Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Spring Stampede

A survey of fiction, poetry and even non-fiction with all the fixings
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By Nathaniel G. Moore

Now that tax season has subsided for another year, it's time to take off our mittens and quit sniffing so much and make way for the fabulous spring books comin' round the bend here in Canadian Literature. You know, that special time of year when the publishers pull out all the stops, bylines and press releases to bring to your attention their intentions. So, here is but a light dusting of some of the fabulous books hitting the shelves that will save your reading life, oh so very soon.

In fiction, biting misfit Joey Comeau fires up the novel with Overqualified (ECW Press), a collection of caustic, extreme cover letters that do more than prove Comeau's desire to not get the job; he actually uses the medium as a way of storytelling. I for one am all for replacing literature with the strangulating clarity of a personal letter. Comeau says he started writing the book in early 2007 and had been sending the letters much earlier. Comeau describes how one of the letters resulted in police action: "The cops showed up at my house, they determined that I wasn't really a middle-aged man planning an elaborate suicide so that I could leave behind a legacy of mystery and respect for my two children, and asked me to knock it off."

Comeau plans on spending a month hitting cities in the United States and here in Canada. "We're gonna project A Softer World comics on the wall with a slide projector. I'm gonna read briefly. We'll have bands play short sets. Everyone will get so drunk they wake up wondering where they got this awesome book and whose pants they're wearing."

It's been several years since Ottawa author Nichole McGill's first book of short stories, 13 Cautionary Tales, was released with the late great Gutter Press. McGill's debut novel is somewhat of a swerve from her original tragectory. Girl #3 (Key Porter Books) is a YA novel that showcases McGill's abilties as she channels the fluid and anxious urban girl voice with a story about gutsy 14-year-old Syd Johanssen whose dark obsession with the highly-publicized abductions and murders of two local girls may get her into more trouble than she wants. Girl #3 is inspired by several real-life incidents that occurred when the author was a girl. McGill explains, "The reasonable part of me knew I had to untangle the personal from the fictional in order for the book to sing with its own voice yet in early drafts, I danced around this issue, pretending that the work was purely fictional and had nothing to do with my personal history."

Stripmallng (ECW Press), the debut novel of Montreal's last literary action hero, Jon Paul Fiorentino, includes sixty illustrations by Evan Munday. It tells the multi-angular and comedic story of a writer named Jonny who is, in fact, writing a novel called Stripmalling while teaching at the local university; he's also losing his mind and facing a much deserved mid-life crisis. The book is already accruing a lot of excellent praise, which will no doubt culminate nicely when and if Fiorentino visits his home planet of Winnipeg later this spring.

Poet and acclaimed fiction writer Emily Schultz's second novel, Heaven is Small (Anansi), is the story of Gordon Small, a "degree-clutching slacker and failed fiction writer" who recently died, yet lands a job at the Heaven Book Company (the world's largest romance publisher) and is obsessed with his relationship with his ex-wife, Chloe Gold, a very successful writer. Gordon embarks on a mission that will redeem him, revive his writing career and bring his new employers to their knees. What's most compelling about this story is that it appears to go out of its way to veer from any quotidian office politicking pinching fight and attempts a more mature, subdued comedy.

Marianne Apostolides's novel, Swim (BookThug), explores eroticism of language and family. Says Apostolides, "The 'meaning' of the water -- its metaphor -- changed as the book progressed. That meaning wasn't imposed from the outset; I think the book would've failed if I'd entered with that kind of intent. Instead, I was merely attempting to follow a woman's thoughts as she swims; as I did so, the rhythm of language followed naturally."

Legendary small press author Tony Burgess gets the movie treatment when Pontypool Changes Everything (movie edition) is released this spring with ECW Press. Beyond a new cover, the book gets some haute-horror spring in its step with the release of Pontypool (the movie, directed by Bruce McDonald) this spring. First published eleven years ago, Pontypool Changes Everything is the story of a small town consumed by a mad plague (you catch it through conversation) and once it has you, it leads you into another world where the undead chase you down the streets. I picked this book because Tony Burgess both delights and terrifies me. The few times I've met him I have felt as though he was about to hug me, then put chloroform over my mouth and put me in the trunk of his car. Few authors manage to conjure up that emotional confluence within.

Down the road from all that is, of course, is Canadian poetry. I love Canadian poetry, even tried my hand at if a couple of years ago. Canadian poetry, as far as I can see, is never supposed to be exceptionally optimistic or encrusted with joy. Some of it is, I'm sure, maybe. Usually, however, the general deluge is either language-playful, coitus-infused dirty, apocalyptic, vocational, didactic, or an invitation to a double suicide. Cohen once remarked that poetry was a verdict. I think it's supposed to reflect a certain type of human pathology and desire while addressing concerns that appear in the A-section of local newspapers. I'm not suggesting that these six poetry books are going to be spiritual bummers; I'm just saying poetry is real, because I believe it's a human reaction, a reflex if you will. I’m also saying these books are going to be invincible; I have that excitable feeling while peering through my CanPo crystal ball.

