Category Archives: Creative Fiction

Under an Outlaw Moon by Deitrich Kalteis

Under an Outlaw Moon is depression-era true crime, set in the dust bowl of the Midwest, in a time when villains were idolized, and Hoover always got his man. Dietrich Kalteis inks out the lives of real-life couple Bennie and Stella Mae Dickson as they evade the authorities for nearly a year after robbing two federal banks at gunpoint. Kalteis’ distinct mix of staccato and parataxis sentences gives the reader a challenge when delving into the storyline, but once one learns his rhythm the characters flash to life.

Twenty-something, poetry lover Bad Bennie Dickson, aka Johnny O’Malley, has grandiose dreams of putting himself through law school by winning paid fights and robbing banks. Stella Mae Redenbaugh, a mere fifteen and with more true grit and sexual prowess than women twice her age, yearns for a life in Tinseltown and falling for a slick-haired bad boy with movie star looks. These two doomed lovers meet innocently enough and soon become as notorious as their predecessors in crime Bonnie and Clyde.

“…a gripping read I would recommend to those who love the golden era of the dirty thirties.”

Bennie has good intentions of being a respectable citizen, wanting to make his family proud, but in a time of uncertainty and classism, he falls into a life of crime in his early youth and spends time in a penitentiary, yet still tries to make good. He blames no one for his misfortune and tries to “roll with the punches” and says that being “born under an Outlaw Moon might explain why things turned out like they did.” Stella on the other hand blames her lot in life on the night she and her friend Liz accepted a ride home from the man at the roller rink. Her innocence shattered, she soon becomes the gutsy, levelheaded, sure shot of the car-thieving, bank-robbing duo.

Kalteis has an opportunity to flesh out the character of G-Man Werner Hanni who was the lead for the FBI in the hunt for the Dickson’s, but he just skims lightly over his involvement in their storyline. Hanni seems to be the only G-Man at the time to oppose the egomaniacal J. Edgar Hoover and his process for handling criminals, with his shoot first ask questions later policies. Hoover, portrayed as an attention-seeking media hound with paranoid conspiracy theories of everyone who was forward-thinking at the time has Hanni in an awkward position threatening a post in Alaska if the Dicksons were not caught in a timely fashion. Hanni had witnessed how Dillinger and the Barrows had been gunned down, and he has hopes that the infamous Time Lock Bandits do not succumb to the same fate.

The Dickson’s never fired a shot during their robberies, yet they were vilified in the newspapers, while witnesses stated they were polite and agreeable; Bennie even fulfilled promises of payment for stolen cars and assistance as Stella stood willing beside her man. Despite their tumultuous ending Stella never stopped loving her “Johnny,” the handsome-faced, wavy-haired youth who fed her lines at the roller rink where she met him before she turned sixteen.

Although Mr. Kalteis does justice to their tale, this reader is left wishing he had fleshed out the dirt poor gatsbyesque characters and the landscape in which their lives played out much sooner than he did; rather, they are left with a collar and shoulder style piece of work where imagination is key. Overall, a gripping read I would recommend to those who love the golden era of the dirty thirties.


About the Author

Dietrich Kalteis is an award-winning author. His debut, Ride the Lightning, was hailed as one of the best Vancouver crime novels. He lives on Canada’s west coast, in Vancouver, British Columbia, and spends as much time as possible in California.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (Nov. 2 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770415475
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770415478

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Tammy Catherine Greene
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  

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 intention or not, it was successful.

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!


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  

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  

Murder on the Orford Mountain Railway by Nick Fonda

I would like to begin this review by stating that the title is somewhat misleading. No murder has taken place on the Orford Mountain Railway, but near the railway’s construction camp. Now that that is out of the way, Nick Fonda’s book is a work of creative fiction surrounding the mysterious death of young Ralph Andosca, the son of the camp’s cook, who was ambushed while on horseback and shot dead at point-blank range in 1905.

