Alice Zorn's Montreal Books List

Book Cover Five Roses

Alice Zorn's new novel is set in Montreal's historic Pointe St-Charles neighbourhood, and is a story about history, community, connections, and friendship. And it is, unabashedly, also a love letter to Montreal.

In this list, she suggests more fiction with which to immerse yourself in this great city. 

*****

In all of these books set in Montreal, weather plays a starring role. Spring is glorious. Summer is manna. Autumn is beautiful, albeit melancholy. But winter always rules. 

Book Cover Sweet Affliction

The urban wasteland along Van Horne Avenue and bordering the rail tracks is described with ironic, yet affectionate precision in Anna Leventhal’s book of short stories, Sweet Affliction. Here, you can rent a house cheaply, have a drink at an establishment that doesn’t have a bar license, bury a pet rat, meet a man who’s wearing a shirt you once owned.

**

Book Cover Wonder

There are many wonders in Wonder, by Dominique Fortier (translated by Sheila Fischman), a triptych of narratives that includes the 1902 eruption of Mont Pelée in St. Martinique, mathematics and geodynamics, excavations at Pompeii in the early 1900s—and finally walks in the company of dogs and meetings with a likeminded stranger on the mountain, around which the city of Montreal spreads. 

**

Book Cover Bone and Bread

In her novel about two sisters, Bone and Bread, Saleema Nawaz moves between an emotionally rich past and a fraught present. In the past, the sisters live with their Sikh uncle in an apartment over a wood-fired bagel shop in a Hasidic neighbourhood. In the present, one sister searches for answers as she packs the other’s Mile End apartment after her death at only thirty-two.

**

Book Cover My Octobe

Claire Holden Rothman sets My October in what used to be the working-class, predominantly French-speaking neighbourhood of Saint-Henri, which Gabrielle Roy made famous in her 1945 classic, The Tin Flute. Decades have passed. Languages and cultures are no longer as polarized as they once were. Or are they? The novel takes place in 2004, but echoes of the 1970 October Crisis, the actions of the FLQ, and the government’s response with the War Measures Act still resonate.  

**

Book Cover The Poet is a Radio

The title of Jack Hannan’s The Poet is a Radio suggests that poetry transmits signals, but in this magical novel, poetry is acted out. A bard in a black Stetson hands out poetry in the metro. Poetry pays for eggplants and shiitake mushrooms. Poetry flies in the air. These are the transient, unnamed spaces of Montreal: the abandoned buildings, the metro, the parking lots, road construction that never ends, a newly renovated yet empty shopping mall.

** 

Book Cover The Freedom in American Songs

The most poignant Montreal story I’ve read in recent years is “You Seem a Little Bit Sad” in Kathleen Winter’s The Freedom in American Songs. Here, we have an Italian/Haitian/Lebanese neighbourhood in Rosemont, the blossoms of spring, sorrow for the death of a faithful dog, and the kindness of a Halal butcher—who is actually Mexican.

** 

Book Cover Montreal Stories

The stories in Mavis Gallant’s Montreal Stories breathes the social fabric of Montreal as it was in the 1930s and 40s. Gallant moves with assurance between neighbourhoods, social classes, genders, languages, ages, always sensitive to the schism and overlap of English and French.  

**

Book Cover The Saver

In Edeet Ravel’s epistolary YA novel, The Saver, the 17-year-old protagonist is determined to fend for herself when her First Nations mother dies. She lies about her age to become a janitor in an apartment building in NDG, works in a Lebanese restaurant at Namur metro, and as a chambermaid in the Gay Village, all the while making wry observations about human behaviour.

** 

Book Cover The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

In The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, Heather O’Neill leads up the 1995 Referendum. Her characters live along Boulevard Saint-Laurent, the once-upon-a-time dividing line between the French and English in the city. The point of view is pro-separatist, although the spokesperson is a narcissist incapable of even the simplest gestures of kindness. The descriptions of the city are colourful, imaginative, and unexpected, even as they are all too true. A minister drives around town serving hotdogs to street people. A woman wears a blue coat decorated with white flowers to match the colours of the Quebec flag. The devil sips espresso at Place des Arts.    

** 

Book Cover Because I Have Loved and Hidden It

The writing in Elise Moser’s novel, Because I Have Loved and Hidden It, is sensual and descriptive: an apartment on the Plateau, the old Jewish neighbourhood off Côte-des-Neiges, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, a gardening store on St-Denis, a home in Verdun. Moser’s Montreal shimmers with longing. 

** 

Book Cover Nikolski

Nicholas Dickner’s Nikolski (translated by Lazer Lederhendler) is a rollercoaster across the country, touching down in Montreal: Little Italy, the Jean-Talon market, the Latin-American community, talk of fish, dumpster diving, the archaeology of garbage, indigenous rights, and more.

**

Book Cover Five Roses

About Five Roses:

Fara and her husband buy a house with a disturbing history that reawakens memories of her own family tragedy. Maddy still lives in the house, once a hippie commune, where her daughter was kidnapped twenty-seven years ago. Rose grew up isolated with her mother in the backwoods north of Montreal. Now in the city, she questions the silence and deception that shaped her upbringing.
Fara, Maddy, and Rose meet in Montreal’s historic Pointe St-Charles, a rundown neighbourhood on the cusp of gentrification. Against a backdrop of abandonment, loss, and revitalization, the women must confront troubling secrets in order to rebuild their lives. Zorn deftly interweaves the rich yet fragile lives of three very different people into a story of strength and friendship. 

July 25, 2016
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