Notable novels, story collections, and poetry for the coming season
Alissa York has worn many different hats in her life thus far: she has been a waitress, a florist, a bookseller, and, with her husband, Clive Holden, a publisher. Her varied experience has given her a keen eye for human foibles and an affection for characters who are unafraid of expressing their emotions: “I’m drawn to writing about people with their insides showing,” York has said. It has paid off: in 2007, York’s sophomore novel, Effigy, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. April sees the publication of the author’s fourth full-length work of fiction, The Naturalist (Random House Canada), about the son of a famed explorer who voyages from Philadelphia to the Amazon in 1867.
Internationally best-selling author Guy Gavriel Kay turns his attention from China – an alternate historical version of which provided the backdrop for his previous two novels, Under Heaven and River of Stars – to Renaissance Europe for his latest sweeping work. Children of Earth and Sky (Viking Canada) takes up the stories of three intertwined characters: a woman seeking vengeance for her family; an artist dispatched to paint a portrait of a grand khalif; and a woman spy posing as the wife of a doctor.
Playwright and novelist Cordelia Strube is known for her scabrous wit and the toughness of her prose. She has been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language Fiction, the ReLit Award (three times), and the Trillium Book Award. On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light, about an 11-year-old art prodigy who is much more sophisticated than the adults who surround her, is Strube’s first book with her new publisher, ECW Press.
The big three
• Vancouver expat turned Quebecer Madeleine Thien has garnered accolades (and readers) for her first two works of long-form fiction, 2006’s Certainty and its 2011 follow-up, Dogs at the Perimeter. Thien returns this May with a new novel and a new publisher, making a lateral move from McClelland & Stewart to Knopf Canada. Do Not Say We Have Nothing is set in China around the time of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
• Richard B. Wright’s 2001 novel, Clara Callan, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Trillium Book Award. The woman who published that title at HarperCollins, Phyllis Bruce, is now at Simon & Schuster Canada, where she has (unsuprisingly) brought her star author along with her. Wright’s new book, Nightfall (a sort-of sequel to his 2007 work, October), follows last fall’s writing memoir, A Life with Words.
• When David Adams Richards embarked on his writing career in 1974, he was dismissed as a regional writer. Despite remaining focused on a small community living on and around New Brunswick’s Miramichi River, Richards has carved out a niche as one of Canada’s most acclaimed and respected novelists. His latest, Principles to Live By (Doubleday Canada), is the first book in what we are told will be the author’s final trilogy.
Keep it short
• Alice Petersen, a native of New Zealand who now lives in Montreal, garnered comparisons to Munro for her first collection, All the Voices Cry. Her follow-up, Worldly Goods, is also published by Biblioasis, which continues to be on the forefront of short-fiction publishing in this country.
• Biblioasis also continues to take chances on promising debut writers. Last fall the publisher hit it out of the park with Kevin Hardcastle’s hard-boiled first collection, Debris; this season it’s looking for a repeat of that success with Kris Bertin’s Bad Things Happen, about a series of characters at transitional moments in their lives.
• Newfoundland author Chad Pelley’s first novel, Away from Everywhere, was adapted into a film starring Jason Priestley. This March, Breakwater will release Pelley’s debut collection of short fiction, Four-Letter Words. The words alluded to in the title are mostly SFW: love, lust, hate, and loss.
• The first collection from Toronto writer Kelley Aitken, Love in a Warm Climate, was nominated for a Commonwealth Prize for best first book (Canada/Caribbean Region). Her follow-up, Canadian Shield (Tightrope Books), is a suite of stories that examines the nexus between nature and human nature.
• Martin West’s stories set in and around the Alberta badlands have twice been included in the prestigious Journey Prize anthology. West’s debut collection, Cretacea and Other Stories from the Badlands, is due out in May from Vancouver’s Anvil Press.
• John Goldbach’s debut novel, The Devil and the Detective, channelled Dashiell Hammett by way of Samuel Beckett. This spring, Coach House Books releases Goldbach’s sophomore story collection, which promises more of the same generic weirdness. It Is an Honest Ghost features six stories and a novella, and focuses on philosophical teenagers, the man who brough electricity to Quebec, and a journalist who suffers a breakdown of consciousness while on a trip to Kenya.
• Kingston, Ontario, writer Kirsteen MacLeod’s debut collection, The Animal Game (Tightrope), focuses on people finding their essential selves, often in exotic or unexpected places.