Mr. Fonda has chosen to relate the story of the murder to the reader in a curious way. The scene is present-day, and a gentleman is giving a presentation regarding the historic railway murder and the recent discovery of a diary written by an unknown woman to an audience in a church hall near where the murder took place, in Quebec’s eastern townships. An effective way to unpack the story, and it serves to build suspense, but it also includes the presenter’s unfamiliarity with operating a presentation device to which a techy named Shaun comes to his rescue. Those little asides the story could do without, I felt. There are also times when you get the feeling that the story was being stretched to fill pages, such as the flight of Senor Andosca from Italy. As well-written as it was, it wasn’t germane to the actual murder here on this side of the Atlantic.

Apart from that, it is evident that Mr.Fonda is very familiar with life in the eastern towships at the turn of the last century. He even gets a mention in of the Fossmobile, Canada’s first gasoline-powered vehicle, of which only one was made in Sherbrooke, QC. There is also a second (but unrelated) murder of a young boy that took place weeks earlier that the author delves into: a 14-year old had been killed in nearby Farnham very near an existing rail line.

There are likely thousands of historical crimes in Canada that can be written about, and for fans of the genre, Murder on the Orford Mountain Railway is certainly worth a look.

*Note: this review is based on an advance reading copy that was supplied by the publisher. Murder on the Orford Mountain Railway will be released June 1, 2021


Nick Fonda is an award-winning journalist who has been documenting life in the Quebec’s Eastern Townships for years. Fascinated by local history, which inspires this novel, he is the author of three books of nonfiction focusing on the Townships and the acclaimed short stories collection Principals and Other Schoolyard Bullies. He lives in Richmond, Quebec.

  • Publisher : Baraka Books (May 1 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 200 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1771862467
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771862462

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book 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/3vA9epO Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Gutter Child by Jael Richardson

Jael Richardson’s debut novel, Gutter Child (2021, HarperCollins Canada)* is a forceful one that shines a spotlight on racism, colonization and the struggle to get out from under an imposed debt that only death will bring freedom from. It is a work of creative fiction that strongly resonates in the age of Black Lives Matter and other Black activist issues.

Set in an imaginary world (an apartheid state, not unlike South Africa) where the colonizers have pushed the Indigenous tribes so far back from the coast that they eventually revolt, but lose the war. This results in a “debt” being placed on every person and unborn child that they must work off in order to cover the costs of warring against the colonizers, which are obviously white, although it is never stated as such. It is a crushing debt that is unlikely to be paid off. The “Gutter” is an area of the Mainland that the vanquished Sossi people have been relegated to. The primary way out of the Gutter is the Academy track which grooms Gutter children for virtual enslavement to Mainlanders until their debt is paid, perhaps by the time they are seniors. There are good employers as well as employers that abuse their workers. Escape back to the Gutter is practically impossible.

Elimina Dubois is the Gutter Child of the title and we find her at the beginning of the story being dropped off at Livingstone Academy as her Mainland mother has died and she must be trained in order to be made valuable to Mainland society. The reader follows Elimina and her new friends through the various strata of Academy life with its strict rules including the employer fair where graduates are on display for Mainland employers, reminiscent of the days of slavery in the U.S. and the Caribbean. There are often bidding wars over a prospective job candidate.

In the following passage, Elimina is talking with Ida, a woman from the Gutter who does hairdressing for Livingstone Academy (and the first Gutter woman that she has met):

“Do you ever get angry that your family sent you away?”

Ida shakes her head. “The only reason my parents sent me here was because we all want what those Mainlanders got from birth, that Redemption Freedom, that sense of being fully free, not an animal that can be marked or leashed or put to work for someone else. When a creature is trapped, they’ll cut off their own arm to save their body. That’s what Gutter folks do. We cut off our own body for the chance to save the family.”

I think of how Ida has a whole family depending on her, and I wonder if that makes it harder, if I should be grateful to be doing this alone.

“Should I be happy to be here, Ida?”

She stops and sighs, resting her hand on my shoulder, like this is a question she’s not sure she can answer. “You have lived a different life, baby girl, seen different things. So I can’t answer that for you. I don’t know if I have happiness . . . But I found purpose, I suppose. That’s what drives me. Perhaps you can find that too. If you ask me, purpose is far more useful than happiness. Happiness is like sugar—sweet, but quick to go. But purpose is really something, baby girl. Purpose gets you through whatever comes.”

