Fiercely Feminist Fiction

In her third novel, The Last Resort, Marissa Stapley channels her feminist rage into a gripping thriller that reaches for justice, and in this recommended reading list, she finds solidarity with authors of other excellent recent books. 

*****

Last year, a distant cousin sent me an email about my novel Things to Do When It’s Raining. “It was lovely and heartwarming,” she wrote. “But . . . where’s your rage?” 

But I had just finished my novel, The Last Resort. In writing that book, I had poured all the rage I was feeling onto the page—about politics, about human rights violations, about the simple concept of love between two humans that's so often being complicated by small-minded bigots, about the #MeToo movement, and about my fear that the kind of future I had always imagined for my children was not going to be possible unless I did something about it myself. The result was a dark thriller unlike anything I had written before. The result was a furious book. 

I’ve noticed that many other authors are feeling just as furious as I was, and still am. Here’s a list of my favourite recent fiction reads. All of them have fierce female leads and a bone to pick with the patriarchy. I can’t get enough

*

Autopsy of a Boring Wife, by Marie-Renee Lavoie

Oh, how I loved this book. Billed as a Québécois Bridget Jones’s Diary (yes, please), it was laugh-out-loud hilarious, painfully sad, and a refreshingly unapologetic look at the life of a middle-aged woman in the midst of a divorce. Middle age is around the time women start to become invisible, which is so absurd to me because middle age is also around the time women start to become even more interesting than they already are. I couldn’t look away from this novel or its fiery protagonist, Diane. I wanted to drink white wine with her, then help her take a sledgehammer to her family heirlooms. 

*

Heartbreaker, by Claudia Dey

This is a book about many things, including cults and isolation—but it’s also about motherhood, and that's what resonated with me. It’s a book about the mysterious question mark a mother becomes, especially when she does something unthinkable. It's about the fact that all mothers are expected to be goddesses, saints, better than the best of human beings—and still, somehow, survive. 

*

Women Talking, by Miriam Toews

Fierce is the perfect word for this book about a group of Mennonite women (based on a true story) who have been the victims of systemic rapes within their community and spend the novel discussing what to do about it: fight, flight, or absolutely nothing. This is a decision many women face every day, and many don’t have a community to hash out the decision with. 

*

Frying Plantain, by Zelika Reid-Benta

I heard this book described as The Lives of Girls and Women, but set in Little Jamaica in Toronto, and wanted to read it immediately. On one hand, this book is a quiet, coming of age book built from linked short stories about one young woman’s life.  But there are fierce threads that run through it, and they weave something beautiful from the complexity of a relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a young woman’s burgeoning relationship with herself. 

*

Bina, by Anakana Schofield

I was hooked by Bina from the first pages, but I also found myself initially alarmed and distressed by this character.  It took me a while to be able to laugh at the dark humour she was delivering. And I eventually had to ask myself, why? Why was I so caught off guard by an older woman unhinged, an older woman revealing her story without shame, fear, or regret? It made me realize how much I wanted more of these types of fiery, unapologetic female characters who had seen it all and lived to tell about it. 

*

Crow, by Amy Spurway 

I’ve had this one on my radar for a while, but finally started to read it recently and was instantly captivated by the bell-clear voice of the protagonist, Stacey Fortunue, who has been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer and has moved back to her Cape Breton home. At first glance, Cape Breton does not seem to be a likely choice for a character who has decided to go out in a blaze of glory—which is part of what I adore about this book. It contains a special kind of fierceness, a specifically Canadian type of fierceness I identify with and adore. It’s funny, unique and utterly heartrending: my favourite kind of book. 

*

Every Little Piece of Me, by Amy Jones

I also love books that are about female friendship, which is what drew me into Jones’ story about two young women who are living life in the public gaze and are drawn together in unexpected ways. What I also loved about this novel was the unflinching spotlight Jones casts on social media as it relates to women. How women are treated online is a topic that bears more thought and discussion, and this book is a good starting point for some of those discussions. 

*

We All Love the Beautiful Girls, by Joanne Proulx

This is the only book on this list that’s not a new release, but I’m going to sing the praises of it until everyone reads it because I’ve never read a novel that more perfectly conveys the subtle—and not-so-subtle—power imbalances that still exist between the sexes, and how destructive these seemingly innocuous imbalances can be. There are lines from this book that echo in my mind every day, as I navigate the parenting of children who will soon become teenagers: Never stop talking to your sons. Teach your girls to roar. The best kind of fiction teaches us lessons about real life, and this is indeed the best kind of fiction. 

*

About The Last Resort: 

The Harmony Resort promises hope for struggling marriages. Run by celebrity power couple Drs. Miles and Grace Markell, the “last resort” offers a chance for partners to repair their relationships in a luxurious setting on the gorgeous Mayan Riviera.

Johanna and Ben have a marriage that looks perfect on the surface, but in reality, they don’t know each other at all. Shell and Colin fight constantly: after all, Colin is a workaholic, and Shell always comes second to his job as an executive at a powerful mining company. But what has really torn them apart is too devastating to talk about. When both couples begin Harmony’s intensive therapy program, it becomes clear that Harmony is not all it seems—and neither are Miles and Grace themselves. What are they hiding, and what price will these couples pay for finding out?

As a deadly tropical storm descends on the coast, trapping the hosts and the guests on the resort, secrets are revealed, loyalties are tested and not one single person—or their marriage—will remain unchanged by what follows.

June 17, 2019
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