ICYMI: Don't Miss These Beauties

tagged : Fiction, reviews

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on our attention spans, making it possible to miss really great fiction. These books caught the attention of some of Canada's foremost reviewers and we're happy to shine even more deserved light on them.

**

Even that Wildest Hope, by Seyward Goodhand

What It's About

Even that Wildest Hope bursts with vibrant, otherworldly characters—wax girls and gods-among-men, artists on opposite sides of a war, aimless plutocrats and anarchist urchins—who are sometimes wondrous, often grotesque, and always driven by passions and yearnings common to us all. Each story is an untamed territory unto itself: where characters are both victims and predators, the settings are antique and futuristic, and where our intimacies—with friends, lovers, enemies, and even our food—reveal a deeply human desire for beauty and abjection. Stylistic and primordial, Even That Wildest Hope is a chaotic and always satisfying fabulist journey in the baroque tradition of Angela Carter, Carmen Maria Machado, and Ted Chiang.

Reviews

“Some of these stories, such as the opening 'Enkidu' (The Epic of Gilgamesh, redux) and 'So I Can Win,' the 'Galatrax Must Die,' bring to mind the off-kilter worlds of Paige Cooper. But my favourites here are the maybe quieter but still pleasantly bizarre 'Pastoral' and 'The Parachute.'”—The Globe and Mail

“It’s a relief to find this kind of daring in Canadian fiction… a welcome corrective to the kind of morally corrective fiction that, in the end, doesn’t unsettle us. It was Kafka himself who said: “A book must be the axe for the frozen seas within us.” Goodhand’s axe is well-sharpened, and its blows echo.”—CNQ

"Read any sentence in this collection and you will know that Seyward Goodhand is a rare and original talent. Her lush and uncanny prose is like a funhouse mirror that reveals as much as it distorts. These are beautiful stories and a terrific debut."—David Bezmozgis

**

A Family Affair, by Nadine Bismuth, translated by Russell Smith

What It's About

Kitchen designer Magalie is being cheated upon and so cheats in turn, in the office and with a divorced police officer who has hired her. Her partner, Mathieu, has no idea how to be, and the police officer Guillaume no idea what he wants. So begins a story of messy relationships wrested against the odds from the detritus of failed marriages, the demands of professional lives, and the pull of the internet and its false messages of perfection. With an assiduous eye that is both clinical and sympathetic, Bismuth’s elegant and highly readable novel captures the alienating nature of contemporary life and sheds light on this, our strange new world full of unrequited yearning in a sea of seeming plenty.

Reviews

“A page-turner. I read it in one go … There is something frankly endearing in this portrait of the modern family. A book you will devour because Nadine Bismuth writes with an extraordinary, honest, accessible, evocative pen.” —Radio-Canada

“A keen and lucid exploration of the mirages of love and motherhood.” —Le Devoir

“Nadine Bismuth, in a very contemporary style and with a distinctly Quebecois sense of humour, presents us her vision of relationships between men, women, children, parents. Under the heated floor of a hi-tech granite kitchen, she hides nothing. No, but she shatters the lid of that old cast iron casserole, confronting us with our contradictions and reminding us that it is never too late to start afresh, other than we are, elsewhere.” —ActuaLitté

“Bismuth writes page-turners, frankly and accessibly. Once started, you cannot stop. In A Family Affair, we are witnesses to ordinary lives turned upside-down … the reader becomes a voyeur, and can’t help but enjoy it … Bismuth writes with a sharp and addictive pen, and we devour her recounting of the everyday as if it were a crime thriller.” —Le fil rouge

**

Throw Down Your Shadows, by Deborah Hemming

What It's About

Sixteen-year-old Winnie is a creature of habit, a lover of ritual and stability. If she had her way, not much would change. But when a new family moves to town, Winnie and her three best friends—all boys—find themselves changing quickly and dramatically to impress Caleb, their strange and charismatic new companion. Under Caleb's influence, Winnie and her friends test boundaries, flirt with danger, and in the end, illuminate darkness within each other and themselves.

Following a before and after structure that pivots around a mysterious and devastating fire at a local winery, Throw Down Your Shadows is a compelling exploration of the contours of young friendship and the development of powerful new appetites.

Reminiscent of The Girls by Emma Cline and Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, this literary coming-of-age story feeds a growing demand in adult fiction for candid portrayals of the young female experience as complex and provocative, and announces a bold new voice in Canadian fiction.

