So there’s kind of a fun thing happening over at the Giller Prize website. They’ve got a big, pretty picture list of all the Canadian fiction published (and yet-to-be-published) this year and are inviting people to make creative lists with all the Giller-eligible books. My first thought, of course, is: how many queer books are there? Including books both by authors I know are queer and books that have queer content–or appear to, anyway, since I haven’t read some of these, I’ve made a list of ten books. I feel like I must have missed at least one author, especially since I know pretty much nothing about queer male authors in Canada. In fact, there’s only one male author on my list, and I’m kind of assuming there’s at least some kind of queerness in his novel about polyamorous artists. So if you know of any omissions, please let me know!
There are some superstars on here, like Dionne Brand!! and Ann-Marie MacDonald!! and Emma Donoghue!! and Shani Mootoo!! I can’t believe that four of my favourite authors are all publishing new books this year! And Brand and MacDonald’s books are actually coming out on the exact same day (September 30th, if you want to know). Seriously, sapphic literary goddesses, what are you trying to do to me? Not to mention that Sarah Waters’s long-awaited new novel is also being released in September.
I’m not necessarily endorsing a book by including it on this list; in fact, I hated Kathleen Winter’s previous novel Annabel and thought it was a horrifically offensive portrayal of an intersex character. So I’m a best sceptical about her collection of stories that includes some gay characters and/or cross-dressers. Also, I’ve heard terrible things about cis author Kim Fu’s novel about a trans character in For Today I Am a Boy. Frankly, I’m so fucking tired of cis writers publishing books about trans people with big houses while trans writers have such a hard time finding publishers. But….. I am ridiculously excited about Shani Mootoo, Dionne Brand, Ann-Marie MacDonald, and Emma Donoghue, some of whom haven’t published a book in way too long. And the descriptions for their books sound amazing!!
I’ve included the publisher’s blurbs underneath each book. Which ones are you most excited about? Which ones have you already read?
Nothing For You Here, Young Man by Marie-Claire Blais (translated from the French by Nigel Spencer)
In the latest installment in her award-winning series, Marie-Claire Blais reintroduces us to Petites Cendres, familiar from other books in the cycle, and lets us into the lives of two other unforgettable characters. She shows us, once again, how creativity and hope and suffering and exclusion intersect. There is the writer who is stranded in an airport of the South Island, he is held captive because of a delayed flight. And a teenage musician, a former child prodigy living on the streets with his dog, wonders where he will get his next meal. Then there is Petites Cendres, who no longer dances or sings and refuses to get out of bed to attend the coronation of the new Queen of Night. By superimposing these three worlds, Blais continues her ambitious, compelling exploration of life in contemporary North America
Love Enough by Dionne Brand
In Love Enough, the sharp beauty of Brand’s writing draws us effortlessly into the intersecting stories of her characters caught in the middle of choices, apprehensions, fears. Each of the tales here–June’s, Bedri’s, Da’uud’s, Lia’s opens a different window on the city they all live in, mostly in parallel, but occasionally, delicately, touching and crossing one another. Each story radiates other stories. In these pages, the urban landscape cannot be untangled from the emotional one; they mingle, shift and cleave to one another.
The young man Bedri experiences the terrible isolation brought about by an act of violence, while his father, Da’uud, casualty of a geopolitical conflict, driving a taxi, is witness to curious gestures of love and anger; Lia faces the sometimes unbridgeable chasms of family; and fierce June, ambivalent and passionate with her string of lovers, now in middle age discovers: “There is nothing universal or timeless about this love business. It is hard if you really want to do it right.” Brand is our greatest observer–of actions, of emotions, of the little things that often go unnoticed but can mean the turn of a day. At once lucid and dream-like, Love Enough is a profoundly modern work that speaks to the most fundamental questions of how we live now.
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
It is 1876, and San Francisco, the freewheeling “Paris of the West,” is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman called Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, Blanche will risk everything to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice—if he doesn’t track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women and damaged children. It’s the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts. In thrilling, cinematic style, Frog Music digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue’s lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boom town like no other. Like much of Donoghue’s acclaimed fiction, this larger-than-life story is based on real people and documents. Her prodigious gift for lighting up forgotten corners of history is on full display once again in this unforgettable novel.
Infidelity by Stacey May Fowles
Ronnie, a hairdresser with a history of recklessness, feels stifled by the predictable, comfortable life laid out before her with her live-in boyfriend. Charlie is an anxiety-ridden award-winning writer, burdened by his literary success and familial responsibility, including a bread-winning wife and a child with autism. When the unlikely pair meets, a filmic affair begins on office desks and in Toronto hotel rooms, creating a false reality that offers solace in its secrets. Two very different people, trapped by everyday expectations, take pleasure in destroying those expectations together. Their relationship, with all its differences and failings, with all its pleasure and pain, calls into question our rigid and limiting definitions of right and wrong, and what it means to be a partner, parent, lover, and human being.
