Monday, January 25, 2016

Best Reads of 2015: Books—and All Canadian Goodies

Queeroes by Steven Bereznai
Jambor Publishing, 2009
Lethe Press, 2010
Toronto’s Berenznai does a wonderful mash up of the T.V. shows Glee and Heroes. This delightful and equally ruthless romp involves high school kids who get super powers. They then choose sides (good or evil) and Bereznai brings the analogy of teen isolation and introversion to its natural extreme. What if you were an introverted teen, into comforting but obscure music, a kid on the fringe, or even a popular jock, when one day you had extraordinary abilities? The answer is dizzying fun, thanks to the punchy prose of Bereznai.
(Editor's Note: My publisher, Lethe Press, bought the rights to Queeroes in 2010, and has also published Queeroes 2; however, I have not had time to read this second installment yet.)

An anthology edited by Michael Kelly 
Undertow Publications
They call it quiet, literary horror for a reason and this anthology from accomplished Canadian editor Michael Kelly proves its worth. About eighty-five per cent of the pieces here are unsettling and hard to shake. A few, though, do fall under the literary pitfall of guess-what-really-happenedin-the-ending-of-this-story. This makes me think that some stories aren’t as clever as they seem to be, but still more ponderous than typical spec fiction. Still, the good pieces glitter and inspire.

Jeff Round’s The Jade Butterfly 
Dundurn Press
Toronto novelist and poet Round lands Dan Sharp in another missing person’s case. Allusions to urban Toronto and gay romantic life abound, but what really soars in this outing is Sharp’s sex life. Things heat up. He also puts his heart on the line for once. This move humanizes and enriches the perennial bachelor’s life.

Peter Norman’s Emberton 
Douglas & McIntyre
If you took a dash of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, George Orwell’s 1984, meta-fictionalized the tone of Monty Python, channelled strains from the film Barton Fink and blended this concoction with a hint of William S. Burroughs, you’d have Toronto writer Peter Norman’s debut novel, Emberton. It’s a story, as Pete told me years before its publication, of a book. Particularly, it’s about Lance Blunt, a hero who lands an unlikely job working at Emberton Dictionary. This ancient business decides which words stay and which words are dropped from the dictionary. The bulk of the book remains an unsettling immersion. An office building may live and breathe like us. The protagonist harbours a terrible secret that may even be more terrible than Lance knows.  As though plucked from subconscious murk and neurotic flights of fancy, Norman’s narrative straps the reader in and does not let them out until the final exit. Kudos also to the graphic design of the novel, as the pages appear old and fragile. I was afraid that the archaic-looking pages would rip. 

Nightshade Books
This is a spicy jambalaya of ghosts, of secrets and the yarn of a dysfunctional Cajun family. The story spans New Orleans, Calgary and the west. Ottawa spec writer Riopelle assembles some startlingly unnerving and enjoyable scenes and characters. Hope there’s another on the way in 2016.

Arsenal Pulp Press
Dawn, a Vancouver poet and novelist, writes survivor poetry—about being a prostitute, a femme, a bottom, a sex radical, and an activist. The pieces of personal history are interwoven through Glosas. As the publisher Arsenal Pulp explains on their site, a Glosa is a 15th-century Spanish form. It usually opens with a quatrain from an existing poem by another writer, followed by four stanzas of ten lines each, and normally ends with a line repeated from the opening quatrain. In this fashion, Dawn tributes various other queer poets. When the technique soars, she essentially holds a conversation with these writers through time and space. These poets include Gertrude Stein and Adrienne Rich but also contemporary writers such as Leah Horlick and Rachel Rose. Some of the pieces, such as "Sandra Anna's Baby Book", in which Dawn tries to forgive her mother for a terrible childhood involving abuse at the hands of her father figure, can reduce a reader to tears.


  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome, Robin. I hope you get to a sequel. I'd read it.