The Recommend: September 2017

Research shows that most of the books we read are the result of one thing: someone we know, trust, and/or admire tells us it's great. That's why we run this series, The Recommend, where writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.

This month we're pleased to present the picks of Greg Rhyno (To Me You Seem Giant), Pamela Mordecai (Red Jacket), Alix Hawley (All True Not a Lie In It), and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer (All the Broken Things).

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Greg Rhyno recommends Andrew Hood's The Cloaca

Andrew Hood has written a pile of great stuff including book reviews, essays, and a biography on Guelph lo-fi legend Jim Guthrie. But for my money, Hood’s primary talent lies within his ability to birth a killer short story.  His second collection of these slimy diamonds is The Cloaca, appropriately named after the orifice where everything bad comes out of a bird. The stories in this book are messy, cathartic, and hilarious.   

The narrator in “Manning” spars with a deformed man-child over a rookie baseball card. In “Beginners,” a woman’s martial arts dreams are dashed when her sensei keeps looking down her karategi. The smell of a used diaper in “I’m Sorry and Thank You” reminds the main character of things he’s lost.  

The weird, casual music of Hood’s writing seems to fall from him effortlessly. Sometimes, his voice is that of a hurt and hard-shelled kid who sees the world too clearly for his own good. Other times, it’s the voice of a drinking buddy who’s so charismatic and sketchy that you aren’t upset when he ducks out on the bill, or surprised when he leaves wearing your favourite jacket.

There’s that whole bit Hemmingway said about writing—that all you have to do is “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” In The Cloaca, Andrew Hood does him one better. He sits down and lets everything he’s got seep out the same hole.

Greg Rhyno was born in Toronto and grew up in Thunder Bay. His work has appeared in PRISM international and Vocamus Press, and he is a recipient of the J. Alex Munro Prize for Poetry. In addition, Greg has toured and recorded with such rock n’ roll outfits as Phasers On Stun, the Parkas, and Wild Hearses. Currently, he works as a high school teacher and lives with his family in Guelph, Ontario. To Me You Seem Giant is Greg's first novel.

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Pamela Mordecai recommends Dionne Brand's Inventory

Dionne Brand's Inventory is an extraordinary poetic work. Our contemporary context is disaster and war. The poet places a we—sometimes a she—in the midst of it, not as a spectator but as a participant, intent on taking account of every devastated, abandoned, murdered, wasted individual in the time and space of their wasting. The poem is an accomplishment of each person in his or her distressed circumstance. “I say this big world is the story, I don’t have any other.” As it engages with all the broken in that story, the book stretches itself, calling on all poetry’s magic devices to chant down our inhumanities to one another by taking in every bruised body, or, as the poetic persona puts it, opening her chest “to hold the wounded.” At once a beautiful and deeply sad poem, it affirms the possibilities of attention—for Brand, an important behaviour—of tending, taking care. We cannot, I’ve heard it said, count infinity: the closest we can come to that is taking inventory. That is every writer’s reach. The grasp of Dionne Brand in this book is as close as I’ve seen any poet get.

Pamela Mordecai's debut novel, Red Jacket, was shortlisted for the 2015 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Award.

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smallchange

Alix Hawley recommends Elizabeth Hay's Small Change

Elizabeth Hay is known for her novels, but her short stories in Small Change (first published in 1997) make my hair stand on end. Part of that is recognition—you know the quiet saboteurs and complainers and almost-lovers here. Part is the deep pleasure of clear writing. But there is also the surprise of a writer setting her fiction loose. The best writers don't judge their characters, yet Hay goes beyond that, tying hers up in knots and leaving them to act as they will. You can feel the moments when they set off walking and talking fully on their own.

Sure, plenty of authors create believable humans, but this reads differently, as if Hay's people are writing themselves. It makes a

alltrue

quiet, realistic book almost eerie. Diving right into the bog of friendship, Small Change contains all kinds of intimacies. The one between Hay and her characters stays with me most.

Alix Hawley's All True Not a Lie In It was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. Her next novel is out in 2018.

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badendings

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer recommends Carleigh Baker's Bad Endings

I’m on a Carleigh Baker binge these days. I reviewed her delicious first story collection for The Hamilton Review and have been reading and watching and listening to what I can find online. I love her fiction for its melancholic, disturbing pace, the often surprising syntax, and the glorious fecundity of her imagination. I didn’t mention in the review that she is Cree-Metis and Icelandic. I remember listening to a panel of Indigenous writers a few years ago at the IFOA (Thomas King, Lee Maracle, Ellen Van Neerven, and Samuel Wagan Watson) and being struck with how they all spoke about their stories both emerging from and honouring the earth. There is something glimmeringly earth

y and earthly about Baker’s stories. I do not know if this is purposeful but I mention it because her work feels embodied and particular to her—in other words, wonderful.

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is the author of the acclaimed novel, All the Broken Things. Her first novel, The Nettle Spinner, was shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel award.

August 31, 2017
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