• It sometimes feels as though multinationals have abandoned the field where Canadian short fiction is concerned, so it is nice to see Penguin Random House imprint McClelland & Stewart with a short-story collection on the horizon. David Szalay’s All That Man Is appears in May, and is being compared to writers as diverse as Neil Smith, John Cheever, and Milan Kundera.
• The March Hare Festival began in the late 1980s as a poetry festival based in Atlantic Canada; it has since expanded to include other genres of storytelling and now tours as far afield as Toronto and New York. A perennial favourite at the Hare is storyteller Paul Dean, whose collection Come on with the Punt: March Hare Stories is due out from Pedlar Press – appropriately – in March.
House of Anansi Press continues to support short fiction writers in Canada through its Astoria line. Inaugurated in 2013, the imprint has already published collections by Greg Hollingshead and Peter Behrens, and a Scotiabank Giller Prize winner by Lynn Coady. This spring, the publisher extends its commitment to the form with three works of short fiction from past and present.
→ Double Dutch, the debut collection from Victoria, B.C., author Laura Trunkey, is a group of stories that alternate between fantasy and reality.
→ The latest title in Anansi’s A-List series is a reprinting of the 1967 collection Death Goes Better with Coca-Cola, by Anansi co-founder Dave Godfrey, who died in 2015.
When we think of folk tales, we usually think of European origins, but Canada also had its answer to the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Cyrus Macmillan, a Canadian academic and politician, collected a group of fables culled from oral history for the 1918 book Canadian Wonder Tales, a volume that has been largely forgotten by readers. Invisible Publishing seeks to rectify that oversight this May, when it will reprint Macmillan’s work as the inaugural title in its Throwback Books series.
The new face of fiction
Knopf Canada’s New Face of Fiction program has been responsible for debut novels by some of Canada’s best-loved contemporary writers, including Yann Martel and Ann-Marie MacDonald. This year, the series spotlights Toronto author Lynne Kutsukake, whose first novel, The Translation of Love, is set in postwar Tokyo and follows a repatriated girl who aids her classmate in the search for her missing sister.
The new (?) face of fiction
Gary Barwin may be new to the novel form, but his name will be recognizable by anyone who has read his poetry or his story collection I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist 251–1457. Barwin’s first novel, Yiddish for Pirates (Random House Canada), shuttles between modern-day Florida and Spain during the Inquisition to provide revisionist takes on classic pirate tales. Oh, and it’s narrated by a 500-year-old parrot.
Fabulous and peculiar
Now 81, Leon Rooke has staked out a place at the forefront of Canadian fiction for his linguistic flare and playful adaptations of various forms and genres, from novels and stories to poetry and drama. His new work, Fabulous Fictions and Peculiar Practices (The Porcupine’s Quill), is a satire focusing on mainstream culture’s indifference to the work of creative artists. The book is an amalgam of text and image, with art by Tony Calzetta.
St. John’s author Kevin Major has published widely, in numerous genres, for both adults and children. (In the latter capacity, he won the Vicky Metcalf Award for a body of work in 1992.) His new historical novel, Found Far and Wide (Breakwater Books), traces protagonist Sam Kennedy through a tumultuous period in the early 20th century, including the First World War and Prohibition.
Robert J. Sawyer has arguably the greatest claim to being Canada’s godfather of science fiction. He’s back this spring with a new thriller, Quantum Night (Penguin Canada), about a psychologist who has developed a foolproof method for identifying psychopaths. When he reunites with a long-lost girlfriend, the two embark on a race to change human nature in an effort to prevent the world from being engulfed in chaos.
Fine fiction from Freehand
Calgary’s Freehand Books continues its tradition of publishing strong works of contemporary fiction. Spring 2016 has two novels and a novella:
• Middenrammers by John Bart, a novel about a young U.K. doctor in the 1970s.
• White Elephant by Catherine Cooper, about a family who abandons their home for the uncertainty of Sierra Leone.
• Perfect World by Ian Colford, a novella by the author of 2012’s The Crimes of
Thrills and chills
Genre thrillers continue to be a huge draw for readers. This season sees at least four new works from masters of the form.
• She’s Not There, Joy Fielding (Doubleday Canada)
• Far from True, Linwood Barclay (Doubleday Canada)
• What’s Left Behind, Gail Bowen (M&S)
• Mannheim Rex, Rob Pobi (S&S Canada)
Novels to watch
• Lydia Perovic’s debut novel, Incidental Music, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in 2013. She follows that up with All That Sang (Véhicule Press), a novel about obsession, creativity, and the power of music.
