To protect familial honour, the truth can be buried—but one must know that secrets never die. When a demoliti...moreOriginally posted on Across the Litoverse
To protect familial honour, the truth can be buried—but one must know that secrets never die. When a demolition crew unearths Vito Santoro's remains at an Italian seaside villa, his sister Piera locks her door against the accusations and anger of her extended family. Following Vito's disappearance fifty years earlier, Piera insisted she received regular correspondence from her eldest brother after he settled in Argentina. His former wife, Teresa, was left to raise their infant son, Marco, under Piera's iron rule without knowing that Vito was, in fact, dead. As forensics teams investigate Vito's mysterious death, the five remaining Santoro siblings and Teresa demand answers from Piera; however, the self-proclaimed matriarch will only open her door to her Canadian-born nephew, David, who she entrusts with a scrapbook detailing her youth and the circumstances leading up to Vito's disappearance.
But the Santoros are rife with their own resentments, conflicting desires, and bitter feuds—at times, her siblings' stories undercut and complicate Piera's narrative to the point where no one can be trusted. David, as an outsider and an academic, possesses the tools needed to uncover the unnamed familial shame strangling his family, but the cost proves higher than anticipated…
Genni Gunn's Solitaria marked an excellent addition to the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist for its complex tussling over family honour and personal sacrifice, its staggering portrayals of guilt/shame shared between siblings, and its poetic exploration of a multigenerational mystery within a gorgeous Italian landscape. I do love it when narrators are unreliable and, in the case of Piera and her siblings, the reader learns that each tale contains mere shards of the truth, and that a storyteller does little more than reflect their own biases concerning the past.
Gunn offers a well-crafted literary mystery populated with deceptive, complex characters circling around an explosive revelation that will keep readers riveted until the last page.
Ideal for: Mystery readers who like a clean shot of the literary in their fiction; Folks looking for a captivating, poetic Canadian novel; Readers who love a gorgeous Italian backdrop; Kids keen on cruising through the 2011 Giller Prize Longlist. (less)
a garage sale detour in a small Saskatchewan town, RCMP Constable Arabella Dryvynsydes discovers a duplicate...moreOriginally posted on Across the Litoverse
a garage sale detour in a small Saskatchewan town, RCMP Constable Arabella Dryvynsydes discovers a duplicate photograph of her paternal grandmother, Sara, and her late twin sister among the stacks of old tokens for sale. After losing her mother one year earlier, and after the recent dissolution of a long-term relationship, Arabella craves a new project to focus on in a bid to forget the stinging wounds of recent months. How did a photograph taken in the mining town of Extension, B.C., wind up in a stranger's possession one hundred years later? And what implications does this hold for Arabella's present life?
As she sifts through a packet of long-forgotten letters and traces her roots back through the oral testimonies of her aunt and father, Arabella revives the memory of her great-grandmother, Jane Owens, and uncovers the dark secrets Jane took to her grave. One part detective novel and one part CanLit historical narrative, Extensions explores one woman's quest to understand her origins while resolving a century-old murder case. All in a day's work for the RCMP, n'est-ce pas?
Sadly, Extensions was rife with numerous issues for me: Jane Owens' narrative (by far the most compelling part of the book) was often hijacked by the mundane doings of Arabella's life; characters' names and relationships were convoluted and difficult to follow without a visualized family tree (i.e. try sorting out a Jane, Janet, and Janetta or a Lewyllyn and Llewellyn); and Myrna Dey's representations of minority groups were often limiting and distressing—I wasn't clear if this was meant to show a small mindedness in Arabella, or if the comments were…uh, serious.
I would advocate skipping Extensions unless you're aiming to read through the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist like me.(less)
The Matter with Morris started with such intense promise—Morris Schutt, a prominent newspaper columnist, watches as his life unravels in the wake of h...moreThe Matter with Morris started with such intense promise—Morris Schutt, a prominent newspaper columnist, watches as his life unravels in the wake of his son's death overseas in Afghanistan. His suppressed grief cripples his column content and Morris is forced into an unspecified leave of absence (re: laid off). His marriage begins its slow decomposition at the same time he takes up a pen-pal (aka a dedicated American reader) who also recently lost her son in overseas warfare. What follows is an agonizing narrative in which Morris attempts to wax philosophical, deconstruct all things "erotic"—oh and, you know, sometimes reference his son. To keep the reader on track and all.
All I can offer is this: Morris Schutt is little more than a walking cock. As in, the character obsesses over his so-called eroticism in the most unsexy ways possible. Just scan the scene where he juxtaposes his "guilty" frolicking with escorts and his father's withered manhood. You'll see what I'm gettin' at.
Tom Rachman delivers a sharp, fresh novel rife with humour and a cast of compelling misfits locked into the world of twenty-first-century journalism....moreTom Rachman delivers a sharp, fresh novel rife with humour and a cast of compelling misfits locked into the world of twenty-first-century journalism. With his diverse background as an AP correspondent and with his international credentials, Rachman offers a colourful portrait of the stressors of the newsroom, and examines the often conflicting nature of the personalities therein.
Immediate favourites include: Arthur Gopal, the unambitious obituaries writer who discovers his voice in the wake of personal tragedy; Herman Cohen, the anal-retentive corrections editor with his ever-expanding Bible of printed errors and his monthly newsletter Why?; Ruby Zaga, the frustrated copyeditor torn between her resentment for the paper and her family's perception of her "glamorous" life in Rome; and Oliver Ott, the failed junior of the Ott empire who can only relate to his basset hound, Schopenhauer.
Overall, readers will revel in Rachman's promising debut—and heck, rumours of Brad Pitt's interest in a silver screen rendition of The Imperfectionists can't hurt, either.
Ideal for: Former, current, or future members of the press eager to compare their newsroom scars; avid fans of Rome and the potential drama therein; copyeditors who can relate to Herman Cohen's delightfully frustrated Why? collection.(less)
Jane Urquhart constructs a beautiful, heartbreaking tale spanning more than one hundred years of the Butler family's livelihood. In Sanctuary Line, th...moreJane Urquhart constructs a beautiful, heartbreaking tale spanning more than one hundred years of the Butler family's livelihood. In Sanctuary Line, the entomologist Liz Crane returns to the now-deserted Butler farm where she spent her summers as a child. As she studies the migratory patterns of the Monarch butterflies native to the Lake Erie region, Liz must renegotiate her place among the tragedies still haunting the abandoned home. Old wounds are scoured open in the wake of her cousin's death overseas in Afghanistan, and Liz must learn to face the failures of her long-lost uncle, Stan, and the mysterious boy, Teo, who once migrated from Mexico each summer to work the orchards in Ontario.
Sanctuary Line proves Urquhart's position as a national literary treasure for her abilities to weave together huge swathes of history, and for her talents with extended metaphor. A new appreciation for the Monarch butterfly is bound to arise, and readers will be left wanting to explore their own family's roots further.
Ideal for: Lake Erie enthusiasts; online junkies who recently signed up at Ancestry.ca; entomologists and other friends of the Monarch butterflies; readers who want to consider themselves true Can. lit. freaks.(less)
Lemon pits one girl against a world of unreliable parents, irreparable environmental damage, children suffering from cancer, and a collection of deadb...moreLemon pits one girl against a world of unreliable parents, irreparable environmental damage, children suffering from cancer, and a collection of deadbeat, hopeless high school peers bent on making her life a spiraling vortex to hell. Our heroine, Lemon, is a rootless wonder -- her time is divided between her adopted father's suicidal ex, brief glimpses of the biological mother who Lemon has never met, and Drew, a school principal afraid to leave her house after she was stabbed by a student. At school, Lemon distances herself from her over-sexed, drug-addled peers; however, the self-imposed exile tends to draw more attention than she desires. She splits her time between a thankless part-time job at a mall ice cream parlour and a volunteer job on a cancer ward for children where she acts as a full-time caregiver for a quick-witted protégé. To escape the increasing disappointments of life in general, Lemon turns to critiques of classic literary heroines (eg. Jane Eyre, Tess of the d'Urbervilles) and stories of great tragedy for comfort. But life cannot be ignored, and the going gets worse before it can ever get better.
Despite the bleak content, Cordelia Strube's prose proves addictive and dazzling. Lemon's perspective leans toward the dark, brooding side of adolescence with good cause, but Strube compels readers to hitch themselves to the young girl's happiness. We want the best for Lemon, and it is hard to ignore the internalized protective parent who wishes to pull Lemon out from the tragedies gathering around her. Strube's first person narrative lends great believability to the character, and the artful integration of classic literary heroines adds greater depth to the novel's themes overall.
Ideal for: Coming-of-age junkies who will not shy away from troubling, upsetting events; English majors looking for a thesis topic comparing modern literary heroines with the girls of Austen; Readers who root for the underdog.(less)
The Golden Mean offers a sensual, frank depiction of the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, and his complex connections with the boy who would beco...moreThe Golden Mean offers a sensual, frank depiction of the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, and his complex connections with the boy who would become Alexander the Great. As the novel opens, King Philip presses Aristotle into service as a teacher of the young princes of Macedon, forcing Aristotle to postpone his dreams of succeeding Plato as the leader of the Academy in Athens. One son, Arridaeus, possesses the intellect of a child in the aftermath of a serious illness; the other son, Alexander, is destined for greatness but struggles under the strict roles of both future king and Macedonian man. Aristotle trains Alexander to find the golden mean within himself, the balance between the extremes of muscular domination and intellectual pursuits. As Alexander rises to militaristic glory, Aristotle must overcome the increasing irrelevance of his lessons in the face of violence and battlefield politics while maintaining his integrity as an academic.
Annabel Lyon breathes new life into the historical depiction of both Aristotle and Alexander the Great, and she succeeds in humanizing such mythical figures in engaging prose. Her writing cycles between quiet moments of physical or intellectual intimacy and frightful moments of violence or prolonged illness suffered in an age before complex medical treatment. The novel is not recommended for the weak of heart (and weak of stomach) as certain passages border on the graphic. But the sweet moments shared between Aristotle and the older son, Arridaeus, mark the book as a solid read for fans of literary and/or historical fiction. Academics with a detailed knowledge of ancient Greece might take offense to some liberties taken with timelines, but regular readers will find much to celebrate with the prose.
Ideal for: Readers who like a bit of literature around their sexy prose; Casual historians who know the gist of Alexander the Great's background; Folks who follow the heavy hitters of the Can. lit. award circuit. (less)
Cities of Refuge opens with a single act of violence that casts a dark net around the lives of the Lystrander family and their closest companions. One...moreCities of Refuge opens with a single act of violence that casts a dark net around the lives of the Lystrander family and their closest companions. One summer night on a familiar route to work, Kim is attacked by a stranger. She survives, but she suffers for months from the physical pain of recovery, and from the psychological damage etched forcibly into her. Her estranged father, Harold, unravels in the aftermath, and leads an investigation against Kim's assailant that is wrought with his own delusions. As he immerses himself in the purgatorial world of Toronto's illegal immigrants, Harold dredges up his own troubled past, and relives the violence he thought he had buried...
A sense of listlessness and suspicion pervades this novel, and Michael Helm handles his characters with great care and compassion despite the unsettling material. After the shock of the opening pages, the novel settles into a deep exploration of both Kim and Harold, excavating their inner lives to analyze the ways in which individuals heal, or shatter, after tragic events. Kim's authorial role in her healing process is a compelling one, especially as her own prose hijacks the novel's narrative at certain key moments.
Ideal for: Scholarly types who gravitate toward thrillers and/or violent mysteries; Writers studying internal character development; Readers who like thorough, internalized prose.(less)
Sarah Selecky dazzles with ten taut, smartly searing stories in her first published collection, This Cake Is for the Party. Selecky levels her gaze up...moreSarah Selecky dazzles with ten taut, smartly searing stories in her first published collection, This Cake Is for the Party. Selecky levels her gaze upon a younger generation whose best intentions unravel in the face of hidden truths, betrayal, and unsettling tensions riding just below the surface.
Stand out pieces include "Go-Manchura," in which a lonesome introvert embroils herself in a health food pyramid scheme, and the heartbreaking "Where Are You Coming From, Sweetheart?", in which a young girl struggles to free herself from her father's religion and finds an unexpected lover on a Greyhound bus. Additional accolades go to "Prognosis," written as a rather biting letter to a dying mother-in-law in which the writer is gifted with a certain aural oddity. Selecky shines in her first-person prose, and creates characters with distinct, relatable voices that are sure to startle and delight.
Ideal for: Short story junkies; Readers in the twenty- to thirty-something age bracket; Commuters prepared to shed a tear or two in public.(less)