Can’tLit, edited by Richard Rosenbaum

I’m not punk, or indie, or anything like that. There’s aspects of those cultures, or counter-cultures I guess (same thing, really), that I feel an affinity for, but they’re not really my scene. Indie culture is what Broken Pencil does, though, and therefore you’re not going to find much in the way of mainstream fiction in Can’tLit, and anthology of fiction from the magazine. That’s both awesome and frustrating. There’s two ways to think of taking risks in fiction. There’s the obvious way, which is writing against mainstream literary expectations, and I have a lot of respect for that, especially when it’s done here in Canada, because, well… yeah. CanLit can be boring and predictable as shit sometimes. Maybe even most of the time. (Rosenbaum’s foreword even starts with the words: “CanLit sucks.”) There’s a whole bunch of that in this collection; in point of fact most of the pieces… Continue Reading

The World More Full of Weeping, by Robert J. Wiersema

So here we have another gorgeous book. This is a thing that CZP does, create beautiful books that is, a logical consequence of hiring Erik Mohr to design covers, and the picture that I have posted here does not do it justice (it includes spot varnish!). Creepy in an awesome kind of way, yeah? Anyway. The World More Full of Weeping is only about eighty pages, so I don’t know whether to call it a novella or a short novel, but I don’t care, because it’s really good. There’s also a short essay on the psychogeography of his work in the back that actually stands on its own, so, you know, bit of a bonus there. I loved Bedtime Story, and really enjoyed Before I Wake, but I think The World More Full of Weeping is my favourite of his books. The central concern of Wiersema’s work is families in… Continue Reading

Before I Wake, by Robert J. Wiersema

I’d passed Before I Wake in the bookstore umpteen million times, and it itched at me, as books do, but I passed it by. If you read the copy on the back of the book, it will tell you that young Sherry Berrett gets struck by a car and falls into a coma (yes, Robert, a coma, not a catatonic state—fool me once, etc). Her parents eventually make the heart-breaking decision to take her off life support, and then—when she doesn’t die—there’s all sorts of talk about miracles and whatnot. At the time I was walking past Before I Wake in the bookstore I had a “no Jesus” policy. A friend and I had been talking, and we noticed that in the popular media—television in particular—religion seemed to be tacked on to everything, whether it needed it or not, and particularly a sort of lukewarm, non-committal Christianity. Regardless of whether… Continue Reading

The Waterproof Bible, by Andrew Kaufman

I read The Waterproof Bible so long ago now that it feels like forever, but it’s so good, and since I’m already behind schedule anyway, I thought, fuck it, let’s write about it. I sprung for the hardcover, which I almost never do, but in this case it was worth it. Rather than your typical big-publisher hardback with an undistinguished cloth cover and a dust jacket with a pretty picture that will get ignored or damaged or lost, Random House made something that looks like the kind of thing McSweeney’s would have put together, with some really lovely gold leaf and a clever belly band that’s actually thematically relevant. The stock isn’t quite as good as what McSweeney’s would have used, but then McSweeney’s would have charged an additional ten bills for it, too. Anyway, the thing is gorgeous. This is the bit where I’m supposed to tell you what… Continue Reading

Gallows View, by Peter Robinson

Over the last year and a half or so I’ve read at least two dozen crime novels, and what sets this first Chief Inspector Alan Banks novel apart from all of them is how low the stakes are for most of the book. Almost every crime novel I’ve ever read involves a murder at some point (I’m hard pressed to think of one right now, but there may be a Chandler novel without a murder that I’m just not remembering; I read most of those ages ago), and Gallows View features only a single accidental death, and for most of the novel it feels like a peripheral concern. Alan Banks’ biggest concerns (despite the accidental death of an elderly woman, which one would think takes priority, but then one would be wrong) turn out to be a Peeping Tom and a ring of thefts. Well, to be fair the thefts… Continue Reading

The Crime on Cote des Neiges, by David Montrose

I’ve spent the last year or so—and especially the last six months—introducing myself to the world of crime/mystery fiction. (I don’t really know what to call it; there seem to be a number of genre subtypes, and I’m not familiar enough to be able to sort them out.) I’ve been having a great time with the genre, a far better time than even I expected. I think I went through ten novels in March alone. I picked up this book, the first of several Canadian noir reissues, based on a post on The Dusty Bookcase, a blog run by Brian Busby, who just also happens to be the series editor. The Crime on Cote des Neiges was first published in 1951, and is one of three detective novels set mostly in Montréal that Charles Ross Graham wrote under the nom de guerre “David Montrose.” (The others are Murder Over Dorval… Continue Reading

Light Lifting, by Alexander MacLeod

The initial reviews of Light Lifting were excellent, but largely lacked the critical language that entices me to pick up a book. I don’t know if it’s a shortcoming on my part, or the way the literary conversation goes here in Canada, but I got the distinct impression that MacLeod’s stories were just very well executed variations of standard Munrovian realism. Because the book is published by Biblioasis I felt sure I’d agree that it was an excellent book (I have yet to be disappointed by anything of theirs), so I dutifully bought it, thinking I’d get around to it in the fall when that sort of thing seems to appeal to me a little more than usual. When Bronwyn and others started raving about it on Twitter in way that felt different, exciting, I knew it couldn’t wait and I wanted to be involved in the conversation, so I… Continue Reading

What Boys Like, by Amy Jones

Can I tell you what surprised me most about this book? Because months and months after I read it (I know, I’m sorry, I’m late with everything these days) the shock is still with me. What Boys Like isn’t funny. Well, okay, it isn’t primarily funny. There are bits in these stories that are meant to be funny, especially little bits of dialogue, which Jones has a wicked gift for, and those bits are funny, but these stories show a considerable range in terms of tone and emotional direction, just as you’d expect from a Metcalf-Rooke award winning collection. The reason this surprised me is because my primary experience of Amy’s writing is her blog, which is basically the funniest thing ever. I—honest to God—got the sense that she was first and foremost a humourist (and the one reading I went to, where I totally chickened out and went slack-jawed… Continue Reading

Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, by Zsuzsi Gartner

I’d never read anything by Zsuzsi Gartner until now, except a few smatterings of the Darwin’s Bastards anthology she edited, but I had heard her name, and heard good things about her first book, All the Anxious Girls on Earth. Better Living Through Plastic Explosives is a title to inspire, and as reviews and comments came flooding in from friends and associates who’d acquired advance reading copies (as indeed my copy is), it seemed exactly the sort of thing I’d want to read. Gartner did not disappoint. The collection opens with a story called “Summer of the Flesh Eater” satirizing class conflict in an upper middle-class suburb. It’s clever, and biting, and a tad ridiculous, and remains the piece I remember most vividly. A motorcycle driving, steak-grilling, lawn-ornament-owning, working-class man moves into a cul-de-sac populated by unimaginably twee upper middle-class men and their amorphously defined wives. Told from the point… Continue Reading

L (and things come apart), by Ian Orti

Sent to me by the fine folks at Invisible Publishing, L is the surreal story of Henry, a man with a troubled home life, the woman called L who moves into the cramped room above his café, and how the café and the city seem to shift and respond to their relationship and their emotions. At first I didn’t like the book at all. It felt awkward and lacking direction, and it didn’t help that Orti’s prose is incredibly strange. More than once I caught myself checking to see if L was in fact a translated work, because it had all the signs of having a serious case of translationese. And then, about halfway through, it hit me: L is a piece of French New Wave cinema. It is a Goddard film that has been transliterated from celluloid to paper. Once I realized that, everything made sense, and I found… Continue Reading