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Spring preview 2012: Canadian fiction, poetry, and graphica

In the January/February issue, Q&Q looks ahead at the spring season’s new books.


Vincent Lam won the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his debut, the short-story collection Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. His follow-up is a novel set during the Vietnam War. The Headmaster’s Wager (Doubleday Canada, $32.95 cl., April) is about the gambling, womanizing head of an English school in Saigon, whose son runs afoul of the country’s authorities and is forced into exile. ¢ Another Giller winner, CBC broadcaster Linden MacIntyre, has a new novel out this season. Why Men Lie (Random House Canada, $32 cl., March), the third volume in the author’s Cape Breton trilogy “ which also includes The Long Stretch and 2009 Giller champ The Bishop’s Man “ is the first to be told from the perspective of a woman.

Four-time winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, winner of the Prix Médicis, the W.O. Mitchell Prize, and the Matt Cohen Award, and member of the Order of Canada, Marie-Claire Blais is one of this country’s most lauded authors. Her new novel is set in the Saloon, a phantasmagorical place where boys are transformed into dream creatures who engage in carnivalesque performances of song and dance. Mai at the Predator’s Ball (House of Anansi Press, $19.95 pa., May) is translated from the French by Nigel Spencer. ¢ Following 2007’s The Letter Opener (and the successful children’s picture book Spork), Kyo Maclear‘s sophomore novel draws on memories of her father, a foreign correspondent. Stray Love (HarperCollins Canada, $29.99 cl., March), which includes illustrations by Toronto artist Heather Frise, is about Marcel, a man approaching 50 who reflects on his childhood in London, his globetrotting father, and his mysterious, bohemian mother.

Nina Dolgoy lives in a bad neighbourhood. If only the boarded-up local pool reopened, she thinks, it might provide her daughters with something to do. The problem is Nina doesn’t have any money. What else to do but rob a bank? Nina, the Bandit Queen (Dundurn Press, $21.99 pa., March) is a darkly comic novel from former Toronto Star columnist Joey Slinger. ¢ In her first novel since 2000’s A Message for Mr. Lazarus, B.C. writer Barbara Lambert tells the story of a woman who, after inheriting property in Tuscany from an estranged uncle, tries to find out why she is heir to this mysterious legacy. The Whirling Girl ($22 pa.) appears from Cormorant Books in February.

We’ve all been annoyed “ or worse “ by spam e-mail allegedly from exiled Nigerian royalty. In his latest novel, Will Ferguson imagines the shadowy criminals behind such scams and the potentially devastating effects they might have on the lives of their anonymous victims. 419 (Viking Canada, $32 cl.) is due out in April. ¢ Culture journalist and Globe and Mail columnist Katrina Onstad returns with her sophomore novel, about a contented urban couple whose lives are turned upside down when they become legal guardians of a two-and-a-half-year-old boy. Everybody Has Everything (McClelland & Stewart, $22 pa., May) focuses on the collision between urban affluenza and parental responsibility.

Best-selling novelist Lilian Nattel returns with Web of Angels (Knopf Canada, $22 pa., Feb.), the story of Sharon Lewis, an apparently unflappable wife and mother whose battle with dissociative identity disorder is thrust into the open after a family friend commits suicide. ¢ Set in postwar Montreal, Nancy Richler‘s third novel, The Imposter Bride (HarperCollins Canada, $29.99 cl., March), is about the disappearance of an enigmatic woman and her daughter’s attempt to understand who her mother really was. ¢ The dark inheritance of mental illness forms the spine of the debut novel from Grace O’Connell, one of this year’s new faces of fiction. Magnified World (Random House Canada, $22.95 pa., May) tells the story of Maggie, whose mother kills herself by walking into Toronto’s Don River. When Maggie begins to experience blackouts, she fears she may be suffering from the same condition that plagued her disturbed mother.

Eccentric and reclusive author D.O. Dodd follows up his/her controversial 2010 novel, Jew, with The Immigrant’s Handbook (Exile Editions, $19.95 pa., April), about a woman who relocates to a new country in order to leave behind her old life. ¢ Judy Garland died of a drug overdose in 1969. Unless, like Elvis, her death was a ruse and she was secretly kept alive. In novelist and playwright Sky Gilberts Come Back (ECW Press, $18.95 pa., May), the year is 2060 and Garland, age 138, is working on her Ph.D. thesis at the University of Toronto.

