Our next stop for Mystery Month is Safe as Houses by Susan Glickman. It's the story of a quiet Toronto neighbourhood disturbed by a murder in its midst, a book that portrays the uncanniness of discovering that our safe places have hidden dangers after all. And it's true that houses have many more sides than just four walls. In this list—whose expansiveness is fitting for an author who has written for a children and adults—Glickman shares ten stories with a house at their centres.
My new novel, Safe as Houses, is a murder mystery that plays with the assumption that a house is always a safe place. Home can be a refuge; family (another meaning of “house”, as in the house of Windsor) can be those who love you best. But home can also be a prison, and those you live with your greatest torment. Here are some other Canadian books, for both adults and kids, which ask whether a house is always a home—or even whether a home need be an actual house.
Something from Nothing, by Phoebe Gilman
A beautiful picture book that parents and children will both enjoy. This one depicts two levels of domestic life—the human family that inhabits the house and the mouse tenants below the floors who make wonderful things from their discards.
Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Most of LMM’s books identify a girl with a special place; this is the most famous of them, featuring the feisty and imaginative red-haired orphan who dreams of being accepted by and finding a permanent home with the folks who live at Green Gables.
A Handful of Time, by Kit Pearson
Exiled to a summer cottage with relatives because her parents are getting a divorce, miserable, lonesome, and teased by her cousins, Patricia finds an old pocket watch under the floor. With its magical assistance, she travels back in time to when her mother was her age.
The Root Cellar, by Janet Lunn
Kids who like A Handful of Time will also like The Root Cellar, by Janet Lunn, another time-travel fantasy featuring a 12-year-old girl in an unfamiliar house. Her heroine, Rose, has also been sent to live with relatives. When she hides from them in the root cellar, she finds herself transported to another century.
As For Me and My House, by Sinclair Ross
I have to confess that I have always hated this book; when I taught in an introductory CanLit course at the University of Toronto, the students hated it too. And yet I feel compelled to include it in a list with the nominal subject of houses because Ross makes his central metaphor of the little "false-fronted" houses of prairie towns work overtime in this tale of an unhappily married couple and the lies they tell themselves.
Solomon Gursky Was Here, by Mordecai Richler
A wonderful antidote to the clenched misery that Ross depicts, Richler’s exuberant epic illustrates the other definition of "house": several generations of a single family. The adventures of the Gurskys—loosely based on the rum-running Bronfman dynasty—are traced all the way back to the Franklin Expedition.
Running in the Family, by Michael Ondaatje
Another dynastic tale, this one more personal: a beautifully written memoir of the author’s charmingly eccentric family in Sri Lanka.
Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life, by Brian Brett
Brian Brett raises chickens, pigs, cows, sheep, goats, fruits and vegetables on Salt Spring Island. This memoir traces a single day on "Trauma Farm" during which he offers wide-ranging, humorous and profound commentary on many topics related to its activities.
Tales from Firozsha Baag, by Rohinton Mistry
Eleven wonderful short stories depicting the interrelated lives of the occupants of a Bombay apartment building.
Room by Emma Donaghue
Hamlet remarked, "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams." Donaghue depicts both the nutshell and the bad dreams in her tale of five-year-old Jack and his mother and their life inside—and escape from—the single "Room" where Old Nick has kept them prisoner.
Susan Glickman is a novelist, poet, critic, and teacher. Her previous fiction includes The Violin Lover (2006), which won the Martin and Beatrice Fischer Prize in Fiction of the Canadian Jewish Book Awards. Her poetry has been published in literary journals across Canada and collected in six books, including The Smooth Yarrow, Running in Prospect Cemetery: New & Selected Poems, and Henry Moore’s Sheep. A graduate of Tufts University, she holds a masteer’s degree from Oxford and a PhD from the University of Toronto. Her book of crticisim, The Picturesque & the Sublime: A Poetics of the Canadian Landscape won the Raymond Klibansky Prize and the Gabrielle Roy Prize. She lives in Toronto, where she teaches creative writing at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto and works as a freelance editor.
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