A quartet of major novels from literary heavy-hitters:
State of confusion
Pasha Malla’s debut, the 2008 short-fiction collection The Withdrawal Method, won the Trillium Book Award. His debut novel, 2012’s People Park, was nominated for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. Malla’s new novel is Fugue States (Knopf Canada), about a Kashmiri immigrant to Canada who wants to learn about his late father’s history; when he finds he can’t bring himself to make the voyage back to his birthplace, his pot-smoking friend Matt goes in his place. Malla’s novel is a timely tragicomedy about western intervention in areas of political turmoil.
Kind of blue
Toronto-born author Elise Levine, who heads the creative-writing master’s program at Johns Hopkins University, hasn’t published a work of fiction since the 2005 novel Requests and Dedications. She is back this season with Blue Field, about a grieving woman who undertakes increasingly risky behaviour in an attempt to access deeper wells of feeling. Levine’s publisher, Biblioasis, is comparing the new novel to the work of Mary Gaitskill.
Blood and belonging
Acclaimed poet, short-story writer, and novelist Steven Heighton adapts E.M. Forster’s dictum “only connect” to the equally direct instruction “simply belong.” In his latest work of full-length fiction, The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep (Hamish Hamilton Canada), Heighton’s protagonist experiences tragedy while serving in the army in Afghanistan. After retreating to Cyprus to recover, he becomes involved with a Turkish journalist, a corrupt colonel, and an enigmatic woman.
It’s been a decade since Barbara Gowdy published her last novel, Helpless, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award. Fans of Gowdy’s biting, off-kilter sensibility have been hankering for new fiction. The extended waiting period is over: Gowdy returns in April with a new novel, Little Sister (Patrick Crean Editions), about a woman simultaneously struggling to aid another woman, whom she has never met, and coping with feelings of responsibility for a death in the past.
A pair of notable new novels ride the line between thrillers and literary fare this spring. Acclaimed short-story writer Rebecca Rosenblum’s debut novel, So Much Love, appears in March from McClelland & Stewart. Combining elements of Room and The Lovely Bones, the book tells the story of a woman who disappears without a trace, and details her resiliency in the aftermath of her escape. • Toronto author Nicole Lundrigan follows her 2013 novel, The Widow Tree, with a book about the fallout from a middle-school teacher befriending a student. The Substitute, which House of Anansi Press will publish in June, is being compared to The Girl on the Train and We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Other thrillers and mysteries of note:
- The Futures, Anna Pitoniak (Lee Boudreaux Books)
- Death in a Darkening Mist, Iona Wishaw (Touchwood Editions)
- A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, Steve Burrows (Dundurn)
- Rocks Beat Paper, Mike Knowles (ECW Press)
Then and now
Never let it be said that Claire Cameron doesn’t take chances in her novels. She follows her 2014 bestseller, The Bear, told in large part from the perspective of a child whose parents have been mauled to death by the titular ursine, with The Last Neanderthal (Doubleday Canada). The new work is set partially in the present, and partially 40,000 years in the past, when a young woman, Girl, is forced to care for a foundling called Runt.
Lovers and other strangers
Three new releases push at the boundaries of the nuclear family and interrogate the nature of love and sexual attraction. In Karen Connelly’s new novel, The Change Room (Random House Canada), a happily married woman embarks on a lesbian affair with someone she meets at her swim club. • Debut novelist Zoey Leigh Peterson examines polyamory in her book Next Year, For Sure (Doubleday Canada). • The daughter of Russian expats in London finds herself becoming attracted to her adopted brother in Emma Richler’s new novel, Be My Wolff (Knopf Canada).
New and notable novels from veteran writers:
♦ Men Walking on Water, Emily Schultz (Knopf Canada)
♦ The Lost Diaries of Susanna Moodie, Cecily Ross (Harper-Avenue)
♦ Mr. Singh Among the Fugitives, Stephen Henighan (Linda Leith Publishers)
♦ You Are Not Needed Now, Annette Lapointe (Anvil Press)
♦ One Brother Shy, Terry Fallis (M&S)
♦ Small Claims, Andrew Kaufman (Invisible Publishing)
Harriet the Spy grows up
49th Shelf editor Kerry Clare’s debut novel, Mitzi Bytes (HarperCollins), is being described as “a grown-up Harriet the Spy for the digital age.” The novel’s protagonist, a happily married woman, finds her life unravelling when an anonymous online correspondent threatens to reveal her double identity as the eponymous blogger.
