Escape from the real world with the season’s most provocative novels, short stories, and poetry
THE CULT FAVOURITE
Damages: Selected Stories 1982–2012
Charity: A Novella
Vancouver writer Keath Fraser is one of this country’s most robust and individual literary voices; though despite a career that includes winning the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award for 1995’s Popular Anatomy and being nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award for the story collection Foreign Affairs a decade earlier, he is generally consigned to cult status at best in Canada.
With luck, all that will change in spring, when Biblioasis releases not one but two editions of the author’s work. The massive retrospective volume Damages features stories selected from throughout Fraser’s career, beginning with the 1982 collection Taking Cover. In the brand-new novella Charity, Fraser tells the story of Denise, whose life is tossed into upheaval when her husband’s ex-wife (the biological mother of Denise’s stepdaughter) abruptly returns and wants to reinsert herself into her old family’s lives. –Steven W. Beattie
THE NEW ROMANTICS
Hana Khan Carries On
Toronto authors Farah Heron and Uzma Jalaluddin both had well-received debuts in the romantic-comedy category, dropping the tropes of the romance genre into a modern Muslim setting. They return this season with feel-good culinary-themed follow-ups in which the only things more delicious than the food are the flirtations.
In Heron’s Accidentally Engaged, Reena pretends to be in a relationship with her neighbour Nadim so they can win a couples’ bake-off, despite her parents’ machinations to make the partnership cook in more than just the kitchen. In Hana Khan Carries On, a waitress with ambitions to make it in radio falls for the owner of a rival halal restaurant in a novel Jalaluddin compares to the Nora Ephron romance You’ve Got Mail. –Ryan Porter
Drawn & Quarterly, April
Aminder Dhaliwal’s 2018 comics collection, Woman World, began as a personal distraction after the artist, who was born in Brampton, Ontario, learned that her animated pilot with Nickelodeon wasn’t going to be picked up. Soon, her daily Instagram comic – a feminist satire about a post-apocalyptic world in which all the men have disappeared – had attracted more than 250,000 followers.
Like Woman World – one of Q&Q’s 2018 Books of the Year – Dhaliwal’s hilarious new collection, Cyclopedia Exotica, began as serialized posts on Instagram. This time around, she has envisioned a more familiar setting, but seen through the eye(s) of a cyclops community. As the immigrant cyclops navigate their world, Dhaliwal uses humour and spot-on cultural references to address themes of race, xenophobia, beauty ideals, and our desire to belong. –Sue Carter
A Perfect Likeness: Two Novellas
Orca Book Publishers, March
Richard Wagamese Selected
Drew Hayden Taylor, ed.
Douglas & McIntyre, April
When Richard Wagamese died in 2017, the Ojibway author and journalist left behind a rich storytelling legacy, with more than 15 titles of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction to his name. This season, Orca collects two of Wagamese’s previously published novellas, Him Standing and The Next Sure Thing, with a foreword by author Waubgeshig Rice. The narratives are connected: both follow young men with creative talents and dreams of fame.
Douglas & McIntyre, publisher of Wagamese’s bestselling Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations, is releasing a new collection of the late author’s non-fiction works. For Richard Wagamese Selected, editor Drew Hayden Taylor has assembled the author’s essays, columns, and short writings, many of which are appearing in print for the first time. –SC
Return of the Trickster
Knopf Canada, March
Substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty, and supernatural stalkers are no match for the joyful humour of Eden Robinson, who wraps up her blockbuster Trickster trilogy this spring. As Jared comes fully into his power, he is at the centre of a struggle between his mother, a literal witch, and the dark forces closing in on them. The books have already put Robinson on the shortlist for the Giller Prize and been adapted for a CBC TV series, so no pressure, right? –RP
Following quickly upon his 2020 bestseller, Indians on Vacation, Thomas King returns with another novel that blends humour and social commentary. Jeremiah Camp, known as “the Forecaster” for his ability to see paths to wealth and power, has lost hope in humanity. Jaded, he tries to start his life over, only to find his past creeping back in again. –RP
The Doomsday Book of Fairy Tales
Emily Brewes gives Mother Goose a makeover in her whimsical debut novel. Twenty-five years after the climate apocalypse, Jesse Vanderchuck ventures from the safety of Toronto’s underground tunnels in search of his lost sister. Accompanied by a talking dog, he recounts a series of fairy tales – or what he can remember of them – touching on themes of cultural legacy familiar to readers of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. –RP
Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted
Random House Canada, March
Prolific poet, short-story writer, and novelist Gary Barwin follows his Scotiabank Giller Prize–shortlisted debut novel Yiddish for Pirates with a book about a Jewish boy whose testicles were shot off during the First World War. As an adult, he takes refuge in the masculine world of cowboy novels and embarks on a quixotic cross-European quest following the 1941 Nazi invasion of Lithuania. –SWB
McClelland & Stewart, June
The life story of Cedar Bowers’s titular protagonist is told from the perspective of 10 other characters, some of whom she only had brief, but intense, encounters with over the years. Astra, who was raised on a remote B.C. commune by her father, is described as an enigmatic woman in the tradition of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. –SC
Breakwater Books, Feb.