According to a recent interview with the Calgary Herald, while climbing the French Alps, poet Sina Queyras Expressway "began thinking about the Romantic poets idealized view of nature and, to a certain degree, how we as humans have tended to screw it up." Her new collection of poetry, (Coach House Books), will echo these Romantic elegiac modes and their intricacies as well as our transient means and modes of life. Meanwhile, Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip (Coach House Books) has a kitchen-sink approach to thinking, language and identity; brimming with dogs, movie stars, Latin, pillage and more. This book gathers Robertson’s previously uncollected verses, essays, confessions, reports, drafts, laments and utopias from 1995 to 2007.

Another acclaimed Canadian poet Karen Solie's Pigeon (Anansi) will put the populace’s gaudy flaws, shortcomings and human vulnerability points under the X-ray. This thorough poet rummages through our mistaken perceptions, our ideas on violence and the Eros of danger. Solie says the book was generated from "an interest in ways to think about violence, but as it went on, became more about love and the desire for connection with people and places even when that connection is transient and peripheral."

Solie explains how the biggest challenge she faced, aside from "just getting it finished," was writing honestly about the love and violence. "It's a lot easier to be cynical and sarcastic than it is to be honest."

Elizabeth Bachinsky, author of God of Missed Connections (Nightwood Editions), is looking forward to reading from her new book of poetry. The poet says she's particularly excited about a poem called "The Wax Ceremony," which is a documentary-style collage of historical documents, poetry and fictional accounts of the experiences of both early Ukrainian immigrants and a young woman writing and living downtown in present-day Vancouver. Bachinsky is itching to turn it into a film.

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk's second collection of poetry, Somewhere To Run From (Tightrope Books), challenges the notions of what a girl runs into on the living road. Ziniuk's new book will investigate poverty, pop and sub culture, madness and normative sexuality. Nic Labriola's Naming the Mannequins (Insomniac Press) is a poetic journey, over the span of one night, through the seamy underbelly of a fading, unnamed town populated with seemingly hollow, anonymous souls. Ronna Bloom's Permiso (Pedlar Press) is the acclaimed essayist and poet's fourth collection and I am strangely lured in by her publisher’s description: “it which follows an ancient trajectory, of psychic displacement, of questions having to do with personal failure, of responsibility, yes, and of an emerging, craning desire, of a search, begun anew, for an Other who just might be Self.”

And finally, Carolyn Smart's Hooked (Brick Books) is a collection comprised of seven poems written in dramatic monologues about seven infamous women: Myra Hindley, Unity Mitford, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dora Carrington, Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles, and Elizabeth Smart. Says Smart about culling the material for the book: "Once I'd chosen Myra Hindley ("the most despised woman in British history") as my first topic, I then discovered how challenging it was to write in another voice completely and was, pardon the pun, hooked. My second subject was "the most hated woman in British history," apparently: a woman who fell in love with Hitler, in a very public manner. Unity Mitford and her sisters were all huge characters for study, but again I saw Unity very much as a product of her class and gender, a girl with an education in nothing followed by a finishing school. A girl who could do just about anything, and did. Those two poems nearly wrote themselves, I got inside them with ease."

Smart continues, “But looking around at other figures to explore I found a lot of victims and didn't want to move in that direction. To enter into the head of someone else is a risk at the best of times, and to live in the head of a person crushed by reality is a direction I did not wish to follow. I wanted to explore the ideas of obsession and addiction and love, and to do that within characters that were vibrant and engaging, whether they were "good" or "bad". All of the women I chose were women who were personally fascinating to me, and complex enough that it took time and work in order to get to a place where I could speak for them.”

To round-out my spring reading picks, a quick foray into non-fiction sees much-loved Toronto magazine Shameless get anthologized. A Shameless Anthology (Tightrope Books) is co-edited by Megan Griffith-Greene and Stacey May Fowles and will include essays by women and trans-identified adults about their formative experiences as teens; primarily intended for a young audience. "We wanted to do a book that appealed to teens," says co-editor and Shameless publisher Fowles, "but also resonated with women of all ages."

Fowles describes the collection as candid stories about what it's like growing up as a girl, for better and worse. "For me, I wanted an opportunity to gather writers who could tell teen girls that 'it gets better.’"

Also in non-fiction, Guy Maddin's Genie-nominated film getting delicate and sensual book treatment when Coach House releases My Winnipeg. Stills, outtakes, childhood photos, animations, diary entries, collages, archival images and nascent treatments pepper what should be a steady companion to the film. The book also boasts a hand-drawn map of Maddin’s personal landmarks; an interview between Ann Savage and Maddin’s mother; and another between Maddin and Michael Ondaatje.

Maddin describes how he accumulated a lot of Winnipeg anecdotes while preparing the movie version of My Winnipeg: "factoids and melancholic reveries resembling graveyard spirals of the soul." It turns out not all this stuff was film-appropriate material.

"It was stuff better suited for the written word. So I had to omit a lot of precious material from the final cut of the movie. This pile of sad script deletions was the beginning of the book,” says Maddin. The book is "really a second version of the movie, but with all new material, and in the medium it’s best meant to live."

Nathaniel G. Moore

Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of Bowlbrawl, Let's Pretend We Never Met and co-editor of Toronto Noir. Visit:

The views expressed in the magazine are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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