Reviews

"Throw Down Your Shadows blends psychological depth and menace to create a story that is both propulsive and thoughtful: a rich, character-driven novel with touches of the weird and the regional particularities of the Annapolis Valley. Hemming upends the conventions of coming-of-age novels while demonstrating that unique stories of adolescence crashing into adulthood can have universal resonance." —Naben Ruthnum, author (as Nathan Ripley) of Find You in the Dark

"Throw Down Your Shadows is a compulsive, intoxicating read. I cared for these characters, felt entranced and betrayed by them, as if they were my own friends. As the narration weaves between past and future, orbiting nearer to the black hole at its centre, Hemming proves herself to be a masterful storyteller. I lost sleep over this book, mostly because I couldn't put it down." —Eliza Roberston, author of Demi-Gods

"Throw Down Your Shadows captures smalltown adolescence with unwavering veracity. Hemming's gracefully restrained prose gives us an intimate view of what it's like to come of age in the expansive lusciousness of rural Nova Scotia, amongst complicated relationships forged in a tight-knit, intergenerational community." —Evan Crocker, award-winning author of Barrelling Forward and All I Ask

**

After Elias, by Eddy Boudel Tan

What It's About

When the airplane piloted by Elias Santos crashes one week before their wedding day, Coen Caraway loses the man he loves and the illusion of happiness he has worked so hard to create. The only thing Elias leaves behind is a recording of his final words, and even Coen is baffled by the cryptic message.

Numb with grief, he takes refuge on the Mexican island that was meant to host their wedding. But as fragments of the past come to the surface in the aftermath of the tragedy, Coen is forced to question everything he thought he knew about Elias and their life together. Beneath his flawed memory lies the truth about Elias — and himself.

From the damp concrete of Vancouver to the spoiled shores of Mexico, After Elias weaves the past with the present to tell a story of doubt, regret, and the fear of losing everything.

Reviews

"Arresting... [a] deftly crafted novel."—Foreword Reviews

"It's rare to find a book that works well as a deeply emotional exploration of grief and as a suspenseful thriller, but After Elias manages this feat."—Booklist

"After Elias promises from the start to be a puzzle. This is no simple mystery, and the layered psychological struggles and revelations kept me furiously turning pages until the very end. With chapters that shift through time along with the narrator's emotions, a cast of very real but relatable secondary characters, and a haunting sense of the past, After Elias gifts the reader with gorgeous, economic prose and the pace of a thriller. I couldn't put it down."—Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society

**

Afterlife Crisis, by Randal Graham

What It's About

Something’s rotten in the afterlife. At least that’s how it seems to Rhinnick Feynman, the one man who perceives that someone in the afterlife is tugging at history’s threads and retroactively unraveling the past. Doing his best to navigate a netherworld in which history won’t stop changing for the worse, Rhinnick sets off on a quest to put things right.

This would be a good deal easier if Rhinnick didn’t believe he was a character in a novel and that the Author was changing the past through editorial revision. And it’d be better if Rhinnick didn’t find himself facing off against Isaac Newton, Jack the Ripper, Ancient Egyptians, a pack of frenzied Napoleons, and the prophet Norm Stradamus. Come to think of it, it’d be nice if Rhinnick could manage to steer clear of the afterlife’s mental health establishment and a bevy of unexpected fiancées.

Undeterred by these terrors, Rhinnick recognizes himself as The Man the Hour Produced, and the only one equipped to outwit the forces of science and mental health.

Reviews

“Filled with wordplay to die for, Randal Graham’s latest dizzying, irresistible life-after-death satire tackles perennial existential questions with humour and hunger.” —Foreword Reviews

“Fans of wacky doings and zippy dialogue are sure to be entertained.” —Publishers Weekly

“Randal Graham has written an inventive and hilarious tale packed with such witty prose that P.G. Wodehouse is surely applauding from his own afterlife. Strap in for a wild and funny ride.” —Terry Fallis, two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour

“Like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and Douglas Adams’ entire Galaxy, the post-death realm of Randal Graham’s Detroit is a zany mélange of puns, incisive social commentary, dry wit, and more plot twists that you can reasonably waggle your stick at. I don’t claim to know what will happen after my expiration date, but considering how terrible real life is of late I dearly hope my afterlife will be as enjoyable as Detroit.” —Corey Redekop, author of Husk

January 19, 2021
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