Ms. Richardson uses Elimina as a lead for the reader, as she was adopted by a Mainland woman and raised by her until she died while Elimina was a young girl. As such, Elimina has been shielded from the truths of Mainland and Sossi history, so the reader discovers the shocking truths at the same time as the Elimina does. This makes for an engaging read, and one’s interest is fully held throughout the book. At about the halfway point in the novel, it all comes together for Elimina and now fully informed, she knows what she must do to escape the burden of “Redemption Freedom” for herself and for the Gutter people.

Ms. Richardson has given us an inspired twist to the slavery trope by making the setting Gutter Child in an imaginary country. This serves to separate acknowledged black history and set it on a different plane. It is notable too, that technology is almost non-apparent in this world. A passing mention of television, telephones, cars, war machinery and an ultrasound machine is all we hear of. No computers, Internet or smartphones. Books are primarily Mainlander possessions only. (However, at the Livingstone Academy there is a smuggled book of poems that a disparate and secretive group gather at night to read from.)

An astonishingly good read, Ms. Richardson’s past and present accomplishments will no doubt assist in her Gutter Child being heralded as a bestseller in 2021.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*This review is based on an advanced reading copy supplied by the publisher.


About the author: Jael Richardson is the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, a memoir based on her relationship with her father, CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey. The Stone Thrower was adapted into a children’s book in 2016 and was shortlisted for a Canadian picture book award. Richardson is a book columnist and guest host on CBC’s q. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and lives in Brampton, Ontario where she founded and serves as the Artistic Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). Her debut novel, Gutter Child, is coming on January 26, 2021 with HarperCollins Canada. 

  • Paperback : 384 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1443457825
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1443457828
  • Publisher : HarperAvenue (Jan. 26 2021)

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This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Pretty Time Machine: ekphrastic prose poems by Lorette C. Luzajic

The whole ekphrastic thing’s morphed somewhat since Greeks coined the term, describing art based on other art – adding creative layers, facilitating praise to enrich the overall experience. Like bacon. The addition simply makes things better. This artistic endeavour, however, represents life. Everything has a facet of ekphrasis to it. Reading a book is more than a visual undertaking. Opening a print publication entails multi-sensory stimulation – the tactile feel and aroma, be it heady new ink or the scent of old paper and glue, a dusty hardback from a second-hand bin or well-thumbed paperback left on a train. Every book has a mixed-media personality, stories to share beyond the representation of words.

In Pretty Time Machine, Lorette Luzajic does what she does best, finding those veins in art’s ore, revelations resulting in a complementary shared experience. Enlightening moments. The ekphrasis of life. From Luzajic’s introduction we know, unequivocally, we’re in for authenticity.

I’m afraid of this book. I was afraid to write it, but I didn’t have a say. It was writing itself. … For a moment I believed that I could just write poetry about dogs or lakes and not the things I tried to bury.

Luzajic opens with Misery Bay (after Northern Lake, Lawren Harris, 1923) and lyrics of Margaret Embers McGee, “My paddle’s keen and bright, flashing with silver … follow the wild goose flight, dip dip and swing.”

Here on Manitoulin, in the wild valley between cut quartz hills and blueberry moss, we are Canadian to our marrow. Our soundtrack, lonely loons.

With this we’re plunged into Canadiana, like those startling moments I catch myself at sporting events belting out the anthem as though it’s the most imperative thing imaginable, which it always is at that instant. Luzajic’s Play Doh – for Martin (after The Velveteen Rabbit, William Nicholson, 1922), strikes that chord, the same necessity to share. But I simply cannot pull a quote. The work is flawless, forcing me to reveal this Michelin-star course exactly as our chef intended it be served.