Quebec’s Patrick Senécal is a literary sensation in his home province, despite being virtually unknown in English Canada. All of that may change with Against God (Quattro Books, $14.95 pa., April), about a man’s mental breakdown ­following the deaths of his wife and children. The novella is translated from the French by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli. ¢ Q&Q reviewer Alex Good has referred to the short fiction of David Nickle as a perverted version of Alice Munro country. In his new novel, Rasputin’s Bastards (ChiZine Publications, $19.95 pa., June), Nickle imagines a version of postwar Russia in which a group of telekinetics who were bred as secret agents begin to wield their powers for reasons contrary to the greater good.

Sexy is not a word commonly associated with CanLit, but it certainly applies to Maidenhead (Coach House Books, $18.95 pa., April) by Tamara Faith Berger, whose debut, a work of unabashed smut called Lie with Me, was made into a frankly explicit movie by Clément Virgo. The new novel focuses on a 16-year-old girl’s sexual awakening at the hands of a Tanzanian musician. The author has said it will be her last literary exploration of explicit sexuality, bringing to a close a pornographic trilogy that also includes The Way of the Whore. ¢ Montreal-based novelist Daniel Allen Cox is back with his third book from Arsenal Pulp Press. Basement of Wolves ($15.95 pa., April) tells the story of paranoid actor Michael-David, who barricades himself inside an L.A. hotel after a film shoot involving a pack of wolves somehow goes awry.

Biblioasis is comparing Irish-Canadian writer Anakana Schofield‘s debut novel, Malarky ($19.95 pa., April), to Brecht’s Mother Courage and Beckett’s Endgame. When Philomena discovers her son canoodling with another man and is informed of her husband’s (possibly invented) indiscretions, she embarks on a journey of discovery that involves grief, resilience, and something like madness. ¢ Toronto-based poet and music journalist Tanis Rideout‘s debut is part adventure story, part Mrs. Dalloway. Above All Things (M&S, $22 pa., March) alternates between the story of George Mallory’s ill-fated attempt to conquer Mount Everest and a day in the life of Mallory’s wife, Ruth, who anxiously awaits his return to England.

The new year marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster. In Titanic Ashes (Flanker Press, $17.95 pa., Feb.), St. John’s novelist Paul Butler uses the tragedy as a backdrop for the story of J. Bruce Ismay and Miranda Grimsden, two passengers on the ill-fated voyage, who are reunited 13 years later. ¢ This Ramshackle Tabernacle, the debut from Newfoundland and Labrador writer Samuel Thomas Martin, was shortlisted for the 2010 Winterset Award and the ReLit Award for short fiction. Martin returns with A Blessed Snarl (Breakwater Books, $19.95 pa., Feb.), a novel about a man whose marriage ends when his wife takes up with someone she met on Facebook.

What would a Canadian publishing season be without a new book by Tim Bowling? This time the prolific author appears not with a collection of poetry, but a novel. The Tinsmith (Brindle & Glass, $21.95 pa., March) focuses on a surgeon during the American Civil War who moves to B.C., where he battles the unscrupulous practices of the province’s salmon canners. (It being Bowling, you had to know there would be fish in there somewhere.) ¢ Set in Paris, Leper Tango (Guernica Editions, $20 pa., May) tells the story of a lawyer who becomes obsessed with a hooker named Sheba. David MacKinnon‘s novel is the first in a projected trilogy.

Turnstone Press seems to be staking out territory in the area of male Boomer humour. Following last year’s novel Dadolescence by Bob Armstrong, the Manitoba publisher is bringing out Dave Williamson‘s Dating ($19 pa., April), about a widower who finds himself thrust back onto the singles market in his senior years. ¢ Canadian expat Emily Mandel has completed her third novel in as many years. The Lola Quartet (McArthur & Company, $24.95 pa., May) tells the story of Gavin, a disgraced journalist who moves home to Florida and embarks on a search for his high-school girlfriend, who has stolen a large sum of money from a drug dealer and is on the run with a girl who might be Gavin’s daughter.

The fourth novel from Quebec writer Martine Desjardins is a literary hybrid combining gothic elements with history and fantasy. In Maleficium (Talonbooks, $16.95 pa., March), translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel, a 19th-century priest relates the confessions of seven men who have experienced bizarre or disturbing fates while in pursuit of material possessions.