• Amy Jones won the 2008 Metcalf-Rooke Award for her debut story collection, What Boys Like. Her eagerly awaited debut novel, We’re All in This Together, is out this June from M&S.
• Another debut novel that is being highly touted is Susan Perly’s Death Valley, one of the lead spring titles from Buckrider Books, which describes it as a work of “hallucinogenic realism.”
• Jacob Wren follows up his highly touted 2014 novel Polyamorous Love Song with a new work, Rich and Poor (BookThug), about an immigrant pianist working as a dishwasher who enacts a plan “to get rid of the one per cent.”
• Nora Gold’s previous novel, Field of Exile, took up the fraught subject of Israeli-Palestinian politics. Her latest, The Dead Man (Inanna Publications), tells the story of a composer’s enduring obsession with a music critic with whom she had a brief affair five years earlier.
• Italian-born author Michael Mirolla’s latest novel, Torp – out this April from Linda Leith Publishing – is a sexually charged story set against the turbulent backdrop of 1970s Vancouver.
• Dan Vyleta’s latest novel, Smoke (HarperCollins), is set at an alternate version of Oxford in a past where, among other things, sin is visible to all as a physical attribute.
• Christy Ann Conlin’s sophomore novel, The Memento (Doubleday Canada), is a gothic tale of familial madness and murder set on the Bay of Fundy.
• Andrew F. Sullivan follows his debut story collection, All We Want Is Everything, with the publication of his debut novel, Waste (Dzanc Books/PGC Canada).
→ In addition to short fiction, Biblioasis is devoted to another frequently ignored genre: fiction in translation. One of the best translators in the country, Lazer Lederhendler, has rendered Catherine Leroux’s second novel, Marche en forêt, into English as The Party Wall.
→ The English-language translation of Daniel Poliquin’s novel A Secret Between Us was shortlisted for the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Wayne Grady has now translated Poliquin’s 2015 Trillium Book Prize–nominated novel Le Vol de l’ange, which recalls a time when impoverished children and the elderly were auctioned off into indentured servitude. Goose Lane Editions brings out The Angel’s Jig in April.
→ Nigel Spencer has won three Governor General’s Literary Awards for translating the work of the iconic Quebec novelist Marie-Claire Blais. This fruitful collaboration gets extended this June, when Anansi publishes The Acacia Gardens, which takes up existential questions about life, death, and what lies beyond.
→ Aude is the pseudonym of Charlotte Charbonneau-Tissot, who won the Governor General’s Award for French-language Fiction for her 1997 story collection Cet imperceptible mouvement. Exile Editions, which has brought out three previous translations of Aude’s work, will publish the author’s latest speculative fiction collection, Fragments of Place, in May. The book is translated by David Homel.
→ Neil Smith is best known to English-language readers as the author of the story collection Bang Crunch and the novel Boo. He dons a translator’s hat to work with debut novelist Genviève Pettersen on the English version of her coming-of-age story, The Goddess of Fireflies (Véhicule).
→ Innu author Natasha Kanapé Fontaine is a slam poet and comedian based in Montreal. Her poetry collection, Assi Manifesto, is a celebration of Innu land, women, and public space. Mawenzi House will bring out Howard Scott’s English translation in May.
Three from Thistledown
• Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015; as it embarks on its fifth decade of publishing high-quality literary fiction and poetry it shows no signs of slowing down. Here are three provocative titles from the press’s spring list.
• Hamburger by Daniel Perry, a collection of short fiction that mines contemporary sexual mores and relationships for its material.
• Wind Leaves Absence by Mary Maxwell, a sophomore poetry collection about the pangs of loss and the process of grieving deceased family members.
• A Map in My Blood by Carla Braidek, a collection of formalist poetry on the subject of modern womanhood.
• If there is one group that still gets overlooked in much Canadian fiction, it is the lower echelons of the working class: servers in restaurants, clerks in grocery stores, and the people who clean hotel rooms, among other often forgotten labourers. This group gets its due in two new novels this season.
• Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, the debut novel from Ann Y.K. Choi, out this spring from S&S Canada, tells the story of a family of Korean immigrants in the 1980s, set against the backdrop of the titular variety store.
• Nathan Whitlock’s sophomore novel, Congratulations on Everything (ECW), focuses on the relationship between a middle-aged owner of a bar and his 30ish lunch-shift waitress.