Coffee with Noah, the last day of fall. He’s learning to make kimchi, ever since he stopped making cider moonshine in his closet. We talk about microbiomes, about eating more liver. We talk about caroling for Halloween and not Christmas, amused by the idea of warbling “Don’t Fear the Reaper” at retirement centres instead of “Joy to the World.” Noah gives me a cell phone charm, a miniature Hello Kitty on a camel. It’s a trinket I’ve coveted for a long time. I wished I’d brought the little tub of plasticine that was at home on my desk. We could make spaghetti snakes, or small rabbits. We talk about how Cormac McCarthy should write short stories, even though he sees no point to them himself. The shorter the better, I think, argue for taking that lean language to its logical conclusion. Noah blinks both eyes behind his rimless glasses, considers Cormac flash fiction, worries at a cube of sugar on the saucer with one finger. He asks about Barcelona. I try to express a fraction of what it was like to see Gaudi’s spires and all those legs of ham. Well, Noah always wanted to hop a freight train and hobo his way across the prairies, and he tells me how he did it, in June, from here to Medicine Hat. I picture him with his diary and a thermos of fermented cabbage tied in the kerchief now on his head, soaring away in lonely locomotion. I imagine the slow stumbling stall as the train breaks in Alberta, spilling Noah and his notebook into the night, scattering a fluffle of hares.

Savour that. As I did for the better part of an afternoon. Before managing to portion off this sample to share from Motel California (after Mark Twain Hotel, William Wray, contemporary).

The stucco in your dim room was pink like puke, but a place like this had room for a bit of poetic license if it had room for you. There is a dusty machine in the hall flashing promises of cola, but when you get there, the coin slot is jammed. Instead, you drain three fingers of tap water and a splash of cheap gin into the mug by the TV. The packet of Nescafe inside it you toss, then retrieve from the trash, thinking better of it. Might come in handy, if morning ever comes.

Show me someone unable to relate and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t exist. If you’re unfamiliar with Wray, look him up. If you’re unfamiliar with Nescafe, I don’t know what to do with you. Except share another piece of Luzajic’s creative beauty to prove commonality. From Night Moves (after Northern Lights, Tom Thomson, 1917) – more Group of Seven, more national bedrock, shared place and time.

Robert, at the table. Among scraps of moose leather and round red apples. At cards, he is thin backed and straight as the arrowheads he collects. The wine tastes like cupcakes, a tumbler of smashed red velvet.

Without being there I know the taste of that red, that space of blurring lines, liquid definitions and sentiments – a deep-seeded feeling you wonder if you forgot, or never knew you knew – intangibles of taste and lineage and pride.

And from Pretty Time Machine, the title poem (after Gluing Collage, A.C., 2019) with the words of Muhammad Ali, “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” Resonant, to a fifty-year-old.

You do not have to look hard to find her: she is written on your face. Even so, you are your own, unowned, unknown, since you landed here small and perfect in the blue-brown bruise of early.

If I questioned the progress of my world view over the past three decades, reading Pretty Time Machine I no longer can. Lorette Luzajic has done what the Greeks tried to define with a term – blending voice, folding media, mixing art – the amalgam infinitely richer than components. Presented in eclectic and wondrous crosshatch, this is life.

Initially published by The League of Canadian Poets.

***

About the Author: Lorette C. Luzajic is an artist and writer from Toronto, Canada. She is the founding editor of The Ekphrastic Review, an online journal devoted entirely to writing inspired by visual art. Her writing has appeared in several hundred publications online and in print, including many anthologies. It has been nominated twice each for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Her award-winning mixed media collage paintings are collected and exhibited worldwide. www.mixedupmedia.ca

About the reviewer: Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Dromomania, and Allan’s Wishes. His Indie Folk CD is Studio 6. Bill’s work is published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. Bill Arnott’s Beat appears in numerous magazines and literary journals. Bill’s received poetry prizes with honourable mention and is a Whistler Independent Book Awards 2019 Finalist with Gone Viking: A Travel Saga. @billarnott_aps

Title: Pretty Time Machine: ekphrastic prose poems by Lorette C. Luzajic
Mixed Up Media Books, 2020

*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/33A4svI Thanks!

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The Group of Seven Reimagined, Edited by Karen Schauber

There’s a very good reason that as I write this, The Group of Seven Reimagined, Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings is sitting at, or near the top of bestseller lists in Canada (as of this writing, it is currently #3 on the Canadian Art bestseller list at Amazon.ca).  The result is a most attractive book that any lover of art and literature would enjoy, even if they already have more than a passing familiarity with the iconic Group of Seven. All the stories that accompany each image are in the “flash fiction” style, just a page or two in length, a little story that the authors were inspired to write after choosing a particular G7 painting. As editor Karen Schauber states in the book’s foreword:

“Flash fiction writers from across Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia, each with a distinct Canadian connection, have crafted an original flash fiction piece inspired by a Group of Seven painting, a selection of their own choosing, one that speaks to and moves them on a personal level. Each painting singular; each voice, unique.”