Acclaimed poet, novelist, and essayist Steven Heighton is set to publish his first collection of short stories in more than 15 years. The Dead Are More Visible (Knopf Canada, $22.95 pa.) appears in May. ¢ Prolific St. John’s author and journalist Russell Wangersky returns with the collection Whirl Away (Thomas Allen Publishers, $22.95 pa., March), about what happens when people’s coping mechanisms begin to fail. ¢ Self-confessed literary voyeur Julie Wilson has a debut collection with Freehand Books. Seen Reading ($21.95 pa., April), based on Wilson’s website of the same name, contains descriptions of people reading in public paired with short pieces of imaginative writing.

Victoria native Buffy Cram is the latest contributor to the 2010 anthology Darwin’s Bastards to appear with a collection of her own, following last year’s offerings from Matthew J. Trafford and David Whitton. In the surreal world of Radio Belly (Douglas & McIntyre, $22.95 pa., April), a mob of intellectual vagrants overruns a complacent neighbourhood, a father and daughter negotiate life on a post-apocalyptic island, and a woman who has recently undergone an appendectomy begins to receive Russian radio signals emanating from her belly. ¢ Novelist and children’s author Cary Fagans first collection in a decade is due out from Cormorant in May. My Life Among the Apes ($22 pa.) includes a story about a bank manager who uses his obsession with Jane Goodall to solve his problems. ¢ Poet and author Lynn Crosbie returns with her first full-length work since the poem-à-clef Liar. Life Is About Losing Everything (Anansi, $24.95 pa., May), chronicling the past seven years of the author’s life, is a literary hybrid combining fiction and memoir.

Gay dwarves don’t appear in Anne Fleming‘s Gay Dwarves of America (Pedlar Press, $21 pa., April), but there is a story about a hockey mom who imagines she’s Swiss, a story told in the form of a musical, and a story structured as one family’s puke diary. ¢ Heather Birrell returns with her first collection since winning the 2007 Journey Prize for the story BriannaSusanna­Alana. Mad Hope (Coach House, $18.95 pa., April) uses unconventional characters to explore universal subjects such as parenting, pregnancy, and marriage. ¢ Stories that bring out the humour of the human condition appear in Saskatoon author Donald Ward‘s The Weeping Chair (Thistledown Press, $18.95 pa., March).

Novelist, story writer, and biographer of Tommy Douglas, Dave Margoshes is back with a collection of linked stories loosely based on the life of his father. Set mostly in New York City’s Jewish community during the interwar years, A Book of Great Worth (Coteau Books, $18.95 pa., April) contains stories the author has been working on for 30 years.


Wayne Arthurson follows up his well-received debut, Fall from Grace, with a second mystery featuring half-Cree, half-French protagonist Leo Desroches. In A Killing Winter (Forge/Raincoast, $27.50 cl., April), Desroches goes undercover as a homeless man and befriends a native street kid. When his young friend is found murdered, Desroches embarks on a highly personal investigation into local gang culture. ¢ Mob enforcer Wilson is back for a fourth wallow in gritty urban noir in Hamilton author Mike Knowles‘s Never Play Another Man’s Game (ECW, $24.95 cl., April). This time, Wilson is broke and takes a job with an old partner, despite reservations about involving his son.

Lake on the Mountain (Dundurn, $11.99 pa., Jan.), the latest mystery from Jeffrey Round, features missing-persons investigator Dan Sharp, who attends a wedding on a yacht and gets caught up in both a case of mistaken identity and a 20-year-old disappearance. ¢ A veteran forest ranger and firefighter, Dave Hugelschaffer draws on his own life experience in a mystery series featuring Porter Cassel, an Alberta forest-fire forensics investigator. The latest book, Whiskey Creek (Cormorant, $19.95 pa., April), has Cassel looking into arson and murder in the isolated Alberta community of Fort Chip­ewyan. ¢ The second adventure of Casey Holland, transit cop, is due out this season from TouchWood Editions. Debra Purdy Kong‘s Deadly Accusations ($14.95 pa., March) finds Holland caught up in a gang war being waged on local buses.


