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Spring Preview 2018: Fiction

Gone girl

Claudia Dey’s first novel, Stunt, was a Q&Q Book of the Year for 2008, in addition to being shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. Dey’s highly anticipated follow-up tells the story of a woman who goes missing from a northern town, and the rag-tag cast of characters that must piece together the circumstances behind her disappearance. Heartbreaker is due from HarperCollins in April.

Figments of the imagination

Rabindranath Maharaj won the Trillium Book Award for his previous novel, 2010’s The Amazing Absorbing Boy. Maharaj is back this season with Adjacentland (Wolsak & Wynn, May), about an amnesiac who awakes in a strange facility known only as the Compound. As the administrators who run the Compound try to convince him he’s insane, the man comes to believe he’s a comic-book writer who has been robbed of his imagination.

 

Flip sides

Doppelgängers seem to be all the rage as fictional tropes these days. Michael Redhill’s novel Bellevue Square, which featured the doubling motif in the context of an eerie literary thriller, won the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize. In its wake comes the new novel from Timothy Taylor, which also takes the form of a literary thriller, and also features mysterious twins. The Rule of Stephens (Doubleday Canada, Feb.) focuses on Catherine, who miraculously survives a plane crash, and another passenger who is being haunted by a shadowy figure resembling him in every aspect. Catherine’s “rule of Stephens” – that the world more closely reflects the cosmology of Stephen Hawking than that of Stephen King – is subsequently called into question.

 

Lost innocence

Ray Robertson returns to fiction after a detour into high-end self-help (Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live) and music history (Lives of the Poets with Guitars). His new novel, called 1979 (Biblioasis, March), is about a teenager in Chatham, Ontario, who must deal with his own family trauma at the moment the world is making a hard turn to the political right.

War story

A new novel by Michael Ondaatje is certain to be big news for the author’s legion of devoted fans. Ondaatje’s previous book, The Cat’s Table, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize; anticipation is high for his follow-up, set in the years after the Second World War. Beginning in 1945 and spanning the next decade, Warlight tells the story of Nathaniel and Rachel, left behind in London after their parents decamp for Singapore. The siblings fall under the care of a mysterious figure known as the Moth, and his band of accomplices, all of whom share a murky wartime history. McClelland & Stewart will publish the new book in May.

Playing chicken

Lynn Crosbie has forged a career writing at the nexus of high culture and trash culture. She extends this fascination with her latest novel, Chicken (House of Anansi Press, May), about a priapic older actor and the cult filmmaker who falls in with him. When the actor is offered a role in the sequel to the film that made him famous, his relationship with the much younger filmmaker is severely tested.

Rain clouds

Marissa Stapley is already a bestselling author in her home country, thanks to her 2014 debut, Mating for Life. Her follow-up is currently available in Germany, where it appeared in fall 2017 as Das Glück an Regentagen. Canadian readers will have to wait until February, when S&S Canada brings out the domestic version of Things to Do When It’s Raining.

When in Rome

Tom Rachman returns with a family saga about a painter who abandons his family in 1950s Rome, and his son, who spends his life and career trying to work his way out from under his father’s shadow. The Italian Teacher is due from Doubleday Canada in March.

The rip-off artist

Tommy Marlo is a small-time thief  who makes a living by stealing people’s laptops. Tommy’s own life is placed in jeopardy when he steals from the daughter of a notorious motorcycle gang member and discovers evidence of several murders on the purloined computer. Andrew Battershill’s sophomore novel, Marry, Bang, Kill (Goose Lane Editions, March), is a hybrid of literary fiction and crime thriller.

 

Violent upheaval

Kenneth Bonert was born in Johannesburg, but now makes his residence in Toronto. He turns his gaze to his country of birth in the waning days of the Apartheid regime for his sophomore novel, The Mandela Plot (Knopf Canada, May), a family saga about a young man trying to make his way, his rough-hewn father, and the beautiful American interloper who upends the family certainties.