The twenty-one pieces of art are beautifully reproduced on high-quality paper stock and preface each story, each image getting a complete page, which art enthusiasts will appreciate. The collection starts off with New Brunswick writer Mark Anthony Jarman (author of Knife Party at the Hotel Europa) and includes other writes such as Carol Bruneau (A Circle on the Surface), Waubgeshig Rice (Moon of the Crusted Snow), Bretton Loney (Rebel With a Cause: The Doc Nikaido Story), Michael Mirolla (author and publisher, Guernica Editions), and editor Karen Schauber (she takes the cover image for her inspiration), just to name a few. Here’s an authorized excerpt from Ms. Schauber’s story, “The Little Island.”

When she first saw the painting [Little Island by Alfred J. Casson], she was gobsmacked; her pale-grey eyes, wild and electric. The Little Island was a paradise.

She imagined herself strolling along its shoreline, warm sand, pebbles, and driftwood. She’d sit a while under the large Beech tree, its pointed buds unfolding. A sudden whoosh, the drumbeat of wings, a sandhill crane crosses the lake, its shadow gracing the pink granite below.

That gives you a little taste of what you can expect from the contents and how they inspire the writer; revealing any more would spoil this particular story! Other writers put the reader right inside the painting. Given the space for a story of just a few hundred words in length to work with, they manage to craft some amazing flash fiction.

Here’s a closer look at the Table of Contents. No doubt there are other writers listed which you will recognize:

  • Contents Continued
  • Contents Page 1

A wonderful idea, perfectly implemented, and as I mentioned at the outset, this is a book that any art and/or fiction enthusiast would enjoy receiving as a gift, but with the caveat that this book is not a critical review of the Group of Seven, nor is it a history of the group. What The Group of Seven Reimagined is though is a perfect melange of art and literature, and no doubt there will be further editions of this type of compilation. In fact, The Group of Seven Reimagined is Part One of a Two-Part program. You can read more about it here: https://groupofsevenflashfiction.weebly.com/ and there’s an interview with editor Karen Schauber here: https://mandyevebarnett.com/2019/08/27/author-interview-karen-schauber/

I am adding The Group of Seven Reimagined to the 2020 long list for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Short Fiction.

“As a disciple of the Group of Seven and an aficionado of Canadian wilderness, every page gives me a little leap of pleasure.” — Robert Bateman

The Group of Seven Reimagined, Edited by Karen Schauber
Heritage House Publishing

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I 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/2qAEs44 Thanks!

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Send More Tourists…the Last Ones Were Delicious by Tracey Waddleton

Recently, Breakwater Books the publisher of Tracey Waddleton’s debut collection of short fiction tweeted a Goodreads review:

I thought that was a pretty good description of Send More Tourists… and aside from the odd ‘Barbie head’ there are a lot of great ‘cookies’ in this collection, too. While some reviewers think that the humorous title befits this book, I think there is a darker side to many of the stories (which I was attracted to), for the reader is immediately introduced to the ubiquitous creature under the bed/in the closet in ‘It Lunged.’ Cthulhu is referenced in ‘The Creation of Water,’ depression in ‘Riding With Maurice’ (“are you taking your pills?”) and infatuation in ‘The Woman in the Yellow Dress’ (the ‘woman’ in question is in a photograph). Suicide presents itself as the only way out for several of the characters in her story, too. “Sure, there was nothing to be done, she said and set the kettle on the stove” is the laconic reaction of a neighbour to news of a girl’s suicide in ‘Old Ben Walsh.’

Maybe those Barbie heads that one pulls out of that cookie jar might look like this?