Talkin’ ’bout a revolution
Nightwood Editions is set to publish a book about the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Ahmad Danny Ramadan’s The Clothesline Swing tells the epic story of two lovers in Syria who face down the political uncertainty of the era while also suffering persecution for their homosexuality.
Going for gold
David Carpenter returns to fiction this May, with a new historical novel. An adventure story about an English expat who travels to the north of Canada in search of treasure and becomes stranded in the Arctic, The Gold will be published by Coteau Books.
Two novels play with the tropes of gothic literature. Andrew Pyper’s newest, The Only Child (Simon & Schuster Canada), is a riff on the three major works of gothic horror: Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. • Suzette Mayr follows her novel Monoceros with a story of academia that takes place in a sentient, and malevolent, institution. Coach House Books will publish Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall in April.
CanLit stereotypes would have us believe that Canadian fiction is all about windswept Prairie homesteads and the rigours of rural existence. But our writers can and do grapple with the urban experience in any number of ways. Some examples from the forthcoming season:
- Catherine Hernandez’s novel Scarborough (Arsenal Pulp Press) focuses on the inner-city lives of residents in the eponymous east-Toronto area.
- In Sun of a Distant Land (Esplanade Books), David Bouchet tells the story of a 12-year-old Senegalese immigrant to Montreal who tries to fit into the city’s predominantly white society. Claire Holden Rothman translates.
- Listening for Jupiter (QC Fiction), written by Pierre-Luc Landry and translated by Madeleine Stratford and Arielle Aaronson, straddles the settings of Montreal and Toronto.
- Novelist (and frequent Q&Q reviewer) Mark Sampson returns with a story about a professor who gets into trouble when a video clip of him speaking goes viral. The Slip is published by Dundurn.
- Grace O’Connell’s sophomore novel, Be Ready for the Lightning (Random House Canada), is about a Vancouver expat in New York City who becomes a hostage in a bus hijacking.
- Terry Watada’s second novel, The Three Pleasures (Anvil Press), set in Vancouver in the 1940s, focuses on a group of Japanese Canadians in the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing.
- Skeet Love (Breakwater Books), by Craig Francis Power, is a speculative, Toronto-set novel that’s being compared to Martin Amis and Irvine Welsh.
Aisha Sasha John follows her 2014 title, Thou (nominated for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry), with a new collection called I have to live (M&S). • M&S also has Roo Borson’s latest collection, Cardinal in the Eastern White Cedar, which continues the eco-poet’s practice of blending lyricism and nature. • Gary Barwin returns from his Scotiabank Giller Prize–nominated foray into novels with his latest poetry collection, No TV for Woodpeckers (Buckrider Books). • Buckrider features the latest collection from New Westminster–based Catherine Owen. Dear Ghost is out in April. • Shane Neilson tackles mental illness in Dysphoria, his latest collection for The Porcupine’s Quill. • Kate Cayley won the 2015 Trillium Book Award for her story collection, How You Were Born. Brick Books will publish Cayley’s latest collection of poetry, Other Houses, in May. • Following her acclaimed debut, The Id Kid, Linda Besner returns with a group of synaesthesia poems that promises to make readers Feel Happier in Nine Seconds (Coach House). • City of St. John’s poet laureate George Murray is back with a new collection of aphorisms from ECW. Quick follows Murray’s 2010 foray into the form, Glimpse. • The unstoppable Lorna Crozier returns with a new book of poetry, What the Soul Doesn’t Want (Freehand Books).