Good news for CanLit followers who were saddened to hear that acclaimed Newfoundland indie Pedlar Press ceased operations at the end of 2020. After a 20-year hiatus, Pedlar founder Beth Follett is releasing her second novel, about a woman grieving the death of her husband whose encounters with three people will change the rest of her life. –SC
Victoria Sees It
Strange Light, April
Victoria and Deb are roommates at Cambridge, united in opposition to the university’s unflinching devotion to the English class system. When Deb goes missing, Victoria embarks on a search for her friend that leads her to an unexpected romantic relationship with Julie, the police officer assigned to the case. The new novel from B.C. philosopher and academic Carrie Jenkins is a queer psychological thriller about misogyny, social isolation, and mental illness. –SWB
The Second History
Rebecca Silver Slayter
Doubleday Canada, April
Nova Scotia author Rebecca Silver Slayter returns to the theme of survival with her first book since her lauded 2013 debut, In the Land of Birdfishes. Slayter’s post-apocalyptic love story is set in the northern Appalachians, where a young couple, hiding from the mysterious illness that has spread through cities, sets out to find the fabled mountain settlers who may hold answers to the sickness’s origins. –SC
Molly Falls to Earth
Simon & Schuster Canada, April
In her debut novel, Governor General’s Literary Award finalist Maria Mutch imagines the life of a woman in seven minutes. When choreographer Molly Volkova has a seizure on a crowded New York sidewalk, she revisits memories, lovers, and mysteries from her past. –SC
Already a vital voice in Canadian literature, the q columnist and Festival of Literary Diversity founder’s debut novel explores themes of privilege through the story of a world divided between the upper-class Mainland, the lower-class Gutter, and the social experiment that places a teen girl at their fragile intersection. –RP
House of Anansi Press, June
For his fourth novel, Irish-Canadian author and journalist Ed O’Loughlin shifts gears from his Scotiabank Giller Prize–nominated historical polar mystery Minds of Winter to tell a story of modern-day espionage. This Eden is an international thriller about an engineer recruited by the tech firm his girlfriend worked for until her sudden disappearance. –SC
Life Is Like Canadian Football and Other Authentic Folk Songs
Henry Adam Svec
Invisible Publishing, June
Musician Henry Adam Svec is known for having a little CanCon fun: his first band’s name was Peter Mansbridge and the CBCs. His 2010 concept album revolved around the legend that the songs were written in the 1960s by CFL players, forgotten until Svec uncovered the collection in the National Archives. This new hybrid book, featuring prose, poetry, and song lyrics, extends his musical pigskin hoax to the printed page. –SC
The Family Way
Esplanade Books/Véhicule Press, April
The founder and host of Montreal’s LGBTQ2S+ reading series the Violet Hour considers family – biological and chosen – through a queer lens in his sophomore novel, about a 40-year-old gay man whose decision to help a lesbian couple conceive a child causes him to reflect on his own dysfunctional family relations. –RP
In her novels and memoirs, Rachel Cusk has, sometimes controversially, dismantled common perceptions of motherhood and feminism. In her latest work of fiction, a mother “on the brink of rebellion” – and simply called M – is so taken with a painter’s work, she invites him to stay at her rural cottage. When M’s daughter and boyfriend descend on her cottage, along with the artist and his lover, she must decide how much she is willing to accept. –SC
The Lover, the Lake
Virginia Pesemapeo Bordeleau; Susan Ouriou, trans.
Freehand Books, May
Cree visual artist and writer Virginia Pesemapeo Bordeleau’s groundbreaking erotic novel was written in response to a common narrative portraying Indigenous Peoples as victims. Set on the shores of Lake Abitibi, before the arrival of residential schools in the community, Wabougouni, an Algonquin woman, and Gabriel, a Métis trapper, fall in love. The novel is translated from French by Governor General’s Literary Award winner Susan Ouriou. –SC
Her Last Breath
Thomas & Mercer/Thomas Allen & Son, June
The prolific, New York–based bestselling writer returns with a stand-alone thriller about a woman named Deirdre, whose sister, Caroline, dies suddenly. When Deirdre receives a message from her sister predicting her own murder, she must face her estranged family to uncover Caroline’s killer. –SC
The Artist and the Assassin
The Porcupine’s Quill, May
Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, is remembered for his use of chiaroscuro – the blending of light and dark – in his painting. Ottawa author Mark Frutkin employs a literary version of the technique to tell the story of the 17th-century artist and his relationship with Luca Passarelli, an artist’s model who, unbeknownst to Caravaggio, is also an assassin whose lethal profession will intersect with that of the painter in more than just the artistic realm. –SWB
By Steven W. Beattie
The Pleasure of the Text
Conundrum Press, May
Toronto cartoonist Sami Alwani presents graphic short fictions that are slice-of-life meldings of comedy and tragedy. In selections addressing queerness, racial identity, and art, Alwani brings to life a disparate cast of characters that includes a ghost in lockdown during COVID-19, a half-man/half-dog hybrid, and a loquacious baby.