Cold case

Alberta-based Sharon Butala follows her 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award–nominated memoir, Where I Live Now, with a novel that dramatizes a real-life 1961 Saskatoon murder. Fiona, the protagonist of Zara’s Dead (Coteau Books, May), has spent more than 10 years futilely researching the unsolved killing of her high-school classmate. After giving up hope of ever uncovering the truth, Fiona is unceremoniously tossed back into the investigation by a mysterious envelope that arrives on her doorstep.

Nature’s bounty, nature’s wrath

After struggling with the upkeep on a working farm, the owner, Cynthia, decides to revivify the business by offering free room and board to struggling artists willing to gain life experience by doing the farm’s hard labour. As poet Silvia and painter Ibrahim find themselves drawn to one another, they also begin to suspect something is seriously amiss with Cynthia and her operation. The Honey Farm (Nimbus Publishing, April) is the debut novel by Toronto-based writer Harriet Alida Lye.

Border crossings

Being appointed to the Canadian senate is clearly not going to prevent novelist David Adams Richards from persisting in his fertile late-career literary output. Richards’s new novel broadens his focus from his long-time stomping grounds of New Brunswick’s Miramichi territory, while also remaining grounded in the political and moral intrigue that has always obsessed him. Mary Cyr (Doubleday Canada, April) opens in Mexico, with a mining disaster and the body of a teenage boy discovered in the eponymous woman’s hotel room.

Sick at heart

In his latest novel, Vancouver writer Kevin Chong – author of Beauty Plus Pity and Baroque-a-Nova – turns his attention to one of Albert Camus’s most famous works of fiction. A city is overrun by a galloping infectious disease; panic sets in and authorities quarantine the populace. A doctor, a writer, and a newspaper journalist band together in an attempt to fight the disease and salvage some measure of meaning out of apparently random suffering. Arsenal Pulp Press will publish The Plague in March.

Prime-time drama

Kim Moritsugu covers territory similar to the Lifetime series Unreal in her new novel, about a television producer and her protégé-turned-partner; conflict ensues when a new assistant is  brought on board. The Showrunner (Dundurn, June) throws back the curtain on the behind-the-scenes drama involved in producing a series TV show, while also offering a critique of generational discord among women.

 

Falling stars

It’s been two decades since Vancouver author Maureen Medved burst onto the scene with her debut novel, The Tracey Fragments (published by Anansi and made into a 2007 feature film by Bruce McDonald). Medved is back this spring with her sophomore novel, Black Star (Anvil Press, Feb.), which interrogates the exploitative elements at the nexus of sexual politics and academia.

 

Safe spaces

Sarah Henstra also tackles campus sexual politics and rape culture in her first novel for adults. The Red Word (ECW Press, March) follows a university sophomore who finds her loyalties torn between the fraternity her boyfriend attends (colloquially known on campus as “Gang Bang Central”) and the women of Raghurst, a radical feminist collective. Henstra’s novel interrogates the divisive forces on modern campuses, and examines the extremes to which ideology is prepared to take us.

 

Art history

Veteran non-fiction author Katherine Ashenburg (The Dirt on Clean; The Mourner’s Dance) turns her attention to Sweden in the first half of the 20th century for her debut novel, Sofie & Cecilia (Knopf Canada, April). The book tells the story of the title characters, wives of two internationally renowned artists (based on the real-life figures Carl Larsson and Anders Zorn). The novel takes up themes of women’s friendships, European history, and the advent of the modernist movement.

In the ascendant

From Sarah Selecky comes a first novel about female relationships and the price of chasing one’s dreams. After 20 years apart, Lilian Quick reconnects with her cousin, Florence, who has rebranded herself as Eleven Novak, head of a female empowerment consultancy. Eleven gives Lilian access to the Ascendency, a patented training program designed to help women achieve their optimal potential. But is Eleven all she appears to be? HarperCollins will publish Radiant Shimmering Light in April.