More notable poetry:
- How to Dance in this Rarefied Air, Rienzi Crusz (Mawenzi House)
- Otolith, Emily Nilsen (ice house poetry)
- Certain Details: The Poetry of Nelson Ball, selected and introduced by Stuart Ross (Wilfrid Laurier University Press)
- The Essential Jay Macpherson, selected by Melissa Dalgleish (TPQ)
- The Analyst, Molly Peacock (Biblioasis)
- Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes, Jennifer LoveGrove (BookThug)
- Auguries, Clea Young (Brick)
The Grand master
Dennis Lee is that rarity in Canadian poetry: a household name. His verse for children and adults has been delighting and challenging readers for more than five decades. This spring, Anansi is producing the first-ever volume of Lee’s collected poems, spanning the writer’s entire career. Heart Residence: Collected Poems 1967–2017 is set to appear in April.
Speculative fiction continues to capture the imagination of readers, and this spring offers a handful of titles that promise to satisfy:
- Debut novelist Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays (Doubleday Canada) is a time-travel story about a character who lives in the 2016 we were all promised, with flying cars, food that never spoils, and a colony on the moon. But he gets bounced into an alternate 2016 that is much more retrograde (i.e. the one we all actually live in).
- Veteran spec-fic author Cory Doctorow’s latest is Walkaway (Tor Books), about a broken society in which people drop out of a superfluous social system and the ultra-rich have found a way to cheat death.
- Peter Unwin returns with his first work of fiction since the 2013 story collection Life Without Death. The new book, Searching for Petronius Totem (Freehand), is a satire about a disappeared memoirist and a sinister multinational corporation bent on world domination. It also has flying robot chickens.
- American War (M&S), Omar El Akkad’s novel of a second American Civil War, is set in the year 2074, and was written prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It has gone from being dystopian fiction to a work of historical naturalism before it’s even published.
Short and sweet
Here are seven short-fiction collections to watch out for this spring:
The final book from the late W.P. Kinsella is a collection of linked stories entitled Russian Dolls: Stories from the Breathing Castle (Coteau). ♦ Lori McNulty’s story “Monsoon Season” was nominated for the 2014 McClelland & Stewart/Writers’ Trust Journey Prize. It’s one of the stories included in the author’s debut collection, Life on Mars (Goose Lane Editions). ♦ Richard Rosenbaum follows up his non-fiction examination of the pop phenom Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with Things Don’t Break (Tightrope Books), a collection of short stories that range from traditional to experimental. ♦ Exile Editions’s latest instalment in their Anthology Series examines the greatest existential crisis the human race has faced in its history. The Goethe Glass: Short Fiction as Perspectives on Climate Change is edited by Bruce Meyer. ♦ Noted indigenous author Leanne Betasamosake Simpson returns with a new collection of stories and songs from Anansi. This Accident of Being Lost is out in April. ♦ Lesley Trites’s debut collection, A Three-Tiered Pastel Dream (Esplanade), is a suite of stories about contemporary women. ♦ Daniel Zomparelli sums up what we’re all thinking in the title of his latest: Everything Is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person (Arsenal Pulp).
Hamish Hamilton shorts
Among the multinationals, Hamish Hamilton Canada has always seemed the one most committed to the short-fiction form, and this season they have two big new collections on tap. Alison MacLeod follows her Man Booker Prize–nominated novel, Unexploded, with a new collection, All the Beloved Ghosts. • Deborah Willis made a splash with her acclaimed 2009 debut, Vanishing and Other Stories. She’s back this spring with her long-awaited follow-up, The Dark and Other Love Stories.
Canadian authors are setting their sights on international locations for a number of spring releases.
Michael Kaan’s debut novel, The Water Beetles (Goose Lane), tells the story of a young boy from Hong Kong who is evacuated from his home after the Japanese invade during the Second World War.
In Joanna Goodman’s novel The Finishing School (HarperCollins), a writer returns to the elite Swiss boarding school she attended years earlier to get to the bottom of a mystery that has haunted her.
Q&Q reviewer Ami Sands Brodoff returns with In Many Waters (Inanna Publications), a novel set in Malta that deals with the world’s ongoing refugee crisis.
A debut novel from Montrealer Ariela Freedman tells the story of an expat in Jerusalem who befriends a young Palestinian woman and begins to question her own certainties. Linda Leith is bringing out Arabic for Beginners in March.
Correction, Feb. 2, 2017: Daniel Zomparelli’s Everything Is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person (Arsenal Pulp Press) was categorized as a poetry collection. It is in fact the poet’s first work of fiction.