My favourite story is ‘Mr. Moriarty’ about an old man in a nursing home reminiscing about a life unlived. Nothing outstanding about that trope you say? Consider the fact that Ms. Waddleton is a young woman yet she still captures so well the innermost travails of a man at the end-stage of life. Plus, she does the recounting most creatively by having him relate to us about five ways he has failed in his life. He invites us: “Here. Let me count them out.” They are:

  1. I have not loved enough
  2. I did not travel enough
  3. I never followed my dreams
  4. I never got the car
  5. I never learned enough

Each numbered heading causes him to not only explain himself to the reader, but it invokes thoughts of Margaret, his deceased wife and of his children who only visit a couple of times a year.

In the beginning, I thought of her often. Everything different, sleeping alone and eating alone and nobody to talk to about the little things, how was your day and that sort stuff. The smell of her faded too and I almost can’t imagine it anymore. Now it’s just me and the memory of Margaret and the children who don’t come by, except on Christmas and my birthday, and that is why I don’t love them.

As this reviewer approaches his seventh decade of life, thoughts like Ms. Waddleton creates in ‘Mr. Moriarty’ are all very real and hit closer and closer to home (although I don’t have any children to ignore me). Very well done.

Breakwater Books continue to promote fresh new voices in the Newfoundland writing scene. Witness Susie Taylor’s Even Weirder Than Before, Bridget Canning (The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes) and Melissa Barbeau (The Luminous Sea) just to name a few. Tracey Waddleton is yet another exciting young writer to watch. So set the kettle on the stove and get ready for some delicious tea and cookies…with a side of Barbie heads.

I am adding Send More Tourists… to the 2020 long list in the Best Short Fiction category for “The Very Best!” Book Awards.

The sheer energy is marvelous and there’s so much poignancy too. Yep, I love these stories!” – The Minerva Reader

Send More Tourists…The Last Ones Were Delicious by Tracey Waddleton
Breakwater Books

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (also available in a Kindle Edition) through Amazon using the link below I 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/2n5uVjW Thanks!

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The Little Fox of Mayerville by Éric Mathieu, Translated by Peter McCambridge

Éric Mathieu’s The Little Fox of Mayerville (translated by Peter McCambridge)* represents a bit of a departure from recent QC Fiction offerings such as Prague and In the End They Told Them all to Get Lost, which while being ingenious works of fiction, may not have been to everyone’s taste like the Giller-nominated Songs for the Cold of Heart. The Little Fox is more representative of that book, and some earlier QC Fiction offerings, many of which I have had the pleasure of reading and reviewing. (See all my QC Fiction reviews here.)

“The Little Fox” is the nickname given to Émile Claudel, for he was born with red hair, protruding ears and a long aquiline nose. He was also born talking and reciting poetry and lines from obscure plays all to the embarrassment of his mother, who never understood a word of it. It seems young Émile was sly too, always secreting himself in tight spaces so he could spy on people. In this way, he learns a lot about the goings-on in Mayerville, France. Émile wants to discover who his father really is. Is it the man married to his mother or one of her other lovers, such as the evil Louis Ducal who owns the house they live in? Or is it their gardener with whom his mother disappears every afternoon? The American G.I. who was billeted there during the war? There are many possibilities.

Who will love me? Who would want me? I’ll probably never marry. “You’re as ugly as sin,” my mother had tol me one day, in a fit of anger.

His bedraggled mother, France keeps her past locked up in the loft (Émile, of course, discovers where she hides the key) and feeds her sorrow and anguish like the terrible, eight-legged beast that sits in the shadows, something straight out of a Lovecraftian nightmare:

You see your mother going up into the loft. Her head’s down, she looks deflated. You follow her. She drags her feet as she makes her way to the far end below the eaves, where you’ve not yet ventured because it’s too dark. Your mother is swallowed up by the darkness. You hear her crying. You hesitate for a moment. You should go back to your room, but instead you continue through the darkness and there she is, on her knees, one hand covering her mouth and the other reaching out to a hideous shape in the corner, an eight-legged monster with the tail of a rat and the mouth of a whale, a mouth that it opens imploringly, like a starving baby bird. The stench is unbearable and you struggle not to vomit. Your mother is petting the thing as she cries. She hugs the beast and soon it purrs and falls asleep, then your mother stands and goes back down to the kitchen.

Likely one of Emile’s frequent nightmares, his mother’s hidden personal beast of the more carefree past, the drudgery of the present and hopelessness of the future must be fed until it settles down; until the next feeding.