Dennis Lee (who is, not incidentally, co-founder of his current publisher, Anansi) returns with the culmination of his late-period trilogy that includes Un (2003) and Yesno (2007). Testament ($19.95 pa., March) reconstitutes poems from the previous books and incorporates new work to create a provocative statement about living in the modern age. ¢ Also from Anansi is the new collection from Griffin Poetry Prize winner A.F. Moritz. The New Measures ($19.95 pa., March) is a suite of tonally varied poems that share a thematic strain of hope for improving the contemporary world.

M&S’s spring poetry features new collections from three of Canada’s so-called eco-poets. In Paradoxides ($18.99 pa., March), Griffin winner Don McKay combines his well-known affinity for the natural world with the mysteries of geology and the landscape of Newfoundland. ¢ Rain; road; and open boat ($18.99 pa., March), Roo Borson‘s first collection since 2004’s Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida (which won both the Griffin and the Governor General’s Literary Award), ranges from New Zealand to Beijing to Toronto, exploring a variety of tones, themes, approaches, and subjects. ¢ And finally, Tim Lilburn returns with Assiniboia ($18.99 pa., March), which interrogates notions of colonialism and modernity by addressing subjects such as Louis Riel, Western mysticism, and geography.

It’s not just the novelists who are marking the centenary of the Titanic’s sinking. Acclaimed Vancouver poet Billeh Nickerson‘s Impact (Arsenal Pulp, $14.95 pa., April) uses historical research to recreate the ship’s construction and imagine what it must have been like to be onboard when the tragedy occurred. ¢ The culmination of a decade of work, Whiteout (ECW, $18.95 pa., April), the sixth collection from erstwhile Bookninja George Murray, juxtaposes form and formlessness, anger and serenity. ¢ The Smooth Yarrow (Véhicule Press, $18 pa., April), Susan Glickman‘s sixth collection, explores life in all its manifestations, from an elegy to the poet’s late father to a sequence of poems on gardening. ¢ Sumptuary Laws (Véhicule, $18 pa., March) is the first full-length collection from Nyla Matuk. The title is a reference to feudal regulations that enforced social divisions by stipulating what a person was allowed to eat and wear. ¢ Chris Hutchinson returns with his third collection, A Brief History of the Short-Lived (Nightwood Editions, $18.95 pa., April).

In Geographies of a Lover (NeWest Press, $14.95 pa., April), B.C. poet Sarah de Leeuw finds inspiration from The Story of O and Marian Engle’s Bear. Her frankly sexual poems, written in the first person, explore the trajectory of a love affair, from infatuation through obsession, using the Canadian landscape as a metaphor for erotic passion. ¢ Toronto-based poet and heavy metal journo Natalie Zina Walschots has a debut collection called DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains (Insomniac Press, $16.95 pa., April), which employs dense, technical language to explore the pathology of comic book villains and other bad boys. ¢ Gerald Lampert Award“winning poet and novelist Steven Price brings together Greek mythology and a North American childhood in Omens in the Year of the Ox (Brick Books, $19 pa., Feb.), which contains free-verse and more structured poems.

Mansfield Press is tapping both ends of the career spectrum with a pair of poetry collections by a newcomer and a veteran. Jaime Forsythe‘s debut collection, Sympathy Loophole ($16.95 pa., April), includes poems that feature ventriloquism, contortion, and pickled sharks, among other (somewhat less colourful) subjects. ¢ Now entering his sixth decade of publishing poetry, David W. McFadden‘s new book, What’s the Score? ($16.95 pa., April), collects 65 poems by the revered author. ¢ The Least Important Man (Biblioasis, $17.95 pa., April), Alex Boyd‘s sophomore collection, contains poems that explore the dignity found in everyday life.


David Collier‘s previous book, Chimo, told of the author’s experiences with the Canadian military. His new work, Collier’s Popular Press (Conundrum Press, $20 pa., Jan.), is a collection of the artist’s published work from the last three decades. ¢ The Porcupine’s Quill has worked closely with iconic engraver George A. Walker to produce a series of beautifully designed books featuring the artist’s instantly recognizable woodcuts. Walker’s new wordless novel, The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson ($22.95 pa., April), features 109 engravings that tell the story of the painter’s life.

The fine print: Q&Q‘s spring preview covers books published between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2012. All information (titles, prices, publication dates, etc.) was supplied by publishers and may have been tentative at Q&Q‘s press time. ¢ Titles that have been listed in previous previews do not appear here.