Q&Q editors share some of their favourite 2015 releases
Compiled by editor Sue Carter and reviews editor Steven W. Beattie
SuperMutant Magic Academy
Jillian Tamaki (Drawn & Quarterly)
Even if the idea of reading about high school gives you the dry heaves, it’s hard not to appreciate the sly humour in Jillian Tamaki’s collection of web comics about an awkward group of teens with unusual superpowers. Tamaki – who also won a 2015 Caldecott Honor with her cousin Mariko for the graphic novel This One Summer – is a master at evoking both emotions and punch lines with minimal pen strokes, never sacrificing empathy for laughs. – S.C.
The Winter Family
Clifford Jackman (Random House Canada)
In 2011, readers and critics fell over themselves to compare Patrick deWitt’s second novel, The Sisters Brothers, to the work of Cormac McCarthy. First-time novelist Clifford Jackman, readily acknowledges McCarthy as an influence, which can be felt throughout this bawdy and brawling bruiser of a debut. Tracing the exploits of the titular gang of outlaws and brigands, Jackman’s story cuts a path of bloodshed and destruction across the post–Civil War U.S., in the process providing some trenchant observations about American history and society. – S.W.B.
Where Did You Sleep Last Night
Lynn Crosbie (House of Anansi Press)
Although this novel is awash with pop-culture references, forget everything you know about Kurt Cobain and just go along for Crosbie’s trippy ride. This Shakespearean love story between a lonely “Walmart goth” girl and a gorgeous but tortured boy who appears to be a reincarnation of the beloved grunge musician, is poetic, dark, and fantastical, right up to its inevitably heartbreaking conclusion. – S.C.
The Xenotext: Book I
Christian Bök (Coach House Books)
The first in a monumental two-volume experiment, Christian Bök’s latest work combines conceptual poetry with a stunningly brazen scientific project: the author’s attempt to teach a bacteria to read and write poetry. Bök’s own skills and playfulness are on full display in his “infernal grimoire,” which sets the terms of reference for his experiment, while also anagraming Keats, retranslating Virgil, and meditating on extinction and the possibility of immortality. Unquestionably the most audacious book of poetry released this year. – S.W.B.
Under the Visible Life
Kim Echlin (Hamish Hamilton Canada)
Kim Echlin’s latest novel was overlooked by award juries, but it should not be ignored by readers. Two talented women, both of mixed race, both from difficult pasts, discover an intimate bond through their music. Echlin deftly touches on themes of friendship, identity, passion, and artistry, and the result is one of the year’s most quietly powerful stories. – S.C.
Nick Cutter (Simon & Schuster Canada)
The Deep may not be as viscerally charged or gleefully violent as his 2014 novel, The Troop, but Nick Cutter’s sophomore title is still a contagious read. Set in an underwater research station possessed by a viscous being that is driving scientists to madness, the book showcases Cutter ability to write horror that is gruesomely claustrophobic, but maintains a human pulse. – S.C.
The Social Life of Ink
Ted Bishop (Viking Canada)
A book about ballpoint pens shouldn’t be this entertaining, but University of Alberta professor Ted Bishop hits the perfect balance of historical non-fiction and personal travelogue. Who knew that the ubiquitous Bic pen had such an intriguing past? Bishop proves to be an affable guide, ever enthusiastic in his quest to uncover the evolution and meaning of ink across cultures and time. – S.C.
Raymond Bock; Pablo Strauss, trans. (Dalkey Archive Press)
Raymond Bock’s debut story collection seethes with a righteous anger at the marginalization and betrayal of Quebec’s cultural identity over the entire course of Canadian history. Blistering political stories – evoking the Plains of Abraham and the 1970 October Crisis – abut quieter tales about family and death, but they are united by an unflinching vision and a howl of existential despair. This book is liable to make English Canadians very uncomfortable, which is only one of the reasons it should be read as widely and as carefully as possible. – S.W.B.
A Biblioasis quartet
Independent literary press Biblioasis had the best year in its history in 2015 – book after book combined stylistically impressive writing with a surpassingly strong design aesthetic. This year the Windsor, Ontario, publisher achieved more award nominations than ever before. And as always, it remained at the forefront of short fiction in Canada.These four 2015 titles in particular stood out. – S.W.B.
Schofield’s first novel, 2012’s Malarky, was a critical hit and won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. Her follow-up, a so-called “footnote novel” to that earlier book, improves on its predecessor in every way: it is more stylistically audacious, angrier, and more visceral. Schofield still hasn’t quite figured out how to end her novels, but no matter: this is one of the most challenging, provocative books of the year.
Samuel Archibald; Donald Winkler, trans.
Archibald garnered huge acclaim in Quebec for his collection of stories; Winkler’s seamless translation has now been shortlisted for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize. And no wonder: the book crosses geographies and genres, ranging from Paris to Japan to small-town Quebec, and employing everything from semi-autobiography to surrealism to flat-out horror. A potent and original work by an assured literary voice.
In a literary environment that is disdainful of tradition and constantly chases trends, Smith remains a breath of fresh air. His influences – Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis, Vladimir Nabokov – are deeply unfashionable these days, but they have provided Smith with the building blocks for his own brand of incisive social satire combined with pyrotechnically stylish prose. Also rare these days, Smith continues to pierce through pretension, rather than practise it. These stories are funny and honest in roughly equal measure.
Toronto writer Hardcastle’s debut was not shortlisted for any awards, but it remains one of the strongest collections of short fiction to appear in the past 12 months. A group of hardboiled tales featuring criminals, a clerk at a fleabag hotel, and other characters negotiating society’s margins, these stories all depend on their author’s strong voice, which stings like a sharp winter wind and burns like a shot of Wild Turkey straight to the gullet.