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2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist
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2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist

By 49thShelf
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The shortlist for one of Canada's most important literary prizes was announced on October 5. It's such a good one. Have you read these books yet?


also available: Hardcover
tagged : literary, westerns

Part literary Western and part historical mystery, Ridgerunner is the follow-up to Gil Adamson’s award-winning and critically acclaimed novel The Outlander.

November 1917. William Moreland is in mid-flight. After nearly twenty years, the notorious thief, known as the Ridgerunner, has returned. Moving through the Rocky Mountains and across the border to Montana, the solitary drifter, impoverished in means and aged beyond his years, is also a widower and a father. And he is determined to steal en …

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William Moreland kept moving south. If the moon was bright he walked all night, wading through dry prairie grass. He was alone and carried his meagre belongings on his back. It was November and snow clung to the hollows and shadows, but that snow was old, dry, delicate as meringue. He had come down the leeward side of the Rockies and had descended into the rolling grassland that runs from Alberta all the way into Montana. Having left the only real home he had ever known, he was looking for the border.
Cold as the days were, the sun was intense. Every noon he boiled in his coat and every night he lay shivering on the frigid ground and whined like a dog. After four days and nights, his feet were very bad. He suspected they were bloody by now but he couldn’t bring himself to pull off the boots and look.
This was open country. To the east, long grass and low trees all the way to the horizon, and to the west, the land bled into the cloud-like silhouette of the mountains. Days ago he had lost sight of the ranges he called home, and now he paced alongside peaks he remembered dimly from long ago, when he was a younger man, a line of only half-familiar shapes, the faces of acquaintances. He’d stolen everything he could from a ranger’s station outside Banff, including a knapsack, a hatchet, matches, and a blanketcoat with ROCKY MTNS PARK stencilled across the shoulder blades and STN 153 on the chest. He’d found nothing useful for hunting. No gun, not even a knife.
The jerky he’d been eating began to fume right through the canvas of his knapsack and sicken him as he walked. Holding the bag to his belly he clawed through it, dropping behind him the last strips of meat. Then the reeking square of oilcloth in which they had been wrapped fluttered down to settle on a tuft of grass like a tiny umbrella. He took out the hatchet and considered dropping it as well, to get rid of the weight, but couldn’t open his hand. The hatchet had great utility, so he slid it back into his bag. He was god-almighty thirsty and dreamed as he walked, dreamed of a river, of drinking gallons of water from that cold river.
One afternoon he came upon a gully packed with young trees which turned out to be mostly dry, but he dug down and sipped at a muddy pool. Then he rolled onto his side under the cover of shrubs and slept hard. When he rose a few hours later it was getting on to dark and he was stiff and trembling.
That night he found himself on the road he had been looking for. He followed it until he was standing, as planned, outside the little guard hut at the Sweetgrass border crossing between Alberta and Montana. He stood by the lightless window and swayed on numb legs. A bright coin of a moon overhead and no wind at all. The world was utterly still, so quiet he could hear his own ears humming. William Moreland stood like an idiot before the hut and waited for the guard. He stared about with hollow eyes and slowly came to the conclusion that he should probably do something.
Beyond the hut was a small gabled house and an unoccupied corral. There was a motorcar up on blocks by the kitchen door, but no lights to be seen anywhere. Moreland tried to call out with his dry throat but all that came out was a thin hiss; his first attempt to speak in more than a week. The applicant to cross over simply waited there, as he should, trying to either speak to authority, or call for service, but could make no sound at all, while the guard slumbered somewhere out of sight.
A barn owl melted out of the dark and alighted on a gable of the house. They gazed unblinking at each other until the owl tilted off and moved without sound to the west.
The absurdity of the situation was not lost on Moreland: this was after all the border between two countries. But all around him was a sea of grass and rolling land and wind and animals and dust and seeds that flowed this way and that across the imagined line. A decade and a half earlier he would not have stopped, nor intended to stop, nor have approached the crossing station at all. He would not have given it the slightest thought, but gone his own, quiet, solitary way, neither wild nor domesticated, just alone. But now he had been so long among people he’d forgotten that part of himself. So it came to him very slowly that the natural world, having long ago defined its own precincts and notions of order, was simply waiting for him to become unstuck.
He cupped his face and pressed it to the thin glass. In the darkness of the hut he saw a wooden counter and a high stool. He wandered round to the rear and pulled open the door. Inside he found a shelf under the counter on which stood a few romance books, a clean plate and a fork, long-dead bees and bits of bee, and below that, bolted to the floor, a small metal box. On top lay a heavy padlock, twisted open, and the key was stuck in it. He gathered the padlock into his fist, lifted the lid of the box, and let it all sag to the floor.
Moreland stood for a long time looking down at the revolver. An army model, Colt single action. There were a few spare rounds in the box, some of which didn’t match the gun but seemed to have been put there for tidy housekeeping. He considered taking the pistol, but in the end he shut the lid of the box, put the padlock back on top, shut the door to the hut, and left everything as it had been. He looked across the road at the blank windows of the little house and went back out into the night, moving south, always south, wading through a vast nothingness of grass. An ocean of grass.

