Canadian Short Stories: The New Generation

A few years ago, we made a legendary list called "The New Generation of Canadian Poets" celebrating poets who'd published their first collection since 2000. This month, which is our Short Story Month, we're doing the same thing for short fiction, bringing together writers who are heirs-apparent to Munro and Gallant, but doing the whole thing 21st-century-style. 

What you'll find below is just a start. We want your suggestions: what are your favourite collections by writers known primarily for their short fiction who've published their first books this century? Tweet us your answers at @49thShelf or leave them in the comments below. The full list will be tabulated with your suggestions here

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Mad Hope, by Heather Birrell

If there is such thing as a CanLit cult classic, Birrell's Mad Hope is it, a book with a fervent following, and a reference point for readers in the know: "Mad Hope." "Oh, yeah."

The stuff of this book is the stuff of the world, the whole world, from Ceaușescu's Romania to online pregnancy forums. Birrell deftly makes connections to illuminate the ordinary as extraordinary—and the disturbing as present among us all. It's an absolutely stunning collection.

And Also Sharks, by Jessica Westhead

How you read Westhead's collection will depend on your current state of mind: it's terribly, terribly funny, and horribly sad at once, and also wonderful. That a single thing can be all three is a statement of Westhead's considerable talent. My favourite passage from the book, from the story, "We Are All About Wendy Now," continues to be, "This is what I used to think about Sherry—wait, that’s not what I meant to say. I never really thought anything about Sherry. Except that she always seemed like a nice person. I don’t know if I would’ve said before this that she was nice enough to give you the shirt off her back, but when you stop and think about it, that’s a lot to ask from someone."

Bobcat and Other Stories, by Rebecca Lee

To read Bobcat is to be transported into worlds so well-evoked that they're claustrophobic, and the subtly explosive ending to the title story haunts me still today. What links the stories in this disparate collection is a writer who has spent years honing her craft. Each of these stories are—as ideal architecture is described in the story, "Fialta"—"productions of the imagination that attempt to describe and define life on earth, which of course is an overwhelming mix of stability and desire, fulfillment and longing, time and eternity."

Oh, My Darling, by Shaena Lambert

These are stories of women mostly, usually ordinary, middle-class women, and each has her own particular tragedies, her own emotions and feelings that can seem profound yet are part of a larger scheme, un-grand in its scope. She has a yearning for something just out of reach, but only when she is distracted from day-to-day life. There are things to be done, and she does them, unable to articulate the feeling, the fear in her bones—something decidedly bodily. How do we fit into the world, into our lives, mother-daughter relationships which are freighted and fraught, the awkward symmetry of marriage, the stunning pain of loss? Kitchen-sink stuff, yes, but then there is a drag-queen who is the son of Nazi war criminals and walks on his hands, as well as a death by mountain lion, by which I mean that this collection will surprise you.

Light Lifting, by Alexander MacLeod

Sometimes the stories in a collection all kind of blur together, but each one in Light Lifting is truly a standout. It's a book packed with absolutely devastating moments: the train tunnel at the end of "Miracle Mile," the violence at the end of the title story, the gut-punch that concludes "Adult Beginner." Though my favourite devastation is the entirety of family life in "Wonder About Parents," so beautiful and perfect in its depiction of marriage and parenthood, how life can be so unbearably wonderful and terrible all at once, and how we cling to one another in the darkness of it all ...

And this is just the beginning. Keep visiting our complete list of Canadian Short Stories: The New Generation to see what our readers have added, and be sure to suggest a title of your own. 

February 5, 2015
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