Love and marriage

Uzma Jalaluddin is known in her hometown of Toronto as a guest on the television program Cityline, where she talks about issues pertaining to the Muslim community. She also writes a regular column on the subject for the Toronto Star. This June, HarperCollins will release Jalaluddin’s debut novel, Ayesha Ever After, about a secular Muslim woman who dreams of being a spoken-word poet and falls for a conservative Muslim man.

Sex and the single girl

Toronto writer Catherine Fatima’s debut novel takes up hot-button topics such as female sexuality and internalized misogyny. Sludge Utopia (BookThug, June) is a work of auto-fiction about one woman’s struggle to define an identity for herself through the prism of a sexuality that is tainted by the forces of patriarchy and late capitalism.

The destroyer of worlds

Avant-garde poet Aaron Tucker turns his attention to the novel form with a fictionalized biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist with communist sympathies who developed the atomic bomb. Y: Oppenheimer, Horseman of Los Alamos (Coach House Books, April) uses its subject’s reading habits as a window through which to examine his conflicted life and legacy.

 

Breaking binaries

Arsenal Pulp has two debut novels from authors who challenge gender binaries and tackle issues of identity and self-definition. Casey Plett’s first novel, Little Fish (April), tells the story of a transgender woman living in Winnipeg who discovers that her devout Mennonite grandfather may also have been trans. And Oji-Cree author Joshua Whitehead follows the poetry collection full metal indigiqueer with Jonny Appleseed (April), about a cybersex worker who must return to the reservation he fled to attend his stepfather’s funeral.

The vanishing

When a pair of women disappear from a blue-collar town on the Fraser River in 1967, their fellow townspeople assume the worst, with the exception of 10-year-old Lulu Parsons, who discovers a clue as to what befell her missing mother. Mimico, Ontario, writer and designer Christine Higdon’s debut novel, The Very Marrow of Our Bones (ECW, April), traces the fallout of Lulu’s secret over the span of 50 years.

 

In translation

Kim Thúy – whose debut novel in English, Ru, was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and won the 2015 edition of CBC’s Canada Reads – is back this April with Vi (Random House Canada), a novel that returns to the author’s themes of Vietnamese refugees, identity, and love. Sheila Fischman is once again on hand to translate. Other novels in translation this season include:

  • Little Beast, Julie Demers; Rhonda Mullins, trans. (Coach House, April)
  • The Green Chamber, Martine Desjardins; Fred A. Reed and David Homel, trans. (Talonbooks, April)
  • Nirliit, Juliana Léveillé-Trudel; Anita Anand, trans.(Véhicule Press, April)
  • Hutchison Street, Abla Farhoud; Judith Weisz Woodsworth, trans. (Linda Leith Publishing, March)

Short fiction 

Johanna Skibsrud returns to the short-story form with her second collection, Tiger, Tiger, out from Hamish Hamilton in April. Some other short-fiction collections set to appear this spring are:

  • The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind, Vanessa Farnsworth(Thistledown Press, May)
  • Things Are Good Now, Djamila Ibrahim (Anansi, Feb.)
  • Hider/Seeker, Jen Currin (Anvil, March)
  • Blue River and Red Earth, Stephen Henighan (Cormorant Books, March)

Shakespeare, revised

There has been a great deal of talk about cultural appropriation over the past year, but the focus of that conversation doesn’t usually allow for the possibility of colonized cultures turning the tables on their colonizers. Innovative Vancouver Island poet Sonnet L’Abbé addresses this in her latest collection, Sonnet’s Shakespeare (M&S, March), which uses erasure to “occupy” the space taken up by each one of the Bard’s 154 sonnets, speaking over and metaphorically “colonizing” them with her own words and themes.