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Here the Dark

Here the Dark


SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2020 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE • A NEW YORK TIMES NEW & NOTEWORTHY BOOK • A GLOBE AND MAIL TOP 100 BOOK FOR 2020 • A CBC BEST FICTION BOOK FOR 2020 • "His third appearance on the Giller shortlist ... affirms Bergen among Canada's most powerful writers. His pages light up; all around falls into darkness."—2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury • “David Bergen’s command is breathtaking … His work belongs to the world, and to all time. He is one of our living greats. …

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April in Snow Lake


The summer I turned nineteen my girlfriend went to Italy to work as a cook for a crew that was rebuilding houses in the aftermath of the earthquake in Udine Province. She wrote me long letters on thin sheets of paper. The letters arrived two weeks after she wrote them and as I read her words I was aware that what I was reading had already passed, she had moved on to some new experience, and so I felt as if I was following her from some great distance, catching a brief glimpse of her, only to have her disappear into a future that I would hear about fourteen days later. She had met a wonderful group of people from Belgium and Holland and France. There was Paul, who was six and half feet tall and played the banjo and admired Woody Guthrie. He wore a bandana. And there was Lillian, who was German Swiss, and was teaching her French. Lillian had taken her to Venice one Sunday, on their day off, and they had stayed overnight in a tiny villa. They had shared a bed and woken in the morning and made coffee on a hotplate and then had leaned out the window of their room and watched the lovers pass by below. It is all so romantic, she wrote. When I read this I was forlorn and I wondered how I would last the rest of the summer without her. I had found a job driving a truck for the local feed company, a job that required a lot of sitting and waiting, usually in the lot of an abattoir where I had been sent to pick up several tons of meat meal. Every evening I showered and scrubbed myself in order to remove the smell of dead animals from my hair and skin.

A year earlier I had decided to become a novelist, or a writer of short stories, or a poet, though I did not truly understand poetry and was more attached to narrative crescendo. I would write in a frenzy over the weekend and show my stories to my girlfriend on Monday evening. Of course we talked about my lack of life experience and my lack of voice and my lack of worldliness. She thought that my religious background, my faith in God, how I saw the world, would be a detriment to my writing. She said that Ernest Hemingway’s father had been religious like my father was, but that Hemingway had managed quite nicely to walk away from all the baggage. I said that I had no desire to walk away. There was room for grace as well as sin in the world of novels.

One morning, before I left for work, my girlfriend telephoned from Italy. At first I didn’t know it was her because I had not expected the call, and then when I finally recognized her voice I told her that I missed her horribly and I couldn’t wait for her to come home. She said that that she knew that but she planned to travel after finishing at the work camp. She might visit Lillian in Basel and then hitchhike up to Amsterdam where Paul lived. I’ll be home at the end of the summer, she said. Then we’ll get married.

This had been our plan, to marry in the fall. It had been my idea, my wish. She would just as happily have moved in together, but I had convinced her that we should marry. She agreed. But first, she said, she wanted to spend time traveling. She was quite willing for me to join her but the offer felt too easy. She knew that I could not afford it.

Her voice on the line faded in and out, and there was a delay, so that our conversation overlapped. At times we were speaking simultaneously and then we had to repeat ourselves and this led to long silences while we waited for the other to speak, and then it started all over again. Finally I just let her talk and as I did so I was aware of the tremendous physical distance between us and that her heart seemed smaller. And then the line went dead. I sat beside the phone for half an hour but she never called back.

