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Books of the Year

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Books of the Year 2010: Fiction and Poetry

Light Lifting
Alexander MacLeod (Biblioasis)

The seven stories in Light Lifting pack quite a punch. Told in lithe, sinewy prose, they are urban tales of runners and swimmers, ­children and parents, all facing defining moments in their lives. Alexander MacLeod is a refreshingly physical writer: his stories are packed with concrete details and depictions of human bodies in motion. Whether describing a game of pick-up hockey or a swimmer’s dive off a hotel roof into the ­Detroit River, MacLeod has an almost preternatural ability to put readers into his scenes. His capacity to encapsulate entire lives in the span of a few pages rivals Alice Munro. This is one of the finest collections of short fiction to appear in this country in a long, long time.

Miguel Syjuco (Hamish Hamilton Canada)

Few literary newcomers have made as big a splash as Miguel Syjuco. The 31-year-old author, who now calls Montreal home, first gained attention two years ago when an ­unedited manuscript of his debut novel, published to wide acclaim this spring, won both the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Palanca Award, the top literary prize in his native Philippines. Despite the hype, Syjuco proves himself to be a serious novelist with a bent for stylistic experimentation. A kind of postmodern murder mystery, Ilustrado is a fragmented portrait of a fictional Filipino writer whose corpse is discovered floating in New York’s Hudson River. As reviewer Lisa Foad wrote in May’s Q&Q, Ilustrado is an evocative, intricate story that chronicles 150 years of Philippine history by employing a wide array of narrative mechanisms. The book is also, according to Foad, a staggering, indelible debut.

The Death of Donna Whalen
Michael Winter (Hamish Hamilton Canada)

Using the techniques and tools of a novelist to tell a true crime story is not new: Truman Capote did it in the groundbreaking In Cold Blood, and Norman Mailer won a Pulitzer Prize for doing the same in The Executioner’s Song. Michael Winter’s self-described work of documentary fiction employs similar tactics, drawing on actual court transcripts, police wiretaps, and interviews with participants to tell the fictionalized story of a 1993 murder in St. John’s. Frequently described as a writer’s writer, Winter has never shied from stylistic pyrotechnics, but this is arguably his most technically ambitious book yet. In retelling the story of the murder and its muddled aftermath, ­Winter is much more than an editor cobbling together pieces of documentary material: he is a genre-bending novelist operating at the top of his craft.