Night Watch: The Vet Suite
Invisible Publishing, Feb.
Prince George, B.C., writer Gillian Wigmore is the daughter of a veterinarian, so in one respect it’s unsurprising the three novellas that comprise her new collection focus on people dedicated to the care and treatment of animals. Traversing time periods and geography, these novellas address themes of care and empathy against harsh rural settings and often inimical conditions. The book is being published in February, to coincide with early calving season in Canada.
Hour of the Crab
Goose Lane Editions, Feb.
The stories in Winnipeg writer Patricia Robertson’s latest collection span time and place, from 11th-century France to a near-future B.C. ravaged by wildfires. International aid workers and a woman who discovers the corpse of a Moroccan teenager on a Spanish beach are some of the figures giving life to stories about pressing issues in our modern world.
Douglas & McIntyre, Feb.
Edmonton writer Norma Dunning won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award from the Writers’ Trust for her previous collection, Annie Muktuk and Other Stories. Her new book (the title means “the unseen ones” in Inuktitut) includes pieces that spotlight themes of displacement and alienation, most particularly in the title story, which features a flock of geese standing watch over the corpse of an Inuk woman who has frozen to death on a golf course.
Buckrider Books/Wolsak & Wynn, May
A woman who cruises funerals; Pete the predatory magician; and Marie Curie’s subconscious are among the figures in Toronto writer Sofi Papamarko’s debut collection. Former Toronto Star columnist Papamarko provides a dozen stories that use magic and wonder to dramatize situations of conflict and despair.
Erase and Rewind
Book*hug Press, May
The debut collection from the former publisher of Room magazine and co-founder of the Growing Room literary festival is a “highwire balance of levity and gravity,” according to her publisher. The daughter of a neglectful superhero father; Twitter correspondents who are shut in during a deadly global virus; and a teen athlete whose plane catches fire are just a few of the characters who people these darkly humorous tales.
House of Anansi Press, April
The world of Bardia Sinaee’s debut collection is fraught with peril and illness. Poems dealing with precarity, the urban environment, and the depredations of history abut a multi-part prose piece about the poet’s experience undergoing chemotherapy in his 20s and a series of poems written during COVID-19 lockdown. –SWB
It Doesn’t Matter What We Meant
McClelland & Stewart, March
Governor General’s Literary Award nominee Rob Winger is back with a fourth collection that asks questions about meaning and intention at the nexus of private thinking and public action. –SWB
Selected Poems 1985–2020
House of Anansi Press, April
Steven Heighton’s debut collection, Stalin’s Carnival (1989), won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award; his most recent, The Waking Comes Late (2016), won a Governor General’s Literary Award. His new volume of selected poems encompasses the lauded writer’s entire poetic career. –SWB
Iron Goddess of Mercy
Arsenal Pulp Press, March
This 176-page long poem from Chinese-Canadian writer Larissa Lai encompasses subjects no less vast than the history of Hong Kong and the loaded meanings of the term Asian. With nods to mythology, politics, philosophy, and the titular tea, expect Lai’s first book of poetry in seven years to be epic in scope. –RP
The Shadow List
Jen Sookfong Lee
Buckrider Books/Wolsak & Wynn, April
The lyric poems in Vancouver writer Jen Sookfong Lee’s latest collection investigate how to live in the world as the person one wants to be as opposed to fulfilling the expectations of others. Lee asks questions about art and gatekeeping: who gets to speak and be heard, and who gets to choose? –SWB
ECW Press, April
Evie Christie’s third collection melds the surreal and the domestic in poems about motherhood at the end of the world and fatherhood as a state of constant hustling or drifting. The poems recall a pastoral past and interrogate a violence-laden present. –SWB
Rob Taylor’s fourth collection revisits and revitalizes the form of the epiphany poem: short lyric pieces that provide insight or recognition at their close. In Taylor’s hands, the recipient of the poems’ wisdom is not so much the speaker, or the poet himself, but us, the readers. –SWB
By Sue Carter
Drawn & Quarterly, May
Hamilton cartoonist Joe Ollmann is a master at blending comedy and empathy in stories about mid-life ennui. Parental legacy and family dysfunction are at the heart of his latest work, about a recently sober painter who has never achieved the level of international success enjoyed by his estranged father, a famous cartoonist best known for his strip about a loving dad-son relationship.
Conundrum Press, May
Tahltan First Nation artist Cole Pauls (Dakwäkãda Warriors) collects the first four issues of his Pizza Punks comic, plus an exclusive, hot-off-the-press fifth issue. The premise is straightforward: pizza pie and punks. Fans of the iconic music interviewer Nardwuar the Human Serviette might recognize the inspiration for Pauls’s tam-wearing, Brie-loving character, Chedwuar.
FINE PRINT: Q&Q’s Spring Preview covers books published between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2021. All information (titles, publication dates) was supplied by publishers and may have been tentative at press time. Titles that have been listed in previous previews do not appear here.