The Parcel
by Anosh Irani

Anosh Irani’s novel about hijra (transgender) sex workers in contemporary Bombay contains a fair amount of disturbing description, including a castration performed in a less-than-clinical setting with tightened ropes used in place of anaesthetic. And yet The Parcel’s most discomfiting aspect is arguably its central metaphor, a “parcel” being a prepubescent girl stolen from her family and sold to a male client who will “open” her. Read more…

A Field Guide to Lies
by Daniel J. Levitin

The cover of his new book declares Daniel J. Levitin the “New York Times Bestselling Author of The Organized Mind and This is Your Brain on Music.” That’s impressive, but also ironic given it’s the kind of fuzzy statement that Levitin, a psychology and behavioural neuroscience professor at McGill, urges us within its pages always to query. Were one or both of these titles bestselling, or was Levitin a bestselling author before he wrote them? Does “bestselling” imply a certain number of copies sold, weeks on the list, or is it relative: can you be bestselling even if book sales, overall, are low? Read more…

by Katherine Govier

Something called the “CanLit generator” became a minor sensation on social media recently. Go to the latter’s website and click on a button and you get a series of random, non-sequiturish plotlines based on clichés about our national literature: “An unnamed protagonist becomes involved with the fur trade to make peace with the parents they never knew”; “An archivist absent-mindedly buries a memento in the dirt outside their childhood home to rediscover themselves at the family cabin.” Read more…

by Tim Hanley

In this comprehensive and often lively study of Superman’s love-interest, Lois Lane, Halifax-based comic historian Tim Hanley describes his subject as “Superman without the superpowers… [Lois] is just as committed to truth and justice through her tireless reporting, and just as willing to put herself in harm’s way to help someone.” Read more…

by Kurt Palka

Starting in the early eighties, Kurt Palka published four novels over the course of roughly a decade. They were historical sagas and Len Deighton-ish wartime thrillers set in locales ranging from the Canadian author’s native Austria to imperial Mexico. Equinox, one of two published under the pseudonym Kurt Maxwell, focused on the then-hot topic of contract terrorism. All are currently out of print. Read more…

by Yann Martel

Though set decades apart —“Homeless,” “Homeward,” and “Home” — the three interlinked panels of The High Mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel’s triptych of a novel about grief and origins, have a series of elements in common: a bereaved man, a chimpanzee, people who walk backwards, and the titular mountains. Read more…

by Rick Moody

Rick Moody is primarily famous for two things at opposite ends of the desirability spectrum: his popular 1994 novel the Ice Storm, which became a successful film, and for having been labelled “the worst writer of his generation” by the ostentatiously venal critic Dale Peck in 2002. Read more…

The McGarrigle Family Album
by Jane and Anna McGarrigle

A 2012 Massey Hall tribute to Kate McGarrigle, who had died two years previously of cancer, was the impetus behind this lively, evocative memoir by the musician’s surviving sisters, Jane and Anna—the latter the other half of the Canadian folk-duo who rose to fame starting in the mid-seventies (the authors are also aunts to Kate’s famous children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright). Read more…

by Anthony Marra

With its complexly interlinked characters (among them a ballerina exiled to Siberia and a Chechen war-veteran-turned-drug-dealer); recurring objects passed, like a series of batons, from tale to tale (an unplayable mixtape, a painting of a Chechen landscape); and near-century-long narrative arc (from the Stalin-era Soviet Union to Putin’s Russia) splayed against a backdrop of systemic corruption and personal futility, Anthony Marra’s new book presents as if it were the love child of David Mitchell and George Orwell. Read more…

by Ronald Wright

International headlines recently reported that one of Earth’s last uncontacted tribes, Peru’s Mashco-Piro, appeared to be attempting to communicate with the world outside their Amazon home. Visions of civilizational oneness sealed with pox-thwarting fistbumps dissipated, however, when it became apparent that what the Maschco Piro actually wanted was metal cooking implements, which they grabbed from a nearby tourist resort before retreating back into the jungle.

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by Elvis Costello

Don’t start me talking, I could talk all night, go the lyrics to Elvis Costello’s 1979 song “Oliver’s Army.” It was clearly the case while writing his hefty but illuminating new memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.

Costello’s appealingly nonlinear narrative style often feels like a jammy windshield wiper: chapters repeatedly return to certain chronological spots—the lead-up to his late-seventies’ breakout with his band The Attractions, for instance—yet delay mention of salient details like the adoption of his stage name (he had no particular fondness for his namesake, who died shortly before his first US tour), or his defiant television debut on Saturday Night Live, which famously got him banned from the show. Read more…

by Nino Ricci

The protagonists of Nino Ricci’s newest novel, Sleep, and his last, The Origin of Species, are both intellectually blocked academics who have problematic relationships with women and skeletons in their closets. But where Origin’s Alex Fratarcangeli eventually finds redemption through empathy for a series of people who enter his life, Ricci has deemed that neither conscience nor outward interference will impede Sleep’s David Pace in his journey down a path of moral depravity and self-sabotage. Read more…

by Richard B. Wright

As a boy growing up in Midland, Ontario, Richard Wright watched his work-bound father struggle against the deep snow brought by endless winter storms off Georgian Bay. To show his appreciation for his father’s sacrifice, Wright decided he would get up early and shovel a path so his father wouldn’t have to arrive at work in wet clothes. In his quest to make the path as wide and perfect as possible, however, Wright failed to finish it before his father left. After this happened several times, his dad suggested gently that, in future, Wright might consider shovelling a rough but serviceable path then widen it later on. Read more…

by Patrick deWitt

Patrick DeWitt’s struggling-author anonymity vanished with the publication of his mock-Western second novel, The Sisters Brothers, which won two major prizes (the Rogers Writers’ Trust and the Governor General’s awards for fiction) and was shortlisted for two others (the Man Booker and the Giller). After he bought film rights, the actor John C. Reilly promised to play the languid assassin Eli Sisters, a bit of typecasting so perfect it makes my hands flap uncontrollably. Read more…

by Greg Hollingshead

When at one point, the narrator of “Sense of an Ending,” a story smack in the middle of Greg Hollingshead’s crackerjack new collection, Act Normal, announces “It’s in a reader’s interest to close down on the meaning as soon as she can. She needs to be able to move on as soon as possible to the next story,” it’s hard not to take it personally. That’s because in these twelve non-sequiturish tales of miscommunication, uncanniness and altered states, Hollingshead (currently director of the Banff Centre Writing Studio and a G-G Award for Fiction-winner for his 1995 collection The Roaring Girl) makes a sport of denying exactly this to his readers, as if “meaning” were a piece of fantasy real estate and he were Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenn Ross urging us, minus the verbal abuse, to “always be closing.” Read more…

by Camilla Gibb

Judged by its title alone, you might take Camilla Gibb’s memoir to be a Pollyannaish portrait of a successful author in mid-career. And with four well-received novels (including The Beauty of Humanity Movement and Sweetness in the Belly), a professorship at U of T, and a young daughter, Gibb would seem, outwardly at least, to have much to be happy about. Yet undermining the title’s seeming declarativeness is a conspicuous use of lower-case type and lack of punctuation on the cover—it is not This is Happy? or, This! Is! Happy!—which, combined, suggest that Gibb’s happiness, while nominally achieved, is mitigated by something. Read more…

by Paul Lynch

Paul Lynch’s The Black Snow is, like its predecessor, Red Sky in Morning, a fierce and stunning novel written in chiaroscuro; its darkness always threatening to absorb its light. The Irish author’s gnarled, lustrous prose style is peppered with local vernacular; his literary sensibility an ornate version of the American Gothic of McCarthy and Faulkner. Throw in an elastic attitude to grammar and all of this has a thrillingly defamiliarizing effect: though he’s writing in English, Lynch makes you feel like you’ve magically acquired the ability to understand a foreign language. Read more…

by Jordan Tannahill

In the second chapter of his lively and passionate jeremiad against mundanity in contemporary English-language theatre, Theatre of the Unimpressed, Jordan Tannahill compares the experience of a bad play to a failed orgy he once organized. “A lackluster orgy suffers from all the same problems as boring theatre,” he reasons. “People go through the motions, they do what’s expected, they make the sounds they’re supposed to make, but it’s really not as surprising or exhilarating as you hope or imagine it will be.” Read more…

by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

Growing up in the Arctic town of Kuujjuaq, Sheila Watt-Cloutier describes herself as a “a cautious child who didn’t like taking big risks.” That characterization may seem surprising coming from an Inuit woman who has arguably done more than anyone to raise awareness of how environmental pollutants and climate change have affected circumpolar peoples. Read more…

Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage
by Kathleen Winter

When, in 2010, a friend asked Kathleen Winter if she’d be interested in taking a spot on an icebreaker due to travel the Northwest Passage in a matter of days, everything about the offer seemed propitious: not only had the North always held a powerful allure for the Montreal-based writer, she’d also recently taken a kind of vow of peripatetic spontaneity; her bags were literally already packed. Read more…

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