Historical fiction remains a dominant force in CanLit, and this spring is no exception. Here are five books that cast their glances back to our collective past for material.
1. Black Apple, Joan Crate (S&S Canada)
2. The Ballroom, Anna Hope (M&S)
3. Becoming Lin, Tricia Dower (Caitlin Press)
4. Scattered Bones, Maggie Siggins (Coteau Books)
5. This Marlowe, Michelle Butler Hallett (Goose Lane)
Novels in verse have become ubiquitous to the point of cliché among works for young adults, but they are fewer on the ground where books for grownups are concerned. Toronto-based author Ken Sparling seeks to redress this with his latest, This Poem Is a House (Coach House), a verse novel about a relationship between two characters identified as a boy and a girl.
Cormorant flying high
Darren Greer, the ridiculously talented author of Still Life with June and 2014’s criminally underappreciated Just Beneath My Skin, returns this spring with a new novel, Advocate.
The late Eric Wright’s final novel receives posthumous publication this season. The Land Mine is set in London at the height of the Second World War.
Governor General’s Literary Award winner Tim Lilburn returns with a new collection of poetry that blends ontological investigations with humour and weirdness (and, one expects, at least one salmon). The Names is out from M&S in March.
Two upcoming collections from established poets combine linguistic pyrotechnics with a keen emotional sensitivity and a penchant for eschewing capital letters in their titles. Dennis Cooley’s departures (Turnstone Press) is about mortality, the things that bind us together, and the hidden meanings in the world. And fart jokes. Stuart Ross’s latest, A sparrow came down resplendent (Buckrider), investigates the complexities of relationships among family members, friends, and mentors in a highly intimate manner.
Phil Hall has been on a roll since winning the Trillium Book Award and a Governor General’s Literary Award for his 2011 collection Killdeer. He’s back this spring with his fourth book in three years (counting the Wilfrid Laurier Press selected volume Guthrie Clothing). Conjugation is published by BookThug. Speaking of Wilfrid Laurier, the university press is focusing its attention on Montreal poet and academic Sina Queyras this season, which sees the appearance of the Erin Wunker–edited Barking and Biting: The Poetry of Sina Queyras.
In 2015, Brick Books rereleased Michael Crummey’s collection Hard Light as part of its 40th anniversary Brick Classics series, and the author was named the recipient of the inaugural $50,000 Writers’ Trust Fellowship. In spring 2016, Anansi will bring out the self-explanatory Little Dogs: New and Selected Poems.
Brick Books enters its fifth decade with a continued fidelity to poetry from veterans and newcomers. On the former front, the publisher is unveiling Sue Sinclair’s latest collection of lyrics, Heaven’s Thieves, in May.
1. Alexandra Oliver’s debut collection, Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway, won the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Her second collection, Let the Empire Down, is out this April with Biblioasis.
2. Let’s hope that Jacob McArthur Mooney ignores the advice in the title of his latest collection, Don’t Be Interesting (M&S).
3. Seattle-based Canadian author Kim Fu scored big with her debut novel, 2014’s For Today I Am a Boy. She returns with a first collection of poetry, How Festive the Ambulance (Nightwood Editions).
4. Nightwood is also bringing out the first book of poetry by Saskatchewan short-story writer Lisa Bird-Wilson. The Red Files takes up the subject of Canada’s sorry history of residential schools.
5. Anne Fleming follows her innovative 2012 story collection Gay Dwarves of America with a book of verse titled poemw (Pedlar), a collection of “approxi-lyrics.”
Stephen King completes the trilogy begun with Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers with the appropriately titled End of Watch (Scribner/S&S).
Mark Haddon seems cursed to be forever known as the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. His new book is unlikely to change that, though it represents an interesting shift in course for the writer. Pier Falls and Other Stories is a collection of short fiction published by Doubleday.
Two more additions to the Hogarth Shakespeare series of modern retellings are on tap this spring. In Shylock Is My Name, Man Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson reimagines The Merchant of Venice. Anne Tyler reassesses The Taming of the Shrew in Vinegar Girl. Both are published domestically by Knopf Canada.
Fresh off her stint as one of the jurors for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Helen Oyeyemi is back with a new story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Penguin Canada).
Two former Man Booker Prize winners have new novels this season. Julian Barnes’s The Noise of Time focuses on noted Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich. Graham Swift’s latest novel, Mothering Sunday, is a romance. Both are published by Random House Canada.
Q&Q’s spring preview covers books published between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2016. 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.