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My Kind of Strange: a Surreal Six-Pack

An absurd, surreal, fragmented, experimental, offbeat recommended reading list by the author of Survivors of the Hive.

Book Cover Survivors of the Hive

Loss. Grief. Centipedes. Silence. The word "no." The word "yes." A high school poetry contest that may or may not be linked to the end of the world. The characters in Survivors of the Hive are under attack. A grief-baffled son hopes to save an innocent insect from a toxic genocide, a daughter struggles to accept loss while visiting a community overwhelmed by denial, a sorrow-stricken father recalls his bizarre final conversation with his only child; the individuals in these stories discover how difficult it can be to let go of what's gone in order to live with what's left.


Book Cover the Red Chesterfield

The Red Chesterfield, by Wayne Arthurson

Sandra Newman, author of The Heavens, said The Red Chesterfield is: “a gently macabre and wildly hilarious novel about making your peace with life in a landscape that refuses to make sense.”  That pretty much sums up my favourite type of reading experience. Gentle. Macabre. Wild. Hilarious. Some readers might find entering a landscape that “refuses to make sense” to be a frustrating experience, and perhaps they’re right. But in that frustration, that exasperation,  readers will find a wonderful sense of freedom and mystery.


Book Cover Pockets

Pockets, by Stuart Ross

One of the things I love about this fragmented 88 page book by Stuart Ross is that it’s called a novel. Not a novella, or a prose poem sequence, or a series of sketches. It’s a novel. And if you consider that one of the definitions of the word “novel” is: “new or unusual in an interesting way” then this is certainly the most novel novel out there. A book where life feels like a dream and where dreams come alive and where “it is marvellous how everything is connected.” Every time I reach into Pockets I pull out something new and different.


Book Cover Book

Book, by Ken Sparling

I once heard someone mention that “people won’t necessarily remember what you said, or what you did … but they’ll remember how you made them feel.” That quotation is a pretty good example of my reaction to Ken Sparling’s Book. I can’t remember any of the characters, or their actions, or their dialogue, but I remember how alive I felt reading through the pages. I won’t even try to describe what the book is “about” so I’ll simply share one of my favourite paragraphs: “We were left behind to learn a language. Any language. Around us, jungle rose. In my mind I stayed aboard the ship. For many days nothing happened. By the time Pizarro returned with a new and bigger ship, I was part of the jungle and my Spanish brothers seemed strange.”


Book Cover Born Weird

Born Weird, by Andrew Kaufman

A lot of surrealist fiction is intended to be provocative, unleashing grisly dreamlike images and moments of bizarre and unexpected violence. I tend to appreciate a gentler approach: a surrealism that celebrates the secret super power of weirdness. Andrew Kauffman’s fourth novel, Born Weird, is my kind of strange. Quirky. Cinematic. Playful. Fun. Here’s the back cover synopsis: “At the moment of the births of her five grandchildren Annie Weird gave each one a special power. Richard, the oldest, always keeps safe; Abba always has hope; Lucy is never lost and Kent can beat anyone in a fight. As for Angie, she always forgives, instantly. But over the years these so-called blessings ended up ruining their lives.” How refreshing to read a book where being “weird” means embracing one’s destiny.


Book Cover From the Atelier Tovar

From the Atelier Tovar: Selected Writings, by Guy Maddin

Is Guy Maddin our David Lynch? Perhaps. But more importantly, he is our Guy Maddin. From the Atelier Tovar is a collection of feverish musings and dreamlike observations that contain journalism, film treatments, and selections from his journals. I love how all of its wonderful odds and ends fuse together (yet still in the end remain wonderfully odd). Check out this hauntingly poignant passage from one of the journal entries: “It’s still March 29, my father’s 78th birthday, I just realized. Man, I still love that guy, dead nineteen years. Cameron had been gone fourteen years when Chas bought it. How did dad ever get over that feeling? And all of his tears came out out of one eye.”


Book Cover Collapsible

Collapsible, by Tim Conley

The first story in Tim Conley’s collection Collapsible begins: “The world’s foremost authority on werewolves is buying a new suit” (“Enantiodromia or Something Like It”). The next story starts: “All parking lots are sad but some are sadder than others” (“After School Special”). And 28 more stories follow, each one full of unexpected leaps. All of Conley’s collections contain similarly absurd, offbeat stories that make me stop, think, and laugh. About another of his books, Someday We Will Look Back on This and Laugh, (Corona/Samizdat, 2023, Slovenia), I wrote “When you enter this book bring a passport. You’re going places your have never been before. Unusual, curious, extraordinary worlds full of astonishing surprises. You may speak the language but don’t let that fool you. Tim Conley’s stories are from another planet…”

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