Tired of Émile and his antics, his parents “abandon” him to a boy’s home in a nearby village. “I’ve raised you for eight years. That’s enough” his father tells him. This takes the reader into Part III of the book, which covers his struggles in the boy’s home and his eventual escape from it, living in the woods:

I passed through sleepy, morose villages with mysterious names: Coussey, Autigny-la-Tour, Soulosse-sous Saint Elophe, Liffol-le-Grand. I wound my way along lusty paths, cut across meadows, and ate wild berries and mushrooms. Whenever I saw farmers on their tractors, out in the fields with their ploughs, I hid. My toes were bleeding, my knees were scraped raw. The little cuts took ages to heal because I would always rip the scabs off. I bathed in the Vair and dried off in the sun. I slept at the foot of trees, curled up in their roots. I’d wake in the morning, my eyelashes stuck together, a bitter taste in my mouth, my hair covered with leaves, twigs, and mud.

He eventually hooks up with a travelling carnival working as an assistant to Marmol the Magician, a hard-drinking, abusive man. After that man dies, Emile is freed from the carnival life and eventually, Emile’s life comes full circle at age eighteen when his life is “set to begin” in the early 1960s.

The first thing a reader may notice about The Little Fox is the chapters. Some are long; others are poetic in form and some are only one sentence. Take, for example, a couple of my favourites, Chapter 22 (of Part II): “The night bled, the day cried” and Chapter 45 (Part III): “Sooner or later you’ll wake up.” Each of these little chapters serves to summarize what just went before, what will come, or just to move the story forward. This keeps the reader turning the pages, eager to see what’s going to happen next to the “little fox.”

In conclusion, The Little Fox of Mayerville is a cleverly written story which cunningly commands the reader’s attention. The Little Fox of Mayerville will go on the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards in the Fiction category.


*This review was based on an Advance Reading Copy provided by QC Fiction.

The Little Fox of Mayerville by Éric Mathieu, translated by Peter McCambridge
QC Fiction

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I 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/2ZaDgQn Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Grass-Fed by Aaron Schneider

Recently, I read a review of a book that stated: “As insightful as it is absurd […] there is nothing derivative about this book, which is original in every sense…” While I agree with that assessment of the book in question (I had read and reviewed it as well) I felt that those words were just as applicable to Grass-Fed, a brilliant novella written by Aaron Schneider, who is an Assistant Professor at Western University (London, Ontario), and founding editor at The /tƐmz/ Review, amongst other accomplishments. Aaron personally sent me a copy of Grass-Fed in return for an honest and fair review.

The setting for Grass-Fed is the exclusive BlackRock Farm, Hunting Lodge and Resort in Northern Ontario, where Alexander Williams, the world-famous writer and “the David Attenborough of food” hosts a week-long retreat for seven people (three couples and a single male) the purpose of which Alexander states in his introductory speech to the group:

“We are gathered here to share a truly unique experience… something extraordinary… a week of discovery and growth during which we will learn about our food and about ourselves. You are stepping outside your comfort zones. You are testing your limits. Today, we are here to discover this essential truth. To learn what it is to be close to our food.”

The group includes an ex-hockey player, businessmen, academics and a talk show host and their spouses. There are four days, Day Five being departure day. The book is divided into Days and Nights; the days are well choreographed by Alexander and the resort’s head chef, Matthew. However, it is the nights are when they are alone in their rooms, either conversing with one another or in silent meditation of the day’s events that are most revealing. None of the couples are friends (nor do they become friends), and they do little in the course of conversation aside from generalities. Perhaps they know what Day Four may bring. Day Four is the climax of the retreat, and I’m not going to give anything away. The real genius of Mr. Schneider’s writing is his deliberate and meticulous character development and the build-up to Day Four’s climactic “life experience.”

The beauty of the novella format allows for extended experimentation with phrasings and styles than the short story, yet restrains the writer to a certain number of pages, so conciseness is key. If you’re looking for something different to read, and a story that challenges and critiques society, privilege and pretentiousness, then get Grass-Fed.

