Thanks to 49th Shelf for the pleasant task of recommending some books. All of these books were my first encounters, my discovery of writers whose work I know I want to keep reading. Sometimes they were first books, but others just happened to be the first that I read. Okay, here we go.
Small Change, by Elizabeth Hay
Most people know Hay from her extraordinary novel, Late Nights on Air. But back in 1997 Hay and I had a joint book launch which introduced me to this searing book of stories that are mostly about women’s friendships. I’ve read all of Hay’s novels but in some ways these stories, complex, nuanced, and absolutely unsentimental, may be her best work.
Buying on Time, by Antanas Sileika
I guess 1997 was a good year for short stories because Buying on Time came out then, too. Sileika has also gone on to write novels but I still love this collection of stories about Lithuanian immigrants and their exasperated, Canadian-born children. The language is smart without being showy and the stories are both touching and funny.
Natasha and Other Stories, by David Bezmozgis
Before Bezmozgis came along, I had thought that the age of exciting first-generation Jewish fiction was long over. These stories about Russian Jews in Toronto just knocked me over. The writing is knife-sharp and they aren’t afraid to shock but ultimately they are just very human.
Dear Evelyn, by Kathy Page
I should have already discovered Kathy Page before this novel came out but I’m often a slow-poke. In fact, I didn’t read this one until a couple of years after it came out. This beautiful, small-scale tragedy about a marriage left me feeling devastated for days.
A Town Called Solace, by Mary Lawson
Likewise I was late to the party when it comes to Mary Lawson. I think I held her popularity against her and it took (shame on me) a Booker Prize nomination to get me to read this book. Her depiction of northern Ontario lives is absolutely riveting. I’ve now also read Crow Lake and I can’t wait to get to her other two novels.
Out of Mind, by David Bergen
Read the first sentence of my entry on Mary Lawson, substituting David Bergen’s name. I found this novel about a Canadian woman’s trip to Thailand to look for her daughter beautifully written and absolutely convincing.
You Are Eating an Orange, You are Naked, by Sheun-King
I was only a couple of years behind when I recently read this first novel, published in 2020. Now that I have reached a certain age, I sometimes find novels by young people to be, well, too young. But though the romantic couple here are certainly leading the lives of 20-somethings, I found this novel quite lovely in its vulnerability. Sheung-King writes extremely well and I look forward to the next book.
Letters to Amelia, by Lindsay Zier-Vogel
At last, an immediate discovery! I read this book as soon as it came out and was enchanted by Grace Porter, a library technician who becomes fascinated by Amelia Earhart and her relationship with a lover. This book was a great pleasure and I was happy to find another young author whose career I’m eager to follow.
In a quaint tourist village, Dorn makes miniature scale models displayed in the local shops. Yet life is far from idyllic; he suffers under the thumb of a rich, philandering younger brother and an unloving father, and cannot find the courage to admit his love to Ravenna, the ungainly schoolteacher.
Life takes a strange turn when the government-sponsored "Wild Home Project" is introduced and wolves, rats, minks, otters, and bears move into villagers' homes. Soon, Dorn receives a mysterious commission, finds a body in a park, and has several run-ins with a former classmate-turned police officer. When fire breaks out, Dorn takes on the unlikely role of hero in the hope of changing the course of his life.
A realist novel with the air of a fairy tale, The Animals is a surprising, funny, and thought-provoking story that explores the nature of relationships faunal and human, and reminds us of the challenges of finding one's place in society . . . and that living with a wolf is not a very good idea.
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