca and David lead a much more conventional life than the romantic, art-driven days of Marie and Tomas, but their story, in many ways, reflects Marie and Tomas’s.

“I am the Earth the Plants Grow Through is an unconventional adventure: it can be meandering in places, contemplative in others, and rarely shows its hand.”

Hannan creates a beautiful, evocative story, following Tomas and Marie across the country. People tend to hold road trips as a kind of “test” of what another person is really like, and during the motorcycle trip, relatively early in their relationship, Marie and Tomas explore what it means to be together and what it means to know someone else. In the present day, Lorca and David do the same: how do you know someone, what is comfort in a relationship, and when do you stop trying? While the stories of the two couples diverge, they trod down the same paths of discovery. Rounding out the family is Charlie, a boy who routinely skips school to go observe people in the world, wondering about who they are, their relationships with one another, and how they got to that place in time.

I am the Earth the Plants Grow Through is an unconventional adventure: it can be meandering in places, contemplative in others, and rarely shows its hand. It’s a window into the lives of these three generations, and how each relationship in each generation shapes the children who come out of it. It explores the reasons we love each other and stay, and the reasons we drive each other apart. Hannan’s book is quietly triumphant: beautifully written and deeply thought-provoking.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Hannan has been a hotwalker, a typesetter for Fred Louder, a bookseller, and a publisher. He is a novelist and poet who lives in Montreal, Canada, not far from the house where he was born. His first book was published in 1977, and his first novel, The Poet is a Radio, was published in 2016. His work has been shortlisted for the A. M. Klein Prize for Poetry and the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. His family knows he is either at home or will be back soon.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Linda Leith Publishing (Sept. 13 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773900951
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773900957

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Pull Focus by Helen Walsh

“Yet the show must go on”, Jane Browning has been pole-vaulted from artistic director of the Worldwide Toronto Film Festival (WTFF) to acting CEO after her boss Paul DelGrotto has been removed for sexual harassment. Pull focus is defined as a filming technique used in film and television whereby the focal point is drawn towards the viewer. Walsh’s use of description will pull the readers into the story which is told over ten days.

Jane’s partner Bob goes missing and needs to find out if he’s in danger. Jane is also dealing with the politics of running WTFF, the Hollywood power brokers, Russian oil billionaires, Chinese propagandists, and members of the festival board.

“Walsh should get this story onto a script so more people can experience this thrill ride.”

Pull Focus is a sexually driven thriller and gets steamer with every turn of the page. Starting off on day one with a dick pic featured on the gossip TV show TMZ. Hashtags and rants trending on Twitter, apologetic emails, and an overcrowded party filled with A-list celebrities, media scum and the police. All wanting to know more!

With this unique Torontonian storyline, you really need to pay attention to all the characters as I found myself reading over some pages for the second time. This book reads like watching a movie, in which you don’t want to miss any character or storyline as the days unfold.

If you’re a fan of Film Festivals this book is definitely a must-read. Walsh’s description of behind the screens and the inner workings of a film festival is very interesting and in-depth. You can tell Walsh has a background working within the film industry. Being a movie buff myself I think Walsh should get this story onto a script so more people can experience this thrill ride.


“Part Real Housewives, part grown-up Nancy DrewPull Focus gleefully skewers all players in the international film scene while deftly unspooling a good old-fashioned thriller. Walsh creates a world of glamourous parties, dirty money, and weaponized sex.”

― Missy Marston, author of Bad Ideas

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Helen Walsh is the founder and president of Diaspora Dialogues, Canada’s premier literary mentoring organization. Formerly the publisher of the Literary Review of Canada and a founding director of Spur, a national festival of politics, arts, and ideas, Walsh spent five years working as a film/digital media producer in L.A. and New York. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (Sept. 7 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 272 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770415793
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770415799

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.


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  

Open Your Heart by Alexie Morin, Translated by Aimee Wall

Don’t let the words “A Novel” on the cover of Alexie Morin’s book fool you. This is no work of fiction, but auto-fiction, a blend of autobiography with fictional segments of the author, a young woman who was diagnosed at age 30 with ADHD. Until that time, she grew up as “different”, was picked on by schoolmates for dressing strange, for drawing in her notebooks instead of paying attention in class, a self-described “withdrawn, solitary girl” who was born with strabismus (her left eye turned in) which was eventually corrected by surgery.

This quote nicely sums up the tone of Open Your Heart, which is all about memories, many recalled, many more forgotten:

"Memory is already a kind of narrative. Remembering is an action. I remember what I ate yesterday. I remember the books I read this year, but I can't remember them all at the same time. I remember parties, dinners with friends, I remember days on the mountain, I remember falling in love. Every time I remember, I remember differently. Memory is not a film I can simply replay. Every time I want to watch it again, I have to reconstruct it. I tell myself the story. It has scenes and characters. Emotion is the thread that connects these scenes and fleshes out these characters. It's what leaves a trace in my memory, accompanied sometimes, but not always, by words and images. I can return to this trace. If I follow it, if I'm faithful to it, everything I write will be true. Everything I've written up to now is true. Everything I've written up to now is true to my memories. When there is no memory to be true to, I still have the thread of emotion. What this writing expresses as truth, what it says about our world, can't be measured in terms of factual accuracy or faithfulness to what really happened inside me and out in the world when I was little." (pg. 268)

Apart from the author, the other main character in Open Your Heart is Fannie, a neighbour of Alexie’s. Alexie and Fannie’s story stretches from pre-school to grade school to high school, going through all the changes friendships do over the years. “We fought often”, she writes. Suddenly though, Fannie befriends Vanessa, a girl that Alexie very much dislikes and Fannie warns her not to come around when Vanessa is over at her house. This causes a rift that never completely heals and is the cause of much introspection by Alexie over the years.

Besides recollections of her relationship with Fannie, Alexie recalls several other defining moments in her life such as working a summer job at the Domtar paper mill (“the worst summer of my life”) where the hourly wage is “twenty-three dollars and 45 cents an hour…in 2003, that was a fortune”. This particular memory is cleverly interwoven with two others: climbing a tree as a child and not knowing how to get down, until her father calmly talked her through it, and creating a TV studio set for a high school production that ended with her blowing up at her art teacher. Very strong, very personal stories that while I was reading them, didn’t feel voyeuristic, but by this time, Alexie had fully taken me into her confidence and I was listening as a real understanding friend would.

Written in a journal-entry style (there are over 250 entries) Alexie’s story drifts back and forth over thirty-some years from childhood to school to Cégep to the present day. It describes life growing up in the Eastern Townships and later after she moves to Montreal.

Open Your Heart is a very different kind of read. It takes patience, but once you are used to the writing style, Ms. Morin just keeps you fascinated from start to finish. Her introspection made me pause and think of my own memories and the emotions tied to them. In short, Open Your Heart will open your own, and whether this was Ms. Morin’s intervention or not, it was successful.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexie Morin is the author of a book of poems, Chien de fusil, a novella, Royauté and the novel Ouvrir son cœur, which won the 2019 Prix des libraires du Québec. Born in Québec’s Eastern Townships, Morin is an editor for the publishing house Le Quartanier and lives in Montréal.

Aimee Wall is the author of the novel We, Jane and the translator of several Quebec novels from the French, including works by Vickie Gendreau, Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard and Maude Veilleux. Originally from Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland and Labrador, she currently lives in Montréal.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Esplanade Books (Sept. 27 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 300 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550655787
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550655780

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved