Chad Pelley Picks One Dozen Super Sophomore Efforts

Book Cover Every Little Thing

They say the second book is the hardest to write. And there’s a few reasons for it. Follow-up pressure isn’t really one of them. It’s the fact you’re never more mid-evolution than in a second book. You’ve learned what you could have done better with the first book, but you haven’t yet learned what you could have done better with the second one. Also, your second one might lack that uninhibited, fearless verve in your first one, as you try and be more refined, working towards that evolution that might not be apparent until number three.

So what an awkward place Book Number Two can be for a writer. I mean, there’s that adage, “Everyone has one book in them.” It implies maybe we don’t all have a second book in us.

Below are a dozen second books of fiction that I really admired and would highly suggest. Sharp writing, and good reads, that possibly showcase these writers at a unique stage in their evolution.

Book Cover The Bone Cage

The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou

About the book: Digger, an 85 kilo wrestler, and Sadie, a 26-year-old speed swimmer, stand on the verge of realizing every athlete's dream—winning a gold medal at the Olympics. Both athletes are nearing the end of their athletic careers, and are forced to confront the question: what happens to athletes when their bodies are too old and injured to compete? The blossoming relationship between Digger and Sadie is tested in the all-important months leading up to the Olympics, as intense training schedules, divided loyalties, and unpredicted obstacles take their draining toll. The Olympics, as both of them are painfully aware, will be the realization or the end of a life's dream. The Bone Cage captures the physicality, sensuality, and euphoric highs of amateur sport, and the darker, cruel side of sport programs that wear athletes down and spit them out at the end of their bloom. With realism and humour, author Angie Abdou captures athletes on the brink of that transition—the lead-up to that looming redefinition of self—and explores how people deal with the loss of their dream.

Book Cover The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

About the book: Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die: Eli and Charlie Sisters can be counted on for that. Though Eli has never shared his brother's penchant for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. On the road to Warm's gold-mining claim outside San Francisco—and from the back of his long-suffering one-eyed horse—Eli struggles to make sense of his life without abandoning the job he's sworn to do. Patrick DeWitt, acclaimed author of Ablutions, doffs his hat to the classic Western, and then transforms it into a comic tour-de-force with an unforgettable narrative voice that captures all the absurdity, melancholy, and grit of the West—and of these two brothers, bound to each other by blood and scars and love.

Book Cover Husk

Husk by Corey Redekop

About the book: Outlandish and emotional, this humorous novel centers on Sheldon Funk, a struggling actor who dies in a bus restroom only to awaken during his autopsy and attack the coroner. Fleeing into the wintry streets of Toronto, Sheldon realizes he’s now a zombie—as if he didn’t have enough on his plate already. His last audition, reading for the reality television series House Bingo, had gone disastrously wrong. His mother is in the late stages of dementia, his savings are depleted, his agent couldn’t care less, and his boyfriend is little more than a set of nice abs. All Sheldon has to his name is a house he can barely hold onto and a cat that is more pillow than mammal. Now he also has to contend with decomposition, the scent of the open grave, and an unending appetite for human flesh—and on top of it all, there’s another audition in the morning. In order to survive his death without literally falling apart, Sheldon must find a way to combine his old life with his new addiction, which would be a lot easier if he could stop eating vagrants. A hysterical take on fame, love, religion, politics, and appetite, this is the story of the “everyzombie” people long to be.

The Cloaca by Andrew Hood

About the book: The stories included in Andrew Hood’s sophomore collection are beautiful, gross, funny, and personal. The Cloaca is a train wreck of awesomeness. It’s your high school gym coach, drunk and dishing dirt on all the other teachers on the crosstown bus—a stomach-turning spectacle that’ll make you laugh out loud now, feel bad later. You won’t be able to look away for an instant.

Open by Lisa Moore

About the book: Lisa Moore's Open makes you believe three things unequivocally: that St. John's is the centre of the universe, that these stories are about absolutely everything, that the only certainty in life comes from the accumulation of moments which refuse to be contained. Love, mistakes, loss—the fear of all of these, the joy of all of these. The interconnectedness of a bus ride in Nepal and a wedding on the shore of Quidi Vidi Lake; of the tension between a husband and wife when their infant cries before dawn (who will go to him?) and the husband's memory of an early, piercing love affair; of two friends, one who suffers early in life and the other midway through. In Open Lisa Moore splices moments and images together so adroitly, so vividly, you'll swear you've lived them yourself. That there is a writer like Lisa Moore threading a live wire through everything she sees, showing it to us, warming us with it. These stories are a gathering in. An offering. They ache and bristle. They are shared riches. Open.

One Last Good Look by Michael Winter

About the book: One Last Good Look follows the youthful and observant Gabriel English as he grows up in Newfoundland, leaves home and establishes himself in the world. These are stories of first rites: hunting accidents, sibling rivalry, infatuation, death in the family, romantic breakups, sustaining friendships, and the yearning for love, laughs, and understanding. The storyline is one of the oldest in literature—that of a young man making sense of the world and choosing his place in it. And part of his place in the world is as a writer. Michael Winter tells his story in an intimate, compassionate way; his love for vivid detail, dialogue and humor come pouring through every line

Still Life With June by Darren Greer

About the book: Cameron Dodds has just turned thirty. A writer, he get his ideas from the lives of others, often borrowing stories from the patients of his workplace, the Salvation Army Treatment Centre. When one of the patients, Darrel Greene, hangs himself, Cameron sees a great opportunity for a story—maybe even a novel. He begins to research Darrel's past, and decides to visit his sister, June, a grown woman with Down's Syndrome. As Cameron develops a relationship with June and delves further into Darrel's past, he makes many discoveries, none of which is more surprising than the one he makes about himself. First published in 2003, Still Life with June won the 2004 ReLit Award and was nominated for the 2003 Pearson Canada Readers' Choice Book Award. It was also a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGTB Fiction in 2005, and was named a 2003 Best Book of the Year by NOW Magazine.