Grass-Fed by Aaron Schneider
Quattro Books

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I 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/2TgANRA Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Use Your Imagination! by Kris Bertin

Halifax-based writer Kris Bertin has won many awards for his previous short story collection, Bad Things Happen (2016, Biblioasis) and I’m sure that Use Your Imagination! (2019, Vagrant Press*) will garner its share. Composed of seven stories spread over 200 pages, these are the type of short stories you can really get into. The book’s title is derived from the third story in the collection, which is a story within a story: a creative writing class inside a prison in which one of the rules is to “use your imagination” when constructing a story. Eric’s story, “All Halves Made Whole” about life inside is reprinted (bookended by letters from the class instructor and the prison warden). The questions arise: did Eric write the story to further his own purposes, to downplay his heinous crime and get paroled early? Were his expressions of loneliness real?

Fans of the short story/creative fiction genre will enjoy reading Use Your Imagination!

I wasn’t a stone. Maybe I could look like one if you walked by, but inside I was soft and squishy. I was a bug. I was a turtle.
I didn’t know if it was a permanent change, or if, when I was out, if I could go back to being a normal person. I was most worried about the extremes. That I would come out a husk, and that whatever softness inside me will have rotted, dried up, and blown away. Or that, once released, I will be without any defenses, and be raw and naked and frightened, the kind of person who cannot cope with one single stressful interaction without breaking down completely. The kind of person you see screaming and crying at the bank teller’s window. I was preparing for the worst.

A superb example of creative fiction, this story was one of the highlights of the collection. Each of the stories in Use Your Imagination! have a certain disquietude about them, whether it is the whispering, cancer-riddled living corpse of Luke in the introductory story “Waiting for the Heat to Break and the Cold Air and Rain to Move In” to Allan’s secret life in “The Calls” to “Missy’s Story,” an unusual story/legend/myth involving the narrator’s great-grandparents and their “adoption” of a young speechless woman found wandering naked in the snow. Details are confused and conflicting and hard to come by from her grandmother and mother. The story absorbs Shannon. She must know more; to try to understand who Missy was, where she came from. When Shannon’s mother visits her in Toronto, she takes advantage of the opportunity to know more.

I remember feeling that she looked older and smaller than I remembered, and out of place in an apartment as bare as mine. She lived in a world of carpet and quilt, a fuzzy nest of soft things, Stuffed animals and slippers and blankets. Outside it, she seemed irritated, a crab pulled naked from its shell and left naked in the sand.
When I asked about Missy, her eyes sort of glazed over, like she had begun to dream right there in my kitchen. She looked like she was returning to some familiar, comfortable place in her mind.
“Did anyone ever have a guess about where she came from?” I asked.
“No,” she said, after a moment, “No one ever found that out.”
Right away I pressed her:
“I don’t understand that part. When we lived in Dale, we knew everybody. And with Missy it was what—ninety people living there? All going to the same church, all working in the same logging camp, How is it possible that nobody knew this girl?”
My mother tilted her head and I could see that this thought had never occurred to her.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Somebody had to know who she was.”
“I don’t know,” she repeated, even quieter this time. She was getting embarrassed, I could see, but by what I didn’t know. Maybe at never having had this thought, or just at not having any kind of answers for me. But then I saw her face change and she doubled back from where she was into stone certainty. She said:
“No one ever knew where she came from.”

A short story that spans generations, “Missy” is a classic finish to this collection, terminating in a most unexpected way.

Use Your Imagination! was my bedtime reading material, and after turning out my light, I went to sleep with what I had just read wafting through my mind, and I sought to grasp the essence of the stories Mr. Bertin had spun before I imperceptively drifted off into unconsciousness. Fans of the short story/creative fiction genre will enjoy reading Use Your Imagination!

Use Your Imagination! has been added to the 2019 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards in the Fiction category.

“Kris Bertin clearly has a talent for story-telling, and is quickly becoming one of my favourites.”

*This review was based on an Advance Reading Copy provided by Vagrant Press in exchange for a fair review. Use Your Imagination! will be released in April 2019. You may pre-order from Amazon.ca using the link below. Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon I 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/2UtJHwx Thanks!

Use Your Imagination! by Kris Bertin
Vagrant Press

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved