Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Best Reads of 2014: Fiction

Motherless Child
Glen Hirshberg
Tor Books Reprint Edition, May 2014
Originally published by Earthling Publications, Halloween, 2012
Glen Hirshberg let me down for the first time. He told me, a few years back, that he couldn’t help himselfhe was writing a vampire novel that he feared was mediocre. Well, ol’ Artie lied to me. Or his fears were unfounded. Either way, mediocre, Motherless Child is not. In the novel, Natalie and Sophie, two young mothers, discover their new found vampirism, abandon their lives, and journey across the Deep South. The inherent and pervasive nihilistic sense of dread throughout the story recalls Anne Rice’s early vampire novels, with dashes of  influence from the film Near Dark (as Sean Moreland said) and a molten emotional core.

Watch How We Walk
Jennifer LoveGrove
ECW Press, October 2013
Toronto’s LoveGrove plays with time, switching from the protagonist’s upbringing in a dysfunctional Jehovah’s Witness family to her present day quest for her lost sister. The young Emilly's family unit consists of her rebellious older sister, Lenora, her alcoholic mother, and a father who also has a monkey on his back—an ambition to rise in the ranks of the Watchtower Society. Watch How We Walk hits hard, and often with agonizing accuracy, showing how the Jehovah's Witness religion breaks up friendships, families and communities. It even includes a gay uncle, allowing LoveGrove to show how an entire Kingdom Hall can turn against a queer congregation member and cast them out.

What Happened Later: A Novel
Ray Robertson
Thomas Allen Publishers, August 2007
Also a Toronto author, Robertson also plays with time and italicized dialogue. He switches from the hero’s youth —Ray's youth—and infatuation with Jim Morrison and quest for Jack Kerouac’s novel, On the Road, to Jack in his post-On-the-Road days of desultory deepening alcoholism. Who cares if the young hero doesn’t just order a copy of the legendary book (Robertson alludes to this lack of wisdom) and that the youthful, heady passages lack much in plot? So did On the Road. The passages involving Jack are cadent, rhythmic flights of language that are pitch-perfect and well-researched. I oughtta’ know.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
Michael Chabon
Paperback Edition, Harper Perennial, July 2005
Hardcover published by William Morrow and Company, New York, 1988
I have read Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Telegraph Avenue, the former of which I consider a dazzling gem. However, both novels demonstrate his talent and genius. For me, Mysteries reaffirms Chabon’s genius. He takes the simple post-college journey of protagonist Art Bechstein, dating a woman but longing for Arthur, an attractive and wealthy fellow his age, transforming it into an epic journey of emotional and sexual growth. Erudite, funny, and with a weaker ending (sometimes the reader doesn’t like the end of the road...), Mysteries is breathtaking. I was simultaneously awed. . .and envious.

Wild Fell
Michael Rowe
ChiZine Publications, December 2013
Rowe, a Toronto scribe as well, goes gothic in his second book. Jameson Browning leaves his father, suffering from Alzheimer's, in a seniors' home, and purchases an estate to start life anew. The gothic horror abounds in the abandoned northern Ontario estate on Blackmore Island, but also continues in Ottawa, Canada. Jameson narrates this daring second-person tale that kicks you in the soul on the last page. This is a ghost story, but some of the ghosts lurk in Jameson's past, one troubled by child abuse and by the ambiguity of a narrator who may not be reliable. Rowe also dapples with playing with the past and present. What is it with these fine Canadian authors and toying with time?  This is a fine and leaner follow up to Mr. Rowe’s first horror novel, Enter, Night.

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