 

Sitting practice

“When I say I’m fine I mean the sky has opened / like an old wound under scurvy,” writes Robin Richardson, simultaneously pointing to the hurt inflicted on women in modern culture and employing an intentionally historical reference to indicate the way these hurts persist through time. The Toronto poet’s third collection, Sit How You Want (Véhicule, April), examines the commingled terror, anxiety, and power struggles that accrue to being a woman in an inimical world.

Warrior woman

Nehiyaw poet Louise Bernice Halfe, whose name in Cree translates to “Sky Dancer,” won the 2017 Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize for her body of work to date. Those books address the author’s experiences in a residential school, along with other issues germane to Indigenous life in Canada. Poems from across Halfe’s career are collected in the Wilfrid Laurier Press volume, Sohkeyihta: The Poetry of Sky Dancer Louise Bernice Halfe, out in May with an introduction by David Gaertner.

 

Notes and queries

Ottawa-based Cameron Anstee is the publisher of Apt. 9 Press and the editor of The Collected Poems of William Hawkins. Anstee applies his own minimalist approach to his debut collection, which includes a combination of lyrics, erasure poems, lists, and concrete poetry. Short but never slight, the poems in Book of Annotations (Invisible Publishing, April) are deeply engaged with poetic history.

Acadian days

Herménégilde Chiasson, former Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, is generally considered one of Acadia’s most important writers, in part for his 1974 poetry collection Mourir à Scoudouc. Though a number of poems have been widely anthologized, the collection as a whole has never been translated into English. Goose Lane, along with translator Jo-Anne Elder, seek to rectify this in April, when they publish To Live and Die in Scoudouc.

In transmission

Dani Couture’s poems have consistently navigated the innermost spaces of the human condition, searching for fractures and bruises and sore spots, but always with an underlying compassion and empathy. Couture has been rewarded for her efforts with a Dayne Ogilvie Prize honour of distinction and a nomination for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. She brings her unsparing eye and unsentimental approach to her new book, Listen Before Transmit (Wolsak & Wynn, March).

STEM poetry

Alice Major is Edmonton’s inaugural poet laureate. She is also the author of 11 books that take up subjects surrounding science, math, and associated disciplines as a means of interrogating humanity’s ontological nature. Her new book, Welcome to the Anthropocene (University of Alberta Press, Feb.), adds a note of urgency to these questions by associating them with the impending catastrophe of climate change, and questioning the centrality of human activity in the universe.

Being and belonging

Carol Rose Daniels, the author of the novel Bearskin Diary, casts her eye on the infamous Sixties Scoop in her new collection of poetry. Hiraeth (Inanna Publications, April) focuses on Indigenous and Métis women and girls affected by the Canadian government’s policy of relocating Indigenous children in the 1960s. The title is a Celtic word that refers to a search for a place of belonging that does not exist

 

International

Alan Hollinghurst, long considered one of the U.K.’s pre-eminent prose stylists, returns with his first novel since The Stranger’s Child (2011). The Sparsholt Affair (Knopf Canada, March) is an epic examination of masculinity and art in England from the 1940s through the present.

Two-time Man Booker Prize winner Peter Carey returns in February with a new novel, A Long Way from Home (Random House Canada).

South Korean writer Han Kang won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for her acclaimed novel, The Vegetarian. Kang’s third novel in English, The White Book (Portobello Books/Publishers Group Canada), is out in January. Kang’s work is once again translated by Deborah Smith.

Bestselling author Minette Walters takes a left turn into historical fiction in her new book, The Last Hours (HarperCollins, April), which focuses on 14th-century England during the Black Plague.

The Hogarth Shakespeare series extends its reach with a modern-day spin on one of the Bard’s greatest tragedies. In Macbeth (Knopf Canada, April), Jo Nesbo turns the title character into a paranoid, power-hungry cop who might just kill to advance his career.

Acclaimed U.S. short-story writer Jamie Quatro has a debut novel out from Anansi this January. Fire Sermon is a narratively complex examination of modern marriage.