That week a letter arrived in which she informed me that she wasn’t sure anymore if we should get married, in fact she wasn’t clear about her love for me. She claimed that the world was a big place and that she had one life and was she ready to spend that life with me? She wasn’t sure. I knew, as I read the letter, that the words had been written before her phone call, and this fact made our conversation irrelevant. She had been talking to me on the phone, promising that she missed me, and that she would return in the autumn and we would marry, while all along she knew that this wasn’t true. The space, the geographical distance, and the gap between what she wrote and what took place after she wrote it, all of this depressed me. Why had she not told me the truth? What was she afraid of? Was there something about me that she feared?


Two weeks later I quit my job driving truck at the feed mill and I rode a bus five hundred miles north to Snow Lake where I worked construction for an old friend of my father who was pouring basements. The crew worked long hours, getting up at five in the morning and working till nine or ten in the evening. The summer nights were short and the light was forever blue and then white and then briefly yellow, and again blue. We did not sleep much and this did not seem to matter. Because darkness barely existed it felt as if sleep was something that other people might require. Not us. Perhaps it was a madness to behave this way, and perhaps this is why the summer lacked a moral focus. The lack of sleep, the wild dreams when I finally did sleep, the anguished poetry I wrote to my girlfriend, my predilection for feverish musings, an inclination to save the world from sin—all of this might have been the result of a lack of sleep.

I was not a drinker, and at nights, when the men were finally free, they went to the local bar while I stayed in my motel room, or sat out on a chair on a rock and read John Steinbeck. And the Bible. The other men on the crew, mostly older than me, kept trying to drag me down to the bar for some pussy. This was their way of putting it. I told them that I was engaged to be married in the fall. Shit, they said, that’s exactly why you need to get laid. I smiled and humored them and shook my head. They went off to get drunk and find a woman, or at least to imagine that possibility, and I read. They had taken to calling me Preacher, because I had let them know that I was a Christian. That fact amused them.

On Sundays, our day off, I was lonely and so I wandered through the town. I noticed that the children on the streets and in the yards were aimless and, my nature being inclined towards industry, I decided to organize a Sunday Day Camp for youth. The ages would be 14 to 17. I didn’t want any small children. I planned to do some hiking and orienteering and I planned to tell these kids stories that were mature and I planned to save their souls. I knew that a sixteen-year-old was able to think along the lines of metaphor more easily. At the local hardware store I purchased several compasses, a filleting knife, a hatchet, and two fishing rods. I canvassed the town, knocked on doors, and asked if there were teenagers living there who might be interested in joining my Day Camp. We would meet under the shelter at the town park. Some folks said no and closed the door, others were willing to listen, and one older woman who had no children asked me in and brewed tea and we sat in her dark living room and listened to the clock tick on the mantle as she cautioned me against presumption.

The first Sunday, three kids appeared. Two sisters, Beverly and April, and a boy named Rodney. I told them a little about myself—I was nineteen, I came from a small town in the south, I liked to read, I wrote poetry and songs, and I believed in God. I asked them to tell about their lives. They looked at each other and giggled. Finally April said that she was there because her younger sister Beverly wanted to come. She shrugged. April had long dark hair that she wore in a single braid and, unlike the other two, she looked right at me when she spoke. She was seventeen. I found her very attractive and so I concentrated on Beverly and Rodney, sneaking looks at April when I thought she didn’t notice.

That afternoon I taught them how to build a lean to, and how to use the compasses, and we caught two fish and filleted them by the lake. These were all things that my father, who considered himself a bit of an outdoorsman, had taught me. We built a fire using the log cabin method and we fried the fish and ate it with our hands, right from the frying pan. Later, I played a few songs and I sang and then I told them the story of how I had become a Christian. I had asked Jesus into my heart. Everyone needs to do that, I said. Would you like to do that? I asked. They looked at me and then April said, Maybe. Someday.

That’s good, I said. Really good.

That night I went to bed imagining that I might fall in love with April, or if not that, we would walk in the park at the edge of town and hold hands. At that time in my life I was full of ego and pride and I could not imagine April liking anyone more than me, in fact I thought that if I were to be with her, I would be the gentlest and kindest person she had ever known. These were similar to the thoughts I used to have about my girlfriend who was in Udine.

I had not heard from her since the last letter, and though I had asked my parents to forward my mail, no letter had arrived. I believed at the time that she would come to regret her decision.


