By Sam Shelstad (Brindle & Glass, Touchwood Editions, 2023)
A tongue-in-cheek novel in the guise of a how-to guide for aspiring writers. Local author Sam Shelstad mashes together observational humour with a character study of one of the saddest stereotypes in literary fiction: the artist manqué. Composed of short chapters, like a collection of standup comedy routines, I found something I wanted to read out loud on nearly every single page of The Cobra and The Key. The type of book you buy multiple copies, and give them away to all your friends. Hands down, my favorite novel of 2023. — CZ
By S.E. Tomas (self-published, 2023)
Man, this guy can write! He’s funny, he’s gritty, he’s authentic — it’s surprisingly entertaining stuff, if you’ll just give it a shot. While “Toronto’s street author” is better known for his novel Crackilton, Carny is the first of a trilogy of short stories that introduce us to the unforgettable character Jim. We follow his misadventures as a seasonal employee on the carnival circuit across Canada, then down to Florida for the winter, in the early 1990s. Every story in this collection made me want to read more about a fascinating subculture of marginalized workers. — TG
Edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. Introduction by Stephen Graham Jones.
(Random House Canada, 2023)
This anthology of dark fiction offers readers 26 stories of the supernatural — family curses, hauntings, monstrous creatures, terrible acts of revenge — told through the lens of Indigenous folklore. It explores contemporary themes of racism, complex family legacies, and generational trauma. It’s quite rare for an anthology to fly off the shelf at BMV Eglinton, but with Cherie Dimaline, Waubgeshig Rice, and Richard Van Camp rounding out a roster packed with storytelling talent, we can barely keep this one in stock. — DRP
By Claudia Dey (Doubleday Canada / Penguin Random House, 2023)
What do you do when your biggest creative influence is also your most toxic personal relationship? How does an artist break free of their family to blaze their own path? Claudia Dey, author of Stunt (Coach House Books) and Heartbreaker (HarperCollins) explores these ideas with her most kaleidoscopic and mesmerizing novel yet in Daughter. Claudia Dey is, in my opinion, the heir to Margaret Atwood and even comparable to Nabokov. When everyone else has just given up, and started writing “taut, propulsive” thrillers, it’s good to see someone still swinging for the fences in Canadian literature. — TG
By Sandra Newman (Mariner Books / HarperCollins, 2023)
Told from the viewpoint of Winston Smith’s lover in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Julia is a feminist retelling of George Orwell’s classic novel. Mostly because we already know these characters, and this world, and what happens in the original, I experienced Julia as a page-turner, curious to see what happens next (or differently) as told through Julia’s perspective. While some of the concepts Newman introduces to the totalitarian world of 1984 stray too far from the existential terror of the original novel, the way she otherwise fleshes out our understanding of Orwell’s masterpiece is completely satisfying. — TG
By Armand Garnet Ruffo (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018)
Norval Morrisseau (also called Copper Thunderbird) is an iconic Indigenous artist, and more Canadians should know his life story. You have to go back six years to find the definitive biography, but this book is well worth tracking down. Armand Garnet Ruffo did an incredible job, compressing the full scope of Morrisseau’s life and work into one volume. Norval Morrisseau was a complicated man, and he lived a complicated life, but I believe the purpose of literature is to allow readers to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. Empathy is the foundation of civilization, so great writing builds bridges between people. — Emmett
This article appeared in the 2024 Feb/Mar issue.