by Brian Lynch
No matter what your expectations, a good story will take you to unforeseen places. The five recent novels below—all from Douglas & McIntyre—are highly distinct from one another, ranging from spirited romp to unflinching portrait of trauma. But in the company of each, readers will find themselves somewhere new.
Reuniting With Strangers by Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio
As Canada’s reliance on the help of Filipino caregivers grows, more and more families are stretched to the breaking point by a system that separates them for years. Canadians console themselves with the idea that the anguish is eventually healed when these families are allowed to reunite in their new home country. But this multivoiced novel by Toronto’s Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio shows otherwise, depicting the lasting frustrations, cruelties and estrangements that largely pass unnoticed in wider society. In an array of real-world formats—emails, texts, résumés and self-help guides—each chapter reveals the fractures from a new perspective, describing a network of lives that runs from Iqaluit to Montreal and the Okanagan and all the way back to the Philippines. At its centre is the figure of Monolith, a caregiver’s five-year-old son whose silent anger and violence shatter the myth of self-sacrifice and reward implied by official policies. As the author herself puts it, this poignant book is “holding the door open so that readers can understand my community better.”
Once Upon an Effing Time by Buffy Cram
We seem mired in talk of cults and conspiracies these days. Perhaps we’d be better off if we moved to a deeper level—one where familial love forges its bonds, and where we tell ourselves the stories that sustain us. This is where Buffy Cram’s hallucinatory new novel operates, blending darkness and wit in the tale of a chaotic childhood among magical thinkers in the late 1960s. As nineteen-year-old Elizabeth looks back on her early years with a hippie mother who fashioned herself as a psychic and joined a doomsday cult, Cram blurs the lines conventionally used to separate magic, mental illness and reality. The result is a kind of balm for our apocalypse-obsessed times, with “just enough silliness to balance the sorrow,” as the author herself has noted. It is a tenaciously empathetic vision of how delusions are sometimes shared out of love, and how even our most fear-ridden dreams can be tactics for survival.
A Season in Chezgh’un by Darrel J. McLeod
The author of the Governor General’s Award–winning memoir Mamaskatch moves into fiction with this reflection on the discoveries and pains of reconnecting with Indigenous roots. Darrel J. McLeod mined his own Cree experience for this story of James, an urbane middle-aged man who explores his now-distant heritage by taking a job as an educator in a Dakelh community in northern BC. James has been feeling increasingly alienated from the comfortable life he’s made for himself in Vancouver, and the sudden death of his mother has driven him back to his cultural origins in the hope of healing. But even the beauties of Dakelh life and their powerful links to the natural world can’t calm the destructive energies reawakened in him by the legacies of poverty, prejudice and abuse. As with Mamaskatch, McLeod’s love of jazz shapes the rhythmic prose of this haunting meditation on a self divided.
The Morning Bell Brings the Broken Hearted by Jennifer Manuel
Like the book above, but approaching from an entirely different direction, this new work by the author of the prize-winning novel The Heaviness of Things That Float depicts a collision between good intentions and the suffering inflicted by colonization. Here, a non-Indigenous woman moves to an isolated Nuu-chah-nulth community to work as an educator. But she is soon consumed by doubts about her own motivations, and uncanny forces descend, causing mysterious shifts and fires in her surroundings. Even so, a path to redemption opens, and hope and humour remain as gifts from a community that thrives on generosity despite its wounds.
High-flying PR maven Priscilla Tempest survived her first brush with murder in Death at the Savoy, the opening volume of a glamorously buoyant series of whodunits set in the famous five-star London hotel during the swinging ’60s. But here, in this follow-up, she’s again embroiled in danger and intrigue when a showgirl turns up dead and Priscilla is forced to sift through the secrets of the city’s rich and famous in search of a killer. Coauthors Ron Base and Prudence Emery are both Canadian, but their portrayal of this thoroughly English place and time is by no means a stretch: like their leading woman, the Nanaimo-born Emery spent years of her youth as the Savoy’s press officer, hobnobbing with the Richard Burtons and Liza Minnellis of the world. For his part, Base, a veteran journalist and critic, supplies the narrative chops he gained from authoring more than two dozen previous books, including a collection of detective novels. Together, they conjure a glittering era that can never be repeated—unless, of course, you break out your own evening dresses, tuxes and drinks for Douglas & McIntyre’s Death at the Savoy Murder Mystery Party Kit. You’ll never have a better chance of playing a Scotch-swigging Princess Margaret or a poised and enigmatic Noël Coward than in this Priscilla Tempest–inspired game, which comes complete with invitations, a hosting guide, character booklets and—most important—the recipe for a champagne-laced Buck’s Fizz.