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Around the World with Complex Characters

A recommended reading list by the author of the new story collection Places Like These.

Book Cover Places Like These

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Described as “psychologically complex,” the stories in my collection Places Like These feature complicated individuals pushing against their limitations in settings ranging from Argentina to Northern Manitoba and points in between. Here are six books that have inspired me with their own multi-faceted characters—sometimes loners, often lonely—enacting their stories in places from Mumbai to wintry Winnipeg, 19th-century England to coastal B.C.


Book Cover Little Fish

Little Fish, by Casey Plett

Trans, of Mennonite heritage, and investigating the possibility that her late grandfather might also have been trans, Wendy Reimer wanders through dead-of-winter Winnipeg, into the reader’s heart. I love how Casey Plett allowed Wendy to simply be Wendy, darkness included, without either making excuses or making her change. She’s unapologetically, fiercely, and vulnerably herself.


Book Cover Son of a Trickster

Son of a Trickster, by Eden Robinson

Oh, Jared. As soon as I finished this trilogy, I felt a wave of grief over having to part ways with deeply realized Jared Martin. Smart, sensitive, substance-abusing, overly responsible and burdened by supernatural visions, Jared starts moving towards his destiny in this, the first of three books in the Trickster series which is set in Kitimat, BC, the traditional territory of the Haisla.


Book Cover Curiosity

Curiosity, by Joan Thomas

Mary Anning wanders the cliffs in southern England (now called the Jurassic Coast), hunting for fossils which she sells as “curiosities.” Eventually, she discovers a huge intact prehistoric skeleton and meets Henry de la Beche. Merging the factual life of Mary Anning with the magic of fiction, this novel brings both Mary and Henry vividly to life along with the 19th-century setting, social conditions, and attitudes.  


Book Cover Such Big Dreams

Such Big Dreams, by Reema Patel

Former street child Rakhi—a survivor who’s haunted by the trauma of her past—lives in a Mumbai slum and works as a disrespected assistant at a struggling social justice law office that’s ready to compromise its morals for funding. This tightly plotted story, told through the first-person lens of Rhaki, explores themes of privilege, corruption, and poverty in an unputdownable novel set in the vividly rendered city of Mumbai.


Book Cover My Best Stories

My Best Stories, by Alice Munro

Any book by Alice Munro offers a master class in character interiority and nuanced emotions and motivations but this one gives the reader the chance to see the writer’s seventeen favourites from her lifetime’s work. Featuring characters created with Munro’s usual mastery in of depth and emotional resonance, these stories also take us beyond the settings of B.C. and small-town Southern Ontario for which Munro is most well known.


Book Cover Polar Vortex

Polar Vortex, by Shani Mootoo

This smouldering novel draws the reader inside the taut realities of Priya and her wife, Alex. Having recently moved to an old farmhouse in Ontario’s Prince Edward County, the couple’s relationship is beginning to crack as secrets from Priya’s past emerge. Filled with tension and the anxiety of unwelcome change, this novel is both unsettling and compulsively readable.


Book Cover Probably Ruby

Probably Ruby, by Lisa Bird-Wilson

This novel in stories is about Ruby, an Indigenous woman taken into the foster care system and adopted by white parents. Prone to substance use and bad decisions while striving to figure out who she is, Ruby is revealed through kaleidoscopic perspectives that explore the web of stories and character that comprise her identity. Emotionally nuanced and full of grit and vulnerability, Ruby is one of those characters who will stay with you long after you read the last page.


Book Cover Places Like These

Learn more about Places Like These:

A widow visits a spiritualist community to attempt to contact her late husband. A grieving teenager confronts the unfairness of his small-town world and the oncoming ecological disaster. A sexual assault survivor navigates her boyfriend's tricky family and her own confusing desires. A mother examines unresolved guilt while seeking her missing daughter in a city slum. A lover exploits his girlfriend's secrets for his own purposes. Whether in Ecuador or San Francisco, rural Ontario or northern Manitoba, the landscape in each of Carter's poignant short stories reflects each character's journey.

Psychologically complex and astute, Places Like These plumbs the vast range of human reactions to those things which make us human—love, grief, friendship, betrayal, and the intertwined yet contrasting longing for connection and independence.

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