Spring preview 2012: Canadian fiction, poetry, and graphica

Steven W. Beattie, Quill and Quire
January 9, 2012

n the January/February issue, Q&Q looks ahead at the spring season’s new books.



Vincent Lam won the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his debut, the short-story collection Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. His follow-up is a novel set during the Vietnam War. The Headmaster’s Wager (Doubleday Canada, $32.95 cl., April) is about the gambling, womanizing head of an English school in Saigon, whose son runs afoul of the country’s authorities and is forced into exile. • Another Giller winner, CBC broadcaster Linden MacIntyre, has a new novel out this season. Why Men Lie (Random House Canada, $32 cl., March), the third volume in the author’s Cape Breton trilogy – which also includes The Long Stretch and 2009 Giller champ The Bishop’s Man – is the first to be told from the perspective of a woman.

Four-time winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, winner of the Prix Médicis, the W.O. Mitchell Prize, and the Matt Cohen Award, and member of the Order of Canada, Marie-Claire Blais is one of this country’s most lauded authors. Her new novel is set in the Saloon, a phantasmagorical place where boys are transformed into dream creatures who engage in carnivalesque performances of song and dance. Mai at the Predator’s Ball (House of Anansi Press, $19.95 pa., May) is translated from the French by Nigel Spencer. • Following 2007’s The Letter Opener (and the successful children’s picture book Spork), Kyo Maclear’s sophomore novel draws on memories of her father, a foreign correspondent. Stray Love (HarperCollins Canada, $29.99 cl., March), which includes illustrations by Toronto artist Heather Frise, is about Marcel, a man approaching 50 who reflects on his childhood in London, his globetrotting father, and his mysterious, bohemian mother.

Nina Dolgoy lives in a bad neighbourhood. If only the boarded-up local pool reopened, she thinks, it might provide her daughters with something to do. The problem is Nina doesn’t have any money. What else to do but rob a bank? Nina, the Bandit Queen (Dundurn Press, $21.99 pa., March) is a darkly comic novel from former Toronto Star columnist Joey Slinger. • In her first novel since 2000’s A Message for Mr. Lazarus, B.C. writer Barbara Lambert tells the story of a woman who, after inheriting property in Tuscany from an estranged uncle, tries to find out why she is heir to this mysterious legacy. The Whirling Girl ($22 pa.) appears from Cormorant Books in February.

We’ve all been annoyed – or worse – by spam e-mail allegedly from exiled Nigerian royalty. In his latest novel, Will Ferguson imagines the shadowy criminals behind such scams and the potentially devastating effects they might have on the lives of their anonymous victims. 419 (Viking Canada, $32 cl.) is due out in April. • Culture journalist and Globe and Mail columnist Katrina Onstad returns with her sophomore novel, about a contented urban couple whose lives are turned upside down when they become legal guardians of a two-and-a-half-year-old boy. Everybody Has Everything (McClelland & Stewart, $22 pa., May) focuses on the collision between “urban affluenza” and parental responsibility.

Best-selling novelist Lilian Nattel returns with Web of Angels (Knopf Canada, $22 pa., Feb.), the story of Sharon Lewis, an apparently unflappable wife and mother whose battle with dissociative identity disorder is thrust into the open after a family friend commits suicide. • Set in postwar Montreal, Nancy Richler’s third novel, The Imposter Bride (HarperCollins Canada, $29.99 cl., March), is about the disappearance of an enigmatic woman and her daughter’s attempt to understand who her mother really was. • The dark inheritance of mental illness forms the spine of the debut novel from Grace O’Connell, one of this year’s “new faces of fiction.” Magnified World (Random House Canada, $22.95 pa., May) tells the story of Maggie, whose mother kills herself by walking into Toronto’s Don River. When Maggie begins to experience blackouts, she fears she may be suffering from the same condition that plagued her disturbed mother.

Eccentric and reclusive author D.O. Dodd follows up his/her controversial 2010 novel, Jew, with The Immigrant’s Handbook (Exile Editions, $19.95 pa., April), about a woman who relocates to a new country in order to leave behind her old life. • Judy Garland died of a drug overdose in 1969. Unless, like Elvis, her death was a ruse and she was secretly kept alive. In novelist and playwright Sky Gilberts Come Back (ECW Press, $18.95 pa., May), the year is 2060 and Garland, age 138, is working on her Ph.D. thesis at the University of Toronto.

