Stranger in a Strange Land (by Laura Boudreau)

Laura Boudreau

The economy of a life reduced to a suitcase can be as romantic as it is alienating. Being on the move, as I have been for much of the last few years, changes you. It changes you because of the newness you encounter, certainly, and this can be tremendously rewarding. But all that newness also layers itself over the past, altering it. Or at least I have found that to be a sad and liberating truth of my own experience. All lands, even the ones I know best, are strange.

I am drawn to stories about travellers, and this list celebrates writers who explore the excitement, adventure, and anguish of life in parts unknown.

Book Cover Natasha

Natasha by David Bezmozgis: What a privilege to see my hometown of Toronto through the eyes of Mark Berman, a Jewish boy whose family moves to Canada from Riga, Latvia. When we first meet Mark he is six, and these early stories are my favourites of the collection — some of Mark’s first English words are “gaylord,” “shithead,” and “mental case,” and these “germs of a new vocabulary” are both cure and disease when it comes to the hardships of the Berman family’s new life.

Book Cover the Flying Troutmans

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews: Hitting the road with the Troutmans means entering a landscape as bizarre as any, but it’s the emotional terrain that’s rockiest: Hattie’s sister is in the psych ward, her niece and nephew are on the edge of who knows what, and the best idea Hattie can muster is to pack up the minivan and criss-cross America, searching for the kids’ dad. Some reviewers complained that Toews’ characters were over the top. In response, I can only express jealousy over the fact that these reviewers must have delightfully even-keeled families.

Book Cover The Architects are Here

The Architects Are Here by Michael Winter: I’ll let Gabriel English, the narrator, explain why it’s on the list: “We’re creatures of routine, and the only way to jar ourselves from the repetitive nature of our actions and thoughts is to find new people in new places and live there with them.” Gabriel English does just that, and never has the road from Toronto to Corner Brook been so full of consequence.

Book Cover Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood" I am obsessed with post-apocalyptic worlds. Perhaps that’s because I worry that I would wind up like Snowman: starving, sleeping in a tree, ravaged by insects, and unable to explain—let alone re-invent—simple things, like toasters. Even after scaring myself silly with this book, I still haven’t taken the time to read up on toasters. Clearly, I haven’t learned (which is part of Atwood’s point, I think).

Book Cover As For Me and My House

As For Me and My House by Sinclair Ross: Mrs. Bentley’s diary of desperation (written after moving to a town named Horizon, no less!) may be considered an old CanLit chestnut by some, but that doesn’t do this book justice. The way Mrs. Bentley can understand Horizon and yet find herself so outside of its community is as heartbreaking as it is fascinating. After spending a difficult year and a half as a Swiss housewife, I relate to the way a brand new, wide open place can turn claustrophobic.

Book Cover Sweetness in the Belly

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb: “Born in Yugoslavia, breast-fed in the Ukraine, weaned in Corsica, freed from nappies in Sicily and walking by the time [they] got to the Algarve...” Lilly, Gibb’s white Muslim narrator, spins a tale between England (1981–1991) and Ethiopia (1970–1974). When done as sensitively and imaginatively as Gibb has, this kind of cultural exploration opens a window onto a world—in Lilly’s case, that of an outsider, wherever she goes.

Book Cover Roughing It In the Bush

Roughing it in the Bush by Susanna Moodie: By all accounts—including her own—Susanna Moodie found herself completely unprepared for the realities of “roughing it in the bush” upon her arrival in the Canadian wilderness in the summer of 1832. A woman of manners in a mannerless society, Moodie highlights (and exaggerates for dramatic effect) her transformation: she is the initial victim and the eventual heroine of her own story; she is at once the snivelling young bride and the tried and tested frontierswoman; the English gentlewoman and the Canadian.

Book Cover Open

Open by Lisa Moore: Categorizing Canadian fiction can be a little like writing your own eulogy: both require a heavy dose of irony and a rather morbid tendency to fix that which is still alive, still moving. And Moore is on the move with this short story collection. Her Newfoundlanders are just as likely to find themselves sipping a glass of wine in France as they are a beer in St. John’s. They have friends visit from Nigeria; they have drinks with Cuban transsexuals. The beauty of The Rock is there, but it’s the landscapes of characters’ inner lives that prove most interesting, contemporary, stylish, and uncharted.

Book Cover Suitable Precautions

Laura Boudreau is the author of Suitable Precautions, a collection of short fiction. Her short stories have appeared in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including The Journey Prize Stories 22, Canadian Notes & Queries, 10: Best Canadian Stories, The New Quarterly, and The Fiddlehead. She is the winner of the 2009 PRISM International Award for Short Fiction. She lives in London, England, with her husband.

November 17, 2011
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