Machine Without Horses – Helen Humphreys

Machine Without Horses - Helen HumphreysHumphreys is a great writer (Nocturne, The Evening Chorus, The Lost Garden). Her new book is fascinating because the first half is a personal account of her writing process: start with an idea, in this case an obituary of a reclusive Scottish woman who was a renowned salmon-fly dresser. Humphreys describes the essential questions: What is the story? Whose Story is it? How are you going to tell the story? The second half of the book is the imagined life of the Scottish woman; very entertaining.

Up From Freedom – Wayne Grady

Up From Freedom - Wayne GradyGrady was a Calgary WordFest author. His book is set in 1850s America, about slavery and abolitionists. A cracking good court case is at the end of the book, about the illegality of of miscegenation: marriage between white and black races. There is a haunting phrase that is repeated in the book: “some things are forgotten but nothing is ever forgiven”.

I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You – David Chariandy

I've Been Meaning To Tell You - David ChariandyA short essay on race relations, presented as an intimate letter to Chariandy’s 13-year old daughter. Chariandy’s family is mixed race; an especially poignant chapter entitled The Incident describes when his young son is confronted with the n-word on a school playground. This is very fine intelligent, thoughtful and introspective writing about a topic that remains critically important.

Women Talking – Miriam Toews

Women Talking - Miriam ToewsA fictionalized account of a true story, that women in a strict Mennonite community in Bolivia were repeatedly sexually assaulted while drugged, by men in their own community. The women are having introspective existential conversations: to stay (and fight) or leave? They also discuss moral issues of faith and forgiveness. The only periodic male point-of-view is the transcriptionist who is translating their conversations into English and who occasionally offers comment. The context is a conservative patriarchal society where women have no rights. They want safety for their children, the ability to practise their faith and to think for themselves. Powerful writing.

The Plague – Kevin Chong

The Plague - Kevin ChongThere is much to admire in this book. First, it is set in Vancouver, particularly the city core, so much is familiar. Second, as is evident from the title, Vancouver experiences an infectious disease disaster but the storyline is novel. Rather than focus on the cause and search for a cure (vaccine), the story is about the aftermath of the plague: how do people cope? There are three distinct points-of-view for coping: a family doctor who experiences directly the expanding disease first hand, and two people who are trapped in Vancouver’s core when a quarantine is put in place: a newspaperman who can’t return to his home in the suburbs, and an American writer on a book tour. Explorations of their behaviours in the face of suffering and futility, together with the psychological stress of quarantine, makes this an excellent read – highly recommended.

 

Amy notes: in 2011, there was a riot in Vancouver after the Canucks lost the final game for the Stanley Cup. The downtown peninsula was closed off by the police; people who had watched the game at friends apartments unable to leave, for example. An inspiration for this downtown quarantine?

The Shoe On The Roof – Will Ferguson

The Shoe On The Roof - Will FergusonA comic treatment of the neurobiology of behaviour. Thomas is a medical student who initially uses his knowledge of neurobiology for hook-ups with women. He then digresses to try and “cure” three delusional homeless men. Not surprisingly, much chaos ensues. This book has a very entertaining treatment of sanity versus madness, with a bit of magic reality at the end. Overall, a fun alternative for those readers stuck with too many angst-filled plots!

Principles To Live By – David Adams Richards

Principles To Live By - David Adams Richards.jpgRichards has written a number of acclaimed, albeit angst-filled, novels set in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick. This brilliant story is more global, based in New Brunswick but including New York and the genocide in Rwanda. The core of the book is a dogged search for a missing boy by a near-retirement policeman. The quest for truth is confounded by lies, treachery and deceit with some conspiracy aspects as well. A politically complex (and often corrupt) world is outlined in convincing detail. The incredible intuition of the policeman is sometimes hard to believe, but the storytelling is vivid and compelling.