For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu
At birth, Peter Huang is given the Chinese name juan chaun, meaning powerful king. He is the exalted only son in a family of daughters, the one who will finally fulfill his father’s dreams of Western masculinity. But Peter has different dreams: he knows that he is a girl. Peter and his sisters—elegant Adele, shrewd Helen and Bonnie the bon vivant—grow up in a house of many secrets, then escape the confines of small-town Ontario and spread from Montreal to California to Berlin. Peter’s own journey is obstructed by playground bullies, masochistic lovers, Christian ex-gays and the ever-present shadow of his father. Sensitive, witty and stunningly assured, Kim Fu’s debut novel is a coming-of-age tale like no other, one that lays bare the costs of forsaking one’s own path in deference to a road mapped out by others. Both lyrical and unflinching, For Today I Am a Boy shows us an unforgettable struggle: the story of a woman in the body of a Chinese-Canadian man— and marks the emergence of an astonishing new Canadian literary voice.
Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi (reviewed by me here)
In 1974 Bittercreek, Alberta, eight-year-old Egg Murakami lives a day-to-day existence on the family ostrich farm. Since her brother’s death, Egg’s mother has curled up inside a bottle and her father has exiled himself to the barn. Egg and big sister Kathy find solace in each other, Kathy reading books to Egg, reinventing them so that the stories end happily — and so that the world does not seem so awful. And Kathy, in love with her best friend, has her own problems. The Murakami family is not happy. But in the hands of Tamai Kobayashi, Prairie Ostrich is a warm and compelling drama of rare insight and virtuoso verve. Kobayashi introduces a fresh perspective to Canadian literature, blending physical, cultural, ancestral, and sexual isolation into an account of one girl’s attempt to find her place against schoolyard battles and the mysteries of the adult world. As Kathy’s last year in high school counts down to an unknown future, Egg sits a quiet witness against a vast prairie canvas. As she watches her family unravel, she slowly begins to realize that not every story can have a happy ending.
Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Mary Rose MacKinnon–nicknamed MR or “Mister”–is a successful YA author who has made enough from her writing to semi-retire in her early 40s. She lives in a comfortable Toronto neighbourhood with her partner, Hilary, a busy theatre director, and their 2 young children, Matthew and Maggie, trying valiantly and often hilariously to balance her creative pursuits with domestic demands, and the various challenges that (mostly) solo parenting presents. As a child, Mary Rose suffered from an illness, long since cured and “filed separately” in her mind. But as her frustrations mount, she experiences a flare-up of forgotten symptoms which compel her to rethink her memories of her own childhood and her relationship with her parents. With her world threatening to unravel, the spectre of domestic violence raises its head with dangerous implications for her life and that of her own children.
Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab by Shani Mootoo
From the author of Cereus Blooms at Night and Valmiki’s Daughter, both nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, comes a haunting and courageous new novel. Written in vibrant, supple prose that vividly conjures both the tropical landscape of Trinidad and the muted winter cityscape of Toronto, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is a passionate eulogy to a beloved parent, and a nuanced, moving tale about the struggle to embrace the complex realities of love and family ties. Jonathan Lewis-Adey was nine when his parents, who were raising him in a tree-lined Toronto neighbourhood, separated and his mother, Sid, vanished from his life. It was not until he was a grown man, and a promising writer with two books to his name, that Jonathan finally reconnected with his beloved parent—only to find, to his shock and dismay, that the woman he’d known as “Sid” had morphed into an elegant, courtly man named Sydney. In the decade following this discovery, Jonathan made regular pilgrimages from Toronto to visit Sydney, who now lived quietly in a well-appointed retreat in his native Trinidad. And on each visit, Jonathan struggled to overcome his confusion and anger at the choices Sydney had made, trying with increasing desperation to rediscover the parent he’d once adored inside this familiar stranger. As the novel opens, Jonathan has been summoned urgently to Trinidad where Sydney, now aged and dying, seems at last to offer him the gift he longs for: a winding story that moves forward sideways as it slowly peels away the layers of Sydney’s life. But soon it becomes clear that when and where the story will end is up to Jonathan, and it is he who must decide what to do with Sydney’s haunting legacy of love, loss, and acceptance.
The Freedom in American Songs by Kathleen Winter
Meet Xavier Boland, the untouchable cross-dresser, whose walk is loose and carefree as an old Broadway tune. Meet barmy Miss Penrice, clambering up a beechnut tree at the age of seventy-six. Meet a Zamboni mechanic turned funeral porteur, Madame Poirer’s lapdog (and its chastity belt), a congregation of hard-singing, sex-crazed Pentecostals, and more. With The Freedom in American Songs, Kathleen Winter brings her quirky sensuality, lyrically rendered settings, and off-key humor to bear on a new short story collection about modern loneliness, small-town gay teenagers, catastrophic love, gut-wrenching laughter in the absolute wrong places, and the holiness of ordinary life.
Polyamorous Love Song by Jacob Wren
From interdisciplinary writer and performer Jacob Wren comesPolyamorous Love Song, a novel of intertwined narratives concerning the relationship between artists and the world. Shot through with unexpected moments of sex and violence, readers will become acquainted with a world that is at once the same and opposite from the one in which they live. With a diverse palette of vivid characters – from people who wear furry mascot costumes at all times, to a group of ‘New Filmmakers’ that devises increasingly unexpected sexual scenarios with complete strangers, to a secret society that concocts a virus that only infects those on the political right – Wren’s avant-garde Polyamorous Love Song (finalist for the 2013 Fence Modern Prize in Prose) will appeal to readers with an interest in the visual arts, theatre, and performance of all types.