Quebec’s Patrick Senécal is a literary sensation in his home province, despite being virtually unknown in English Canada. All of that may change with Against God (Quattro Books, $14.95 pa., April), about a man’s mental breakdown ­following the deaths of his wife and children. The novella is translated from the French by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli. • Q&Q reviewer Alex Good has referred to the short fiction of David Nickle as “a perverted version of Alice Munro country.” In his new novel, Rasputin’s Bastards (ChiZine Publications, $19.95 pa., June), Nickle imagines a version of postwar Russia in which a group of “telekinetics” who were bred as secret agents begin to wield their powers for reasons contrary to the greater good.

“Sexy” is not a word commonly associated with CanLit, but it certainly applies to Maidenhead (Coach House Books, $18.95 pa., April) by Tamara Faith Berger, whose debut, a work of unabashed smut called Lie with Me, was made into a frankly explicit movie by Clément Virgo. The new novel focuses on a 16-year-old girl’s sexual awakening at the hands of a Tanzanian musician. The author has said it will be her last literary exploration of explicit sexuality, bringing to a close a “pornographic trilogy” that also includes The Way of the Whore. • Montreal-based novelist Daniel Allen Cox is back with his third book from Arsenal Pulp Press. Basement of Wolves ($15.95 pa., April) tells the story of paranoid actor Michael-David, who barricades himself inside an L.A. hotel after a film shoot involving a pack of wolves somehow goes awry.

Biblioasis is comparing Irish-Canadian writer Anakana Schofield’s debut novel, Malarky ($19.95 pa., April), to Brecht’s Mother Courage and Beckett’s Endgame. When Philomena discovers her son canoodling with another man and is informed of her husband’s (possibly invented) indiscretions, she embarks on a journey of discovery that involves grief, resilience, and something like madness. • Toronto-based poet and music journalist Tanis Rideout’s debut is part adventure story, part Mrs. Dalloway. Above All Things (M&S, $22 pa., March) alternates between the story of George Mallory’s ill-fated attempt to conquer Mount Everest and a day in the life of Mallory’s wife, Ruth, who anxiously awaits his return to England.

The new year marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster. In Titanic Ashes (Flanker Press, $17.95 pa., Feb.), St. John’s novelist Paul Butler uses the tragedy as a backdrop for the story of J. Bruce Ismay and Miranda Grimsden, two passengers on the ill-fated voyage, who are reunited 13 years later. • This Ramshackle Tabernacle, the debut from Newfoundland and Labrador writer Samuel Thomas Martin, was shortlisted for the 2010 Winterset Award and the ReLit Award for short fiction. Martin returns with A Blessed Snarl (Breakwater Books, $19.95 pa., Feb.), a novel about a man whose marriage ends when his wife takes up with someone she met on Facebook.

What would a Canadian publishing season be without a new book by Tim Bowling? This time the prolific author appears not with a collection of poetry, but a novel. The Tinsmith (Brindle & Glass, $21.95 pa., March) focuses on a surgeon during the American Civil War who moves to B.C., where he battles the unscrupulous practices of the province’s salmon canners. (It being Bowling, you had to know there would be fish in there somewhere.) • Set in Paris, Leper Tango (Guernica Editions, $20 pa., May) tells the story of a lawyer who becomes obsessed with a hooker named Sheba. David MacKinnon’s novel is the first in a projected trilogy.

Turnstone Press seems to be staking out territory in the area of male Boomer humour. Following last year’s novel Dadolescence by Bob Armstrong, the Manitoba publisher is bringing out Dave Williamson’s Dating ($19 pa., April), about a widower who finds himself thrust back onto the singles market in his senior years. • Canadian expat Emily Mandel has completed her third novel in as many years. The Lola Quartet (McArthur & Company, $24.95 pa., May) tells the story of Gavin, a disgraced journalist who moves home to Florida and embarks on a search for his high-school girlfriend, who has stolen a large sum of money from a drug dealer and is on the run with a girl who might be Gavin’s daughter.

The fourth novel from Quebec writer Martine Desjardins is a literary hybrid combining gothic elements with history and fantasy. In Maleficium (Talonbooks, $16.95 pa., March), translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel, a 19th-century priest relates the confessions of seven men who have experienced bizarre or disturbing fates while in pursuit of material possessions.

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