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10 for 10: Newfoundland and Labrador (Kerri Cull)
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10 for 10: Newfoundland and Labrador (Kerri Cull)

By 49thShelf
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This list could be longer with subtitles, margin notes and cyber space post-its, and I’m sure there are many fantastic novels by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that I could add. I purposely left out Michael Crummey and Wayne Johnston because their body of work speaks for itself. In no particular order, here is a list of some of the best novels to come out of Newfoundland and Labrador in the past decade. **Kerri Cull is from the small mill town of Corner Brook on the West Coast of Newfoundland. She has been a bartender, bookseller, waitress, administrator, radio show host, columnist, instructor, and is the creator of The Book Fridge. She currently lives in Labrador. Her first book is the poetry collection Soak**
Double Talk
Why it's on the list ...
Double Talk is the story of one relationship from two perspectives. The result is a darkly humorous tale of a couple that is torn apart by the everyday stresses of life and time. University life and downtown St. John’s in the 1980s provides the backdrop for characters to explore and meditate on what their lives have become while the reader is along for the ride. This book is alluring and sexy, hilarious and honest. Warner, also a poet, has long made friends with language, and he knows how to mould it into whatever he needs it to be--a fist, a smile, a kiss, and sometimes a smack.
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Down To The Dirt
Why it's on the list ...
Down to the Dirt is the first novel by Joel Thomas Hynes and it was birthed from small town Newfoundland kicking and screaming. Meet Keith Kavanagh, a character so salty and sharp-tongued, we have a hard time believing he doesn’t actually exist, and the novel follows him as he gets into a whole lot of trouble while endeavoring to make peace with himself. Hynes’ writing is tough, raw, elegant and beautiful. In his first novel he proves that he is a pro storyteller whose words whip and sting at one point and wrap their arms around you at another. This is a modern classic.
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Away from Everywhere

Away from Everywhere

also available: eBook
tagged : literary
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Why it's on the list ...
Away from Everywhere is a love story, a psychological thriller, and most importantly, a great read. The novel opens at a crash scene and the reader slowly puts the pieces of the story together as Owen tries to do the same with his life. In this tragic novel Pelley takes on themes of self-discovery and family dynamics through the debilitating effects of mental illness and lost love, and he does more than succeed. This novel illustrates the talent of a champion writer whose work we’ll be reading for a long time yet.
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Why it's on the list ...
Using the 1982 Ocean Ranger disaster as a backdrop for the plot, Moore’s February is an engaging story about loss and how we move through life in its wake. Based on a tragedy in Newfoundland and Labrador’s own history, Moore invites us into the life of one widow as she tries to raise a family and travel through the subsequent decades in only the way mourners do. Moore is the master of description. She can always find the perfect word, the only word really, to most aptly describe a scene, a person, a nuance. Her level of precision and attention to craft is incredible.
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Reinventing the Rose
Why it's on the list ...
This controversial novel by Kenneth J. Harvey tells the story of Anna Wells who is in a dysfunctional relationship, and when she discovers she’s pregnant her world becomes something of nightmares. The universal yonic symbol of the rose becomes an eerie reminder of what is at stake: a woman’s right to choose, a man’s right to not parent, and a life that lingers somewhere within Anna and between the walls of a seemingly haunted house in Bareneed. The novel juggles the politics of power showing us how powerless we really are and what we are capable of if we are pushed far enough. Reinventing the Rose is a story that needs to be read and pondered by many.
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Why it's on the list ...
Kathleen Winter’s highly acclaimed first novel has deserved all the accolades it’s received. Newfoundland and Labrador is generally a very traditional and somewhat isolated area in regards to culture and diversity, and this novel carves a space for those conversations that no other novel has done with a transgendered protagonist at its core. Regardless of all that, Annabel is a good book that we should read because it’s simply that, a good book about our urge to judge what we can’t classify, about our need to store and stack things in neat little boxes, and most importantly, it’s a story about difference, love and acceptance.
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Skin Room
Why it's on the list ...
Skin Room, Sara Tilley’s first publication, is a contemporary coming-of-age novel. Tilley uses Nunavut and St. John’s to tell Teresa Norman’s story of transformation as she attempts to rid herself of shame, find redemption and attain happiness. With flashback and alternating time shifts, we see the young Teresa adjacent to the more experienced Teresa, and we are immediately drawn into her world. The story itself is fantastic and the individual scenes are enhanced by Tilley’s experience as a playwright. Whether it’s describing the texture of raw seal or the taste of a certain beer, she does it with astute attention to sensory detail that makes this book one to be read again and again.
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Come, Thou Tortoise

The plane is a row of gold circles and a cockpit. One of those circles will carry my head halfway home. I count back fourteen. That circle. In the cockpit the pilots are having a good time. Boy are they. Coffee cups have to be put down. They are really laughing. One puts a hand on the other’s shoulder. Then the one with the hand leans over and kisses the other’s cheek. A quick impulsive happy peck.

A fellow passenger joins me at the terminal window. Hey, I tell her. Our pilots just kissed.

No response.

I’m thinking that kiss bodes well for our safety.

She pretends she has a cup to throw away.

That is my plane. With the word nap resolving on its tail. How do I feel about that acronym. Not great.

My phone rings and it’s Linda.

What’s up.

Winnifred isn’t moving.

Never assume a tortoise is dead. Rule Number One of Tortoise Ownership. What’s the temperature in your apartment. Remember it’s winter. It’s still dark. She ’s not nocturnal. These and other environmental factors have likely caused her to withdraw into her shell. Her heart beats maybe once an hour. Be patient. Wait an hour.