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Polar Vortex

Polar Vortex

also available: eBook Audiobook

Longlisted for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Some secrets never die...

Priya and Alexandra have moved from the city to a picturesque countryside town. What Alex doesn't know is that in moving, Priya is running from her past—from a fraught relationship with an old friend, Prakash, who pursued her for many years, both online and off. Time has passed, however, and Priya, confident that her ties to Prakash have been successfully severed, decides it's once more safe to establish an online presence …

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The Glass Hotel

The Glass Hotel

A Novel
also available: Hardcover Paperback

A Time Magazine Must Read Book of 2020
A Globe and Mail Top 100 Book of the Year

#1 national bestseller

New York Times bestseller

From the award-winning author of Station Eleven, a captivating novel of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York, dragging countless fortunes with it.

Vincent is a bartender at the H …

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How to Pronounce Knife

How to Pronounce Knife


Named one of Time Magazine's Must-Read Books of 2020 and one of the best books of the month by The New York Times, Salon, Vanity Fair, Bustle, The Millions, and Vogue, and featuring stories that have appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, this revelatory book of fiction from O. Henry Award winner Souvankham Thammavongsa establishes her as an essen …

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How to Pronounce Knife
The note had been typed out, folded over two times, and pinned to the child’s chest. It could not be missed. And as she did with all the other notes that went home with the child, her mother removed the pin and threw it away. If the contents were important, a phone call would be made to the home. And there had been no such call.

The family lived in a small apartment with two rooms. On the wall of the main room was a tiny painting with a brown bend at the centre. That brown bend was supposed to be a bridge, and the blots of red and orange brushed in around it were supposed to be trees. The child's father had painted this, but he didn't paint anymore. When he came home from work, the first thing he always did was kick off his shoes. Then he'd hand over a newspaper to the child, who unfolded sheets on the floor, forming a square, and around that square they sat down to have dinner. 

For dinner, it was cabbage and chitterlings. The butcher either threw the stuff away or had it out on display for cheap, so the child’s mother bought bags and bags from him and put them in the fridge. There were so many ways to cook these: in a broth with ginger and noodles, grilled over charcoal fire, stewed with fresh dill, or the way the child liked them best—baked in the oven with lemongrass and salt. When she took these dishes to school, other children would tease her about the smell. She shot back, “You wouldn’t know a good thing even if five hundred pounds of it came and sat on your face!”

When they all sat down for dinner, the child thought of the notes her mother threw away, and about bringing one to her father. There had been so many last week, maybe it was important. She listened as her father worried about his pay and his friends and how they were all making their living here in this new country. He said his friends, who were educated and had great jobs in Laos, now found themselves picking worms or being managed by pimple-faced teenagers. They’d had to begin all over again, as if the life they led before didn’t count.

The child got up, found the note in the garbage, and brought it to her father.

He waved the note away. "Later." He said this in Lao. Then, as if remembering something important, he added, "Don't speak Lao and don't tell anyone you are Lao. It's no good to tell people where you're from." The child looked at the centre of her father's chest, where, on his T-shirt, four letters stood side by side: LAOS.

A few days after that, there was some commotion in the classroom. All the girls showed up wearing different variations of pink, and the boys had on dark suits and little knotted ties. Miss Choi, the grade one teacher, was wearing a purple dress dotted with a print of tiny white flowers and shoes with little heels. The child looked down at her green jogging suit. The green was dark, like the green of broccoli, and the fabric at the knees was a few shades lighter and kept their shape even when she was standing straight up. In this scene of pink and sparkles and matching purses and black bow ties and pressed collars, she saw she was not like the others.

Miss Choi, always scanning the room for something out of place, noticed the green that the child was wearing and her eyes widened. She came running over and said, "Joy. Did you get your parents to read the note we sent home with you?" 

"No," she lied, looking at the floor where her blue shoes fitted themselves inside the space of a small square tile. She didn't want to lie, but there was no point in embarrasing her parents. The day went as planned. And in the class photo, the child was seated a little off to the side, with the grade and year sign placed in front of her. The sign was always right in the middle of these photos, but the photographer had to do something to hide the dirt on the child's shoes. Above that sign, she smiled. 

When her mother came to get her after school, she asked why all the children were dressed up this way, but the child didn't tell her. She lied, saying in Lao, "I don't know. Look at them, all fancy. It's just an ordinary day."

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