Q&Q editors Steven W. Beattie and Sue Carter reveal some of their favourite releases of 2016
Anosh Irani, who grew up near the red-light district in Mumbai, employs first-hand observations for his story about a retired hijra named Madhu – born an effeminate male before being ritualistically castrated at the age of 12 – tasked with preparing a preteen girl sold into a brothel. While The Parcel is unflinching in its depiction of the violence and poverty that has plagued the district and its residents for generations, Madhu’s hopefulness and strength, and Irani’s beautiful language, maintain the book’s inner light. –S.C.
We’re All In This Together
McClelland & Stewart
Amy Jones’s award-winning story collection, What Boys Like, was notable for its humorous edge, which she effortlessly draws into her engaging debut novel, set in Thunder Bay. While the premise, which charts the aftermath of a grandmother’s decision to ride Kakabeka Falls in a whisky barrel, may seem implausible at first, Jones’s depiction of dysfunctional family relationships is sensitive and nuanced, never cloying. –S.C.
George Elliott Clarke
when George Elliott Clarke’s father died in 2005, the loss hit much harder than he anticipated. It took the author-poet several months before he felt ready to open his dad’s journal. Written in 1959, the year Clarke was conceived, the diary laid bare the lady- and bike-loving man the author never knew. It was this figure who became the inspiration for The Motorcyclist’s conflicted protagonist, whose desire for a bohemian life remains just out of reach. Clarke’s musical prose has a throbbing cadence reminiscent of an engine’s purr, and his depiction of life for a black man living in the racially divided 1950s East Coast rings with truth, and resonates today. –S.C.
House of Anansi Press
In-Between Days collects illustrations and essays that Teva Harrison began compiling following a diagnosis, at the age of 37, of metastatic breast cancer. Harrison openly shares her inner doubts, joys, and pain – not as a hero but as a human. That she does so makes this one of the most powerful memoirs on the subject. –S.C.
Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality
Coach House Books
Sarah Barmak sheds light on a tough and often misunderstood topic. This thin volume on female sexuality asks big questions, and opens up a point of discussion rarely taken so seriously or with personal curiosity. –S.C.
The Witch of the Inner Wood: Collected Long Poems
M. Travis Lane
Goose Lane Editions
The long poem suffers much the same fate as the novella: readers treat the form with distrust or outright derision and publishers consequently eschew it. M. Travis Lane, who has never received her due as a Canadian versifier, is one of the country’s masters of the form, and this new retrospective is a welcome testament to the reasons why. Displaying Lane’s stature as an early proponent of eco-poetry and running the gamut from traditional lyrics to sprung rhythms that resemble Emily Dickinson, this collection should by rights win the poet an entirely new, wholly appreciative audience. –S.B.
All That Man Is
McClelland & Stewart
Some argue that David Szalay, whose family decamped for the U.K. when the future writer was all of one year old, should not qualify as a Canadian author. It is nonetheless the case that the Montreal-born writer, whose latest volume was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, has written one of the year’s most subtly powerful works of fiction. A suite of linked stories tracing the stages of masculinity from adolescence through old age, Szalay’s bravura style and rigorous avoidance of cliché or sentimentality mark him as a worthy successor to Martin Amis and Milan Kundera. –S.B.
The Two of Us
Following her 2014 collection of fantastical tales, Paradise and Elsewhere, Kathy Page’s newest story collection is notable first as a demonstration of the author’s remarkable versatility. But The Two of Us stands on its own merits: a group of emotionally resonant, poignant examinations of life and love and – most piercingly – death. Page is a highly skilled miniaturist, capable of pulling off powerful effects by way of simple (though never simplistic) prose and a keen eye for human fallibility and ambiguity. –S.B.
Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush
Kerry Lee Powell
Kerry Lee Powell’s debut story collection is one of the year’s indisputable powerhouses. Powell’s stories, which focus on vulnerable characters battling anomie, indifference, and misunderstanding, are distinguished by sinewy, concentrated writing packed with meaning and implication. Others agree: Powell’s book was the only one to be nominated for all three of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction. –S.B.
The Black Coat
Periscope/Publishers Group Canada
Edmonton playwright Neamat Imam’s debut novel – about a Bangladeshi journalist in the early 1970s who hatches a money-making scheme that involves using a double of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to enflame nationalist passion – prefigures and recontextualizes the cult of personality around Donald Trump’s candidacy in this year’s U.S. presidential election. But even without this real-world resonance, Imam’s novel would be praiseworthy as that true rarity of CanLit: an authentic and scabrous work of political satire. –S.B.
Looking for book recommendations? Try a local librarian, or better yet, a large group of librarians. This year, BookNet Canada partnered with library professionals across the country on its Loan Stars project, a crowdsourced list of popular forthcoming titles.
Here are top Canadian titles for each month since the program launched in April, as voted on by library staffers:
- Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien (Knopf Canada)
- The Acacia Gardens, Marie-Claire Blais and Nigel Spencer, trans. (House of Anansi Press)
- By Gaslight, Steven Price (McClelland & Stewart)
- The Parcel, Anosh Irani (Knopf Canada)
- Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood (Knopf Canada)
- The Twenty-Three, Linwood Barclay (Doubleday Canada)