Still, I crouch down next to the window. Feel the heat coming up from the vent. Is my tortoise dead. Should I go back.

My own heart is all apatter. This is being alive. Can you feel the body worry before every beat. I can. Will this be the last. No. Will this be the last. No.

Should I go back.

I look up at the pilots who are possibly in love and I don’t want to catch any other plane but this one. This is my plane.

Yesterday I peered down into her castle and she was beside the pool making the same journey I’d seen her start two days ago. I knocked on her shell. Excuse me, Winnifred.

No legs emerged. No little ancient head.

I picked her up and held her under my armpit. This usually worked. I did have a heat lamp, but paper castles tend to be flammable.

Finally she woke up.

There, I said. I put her in the pool.

I knelt down beside the castle with windows that look out onto my kitchen. Many times I have seen Winnifred poke her head wistfully through one of those windows. Many times I have seen her drop a piece of lettuce like a note.

She climbed out of the pool and creaked over to the window.

I have to go home for a while, I said.

Winnifred is old. She might be three hundred. She came with the apartment. The previous tenant, a rock climber named Cliff, was about to embark on a rock climbing adventure that would not have been much fun for Winnifred. Back then her name was Iris. Cliff had inherited Iris from the tenant before him. Nobody knew how old Iris was or where she had come from originally. Now Cliff was moving out. He said, Would you like a tortoise.

I would not say no to a tortoise, I said.

I was alone in Portland and the trees were giant. I picked her up and she blinked at me with her upside- down eyelids. I felt instantly calm. Her eyes were soft brown. Her skin felt like an old elbow. I will build you a castle, I whispered. With a pool. And I was true to my word.

Hold her under your armpit, I tell Linda.


Trust me.

And I hang up.

That was rude, but I am not myself. I am unslept. I am on automatic pilot. This image brought to mind by the pilots who clearly aren’t. What does automatic pilot mean. I picture an inflatable pilot, but that is from a movie. Automatic pilot is just a computer. It is what flies the plane when the pilots take a nap or make out. It is what kicks in metaphorically when your dad is in a comma, sorry coma, and you are summoned home and you must make arrangements for your tortoise.

Last night I stepped outside carrying Winnifred in her castle and the sky was busy with stars.

Look, Win, I said. The past. Because the past is what you are looking at when you look at the stars.

Winnifred looked up.

That’s where I’m going tomorrow, I said.

We drove out to Oregon City where the streets are all named after presidents in the order they were elected, so you can’t get lost if you are American and know your presidents. Linda and Chuck live on Taft. When I pulled up, Chuck was outside smoking with his actor friends.

Evening, Chuck.


As I climbed the steps, one of the actor friends said, Am I hallucinating or is she carrying a castle.

Yes, a castle.

Four people at my gate are knitting. Knitting needles are allowed on planes again. At security there was a new and definitive list of Objects You Cannot Take in Your Carrion Carry- on Luggage. All the usual weapons from the game of Clue were there, minus knitting needles, and with the addition of snow globes.

I patted my pockets and said, Where’s that snow globe.

The security woman in blue pinched the bridge of her nose like I was causing her pain right there.

Move on, please.

In the little kiosk inside security there were knitting needles and wool for sale. Christmas colours. So knitting is enjoying a revival.

I limped on to my gate.

Earlier, in the apartment, I had tripped over my carry- on bag in the dark. I had lain in the dark and thought, I won’t go, I’ve been hurt. I lay there and looked up at the sloped ceiling, still bumpy with Cliff ’s climbing holds. Cliff liked to refer to the ceiling as an overhang.

I had sent him an email saying, My dad is in a comma and waiting for me to open his eyes. Must depart. Apartment available for your use. Tortoise with Linda and Chuck.

No reply.

I sent him a second email: I meant coma.

I lay on the floor. My cab with its little Napoleon hat was puffing in the street.

Get up. Go.

When the right person arrives at the bedside of the comatose person, the comatose person opens his eyes. Everyone knows this. This is Rule Number One of Comatoseness.

Yesterday Uncle Thoby called and said, Oddly. There’s been an accident.

Which word made me sit down on the kitchen floor. Accident, I said.

Your dad received a severe blow to the medulla oblongata as he was walking home. From, this is unbelievable, a Christmas tree. Hanging sideways out of a pickup truck.

Uncle Thoby’s voice was okay until he got to pickup truck. Then it broke down. I didn’t understand. Hit by a Christmas tree. Or walking home from a Christmas tree. Or what.

Hit by. On his way home.

I thought about this. Finally I said, I have a question. Are you ready.


Here it is. I’ve got it. What is a medulla oblongata.

A brain stem.

Oh. Right. So a Christmas tree stem had collided with my dad’s brain stem. And now he was in a coma. I put my hand on the back of my neck. I had forgotten that the brain has geography. The human brain is 1,400 cubic centimetres of geography. Our heads fit inside airplane windows for Chrissakes. We are small and we can be pitched out of our geography.

I’ll come home, I said.

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Why it's on the list ...
Jessica Grant’s Come, Thou Tortoise, with a tortoise at its centre, is an important book to say the least. Not only did it win tons of awards which were all well-deserved but it also changed the way we engage with novels. Audrey Flowers, the loveable, gentle, vulnerable oddball, and her sophisticated tortoise Winnifred, see the world in magnificent ways, and it forces us to see our world and our literature in different ways. Grant is not afraid to play with language which shows in this wonderful, playful, imaginative work. It is the only one of its kind.
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