Book Cover I Know Who You Remind Me Of

I Know Who You Remind Me Of by Naomi K. Lewis

About the book: Original and effortlessly clever, the stories in I Know Who You Remind Me of capture the sensibility of a generation with no cultural inhibitions to overcome. Naomi K. Lewis’s characters bear the battlescars of adolescence and early adulthood—scars left when one classmate impersonates another in Internet pornography; a lover donates his eyeball in the heat of passion; sibling rivalry escalates into a low orbit. For these characters, everything is straight—on, never coy, and often deliciously funny.

Book Cover Cease to Blush

Cease to Blush by Billie Livingston

About the book: As Cease to Blush opens, Vivian is late to her own mother’s funeral. Wearing a tight red suit, Vivian stands out like a pornographer’s dream amongst the West Coast intellectuals mourning the death of prominent feminist Josie Callwood. But for all of her bravado, Vivian finds herself emotionally numb and spiraling downward. Vivian and her mother were in constant conflict, with Josie disapproving of her daughter’s lifestyle; her inclination to use her body instead of her brain, and her so-called acting career, which has amounted to little more than playing prostitutes and the odd dead body. For her part Vivian has been invested in antagonizing her mother’s feminist ideology. As the story opens Vivian’s career, as well as her relationship with boyfriend Frank, is taking an unsavoury turn as she wades into the quick cash scheme of Internet porn with herself cast in the lead. But Josie has left a big surprise for her troubled daughter: a trunk full of mementoes from her own past, all of which point to a secret life more exotic than anything Vivian has been able to pull off. Puzzling together bits and pieces, Vivian learns that her mother was at one time a burlesque performer named Celia Dare who rubbed shoulders with the flashiest celebrities of the sixties. Vivian becomes determined to uncover the true story of her mother’s life.

And Also Sharks by Jessica Westhead

About the book: The forlornly funny stories in And Also Sharks celebrate the socially awkward, the insecure, the unfulfilled, and the obsessed. A disgruntled follower of a self-esteem blog posts a rambling critical comment. On the hunt for the perfect coffee table, a pregnant woman and her husband stop to visit his terminally ill ex-wife. The office cat lady reluctantly joins her fellow employees crusade to cheer up their dying co-worker. A man grieving his wife's miscarriages follows his deluded friend on a stealth photo-taking mission at the Auto Show. A shoplifter creates her own narrative with stolen anecdotes and a kidnapped baby. In this collection, society's misfits and losers are portrayed sympathetically, and sometimes even heroically. As desperately as these characters long to fit in, they also take pride in what sets them apart.

Play the Monster Blind by Lynn Coady

About the book: An exhilarating collection of short fiction, Play the Monster Blind showcases the remarkably original voice of Lynn Coady, the award-winning author of Strange Heaven. Funny, poignant and smart, full of unforgettable characters, these stories explore the violence of family, the constraints of small-town life and the elusive promise of escape. In "Ice Cream Man," an adolescent girl struggles to come to terms with her mother's death and her father's seeming indifference while conducting a secret affair with an older man from the local arena. Gerald, the young boy in "Big Dog Rage," goes to extreme and reckless measures to thwart the expectations of his parents, teachers, and the local priest, leaving his childhood friend to look longingly on. And in the title story, Bethany sees her gentle fiancé anew as she enters the raucous world of his hard-drinking family. Receiving a sharp shot to the mouth from her future sister-in-law Bethany finds her place in this clan secured. With her incisive, resonant prose, Lynn Coady elicits laughter, sadness, and compassion. Play the Monster Blind is a keenly observed, imaginative collection from one of the most distinctive talents to arrive on Canada's literary scene in years.

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

About the book: A delightfully offbeat story that features an opinionated tortoise and an IQ-challenged narrator who find themselves in the middle of a life-changing mystery. Audrey (a.k.a. Oddly) Flowers is living quietly in Oregon with Winnifred, her tortoise, when she finds out her dear father has been knocked into a coma back in Newfoundland. Despite her fear of flying, she goes to him, but not before she reluctantly dumps Winnifred with her unreliable friends. Poor Winnifred. When Audrey disarms an Air Marshal en route to St. John’s we begin to realize there’s something, well, odd about her. And we soon know that Audrey’s quest to discover who her father really was—and reunite with Winnifred—will be an adventure like no other.

Chad Pelley's second book is the just-released Every Little Thing. Reviews of his first novel included statements like, “We should look forward to the honing and unfolding of this writer’s evolving voice.”(Atlantic Books Today) or “a gifted writer, who, no doubt, we will hear a lot from in the future” (The Coast), so it seemed that for this new book, the bar had been set high.

March 28, 2013
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