Fall Preview Week: Day Four, Andrew Wilmot's Picks
It’s day four of our Fall Preview Week, in which we’ve asked All Lit Up staff, publishers, authors, and reviewers to feature noteworthy new fall titles. In today’s edition we hear from Andrew Wilmot, writer, editor, and freelance book reviewer.See more details below
It’s day four of our Fall Preview Week, in which we’ve asked All Lit Up staff, publishers, authors, and reviewers to feature noteworthy new fall titles. In today’s edition we hear from Andrew Wilmot, writer, editor, and freelance book reviewer.
North East by Wendy McGrath (NeWest Press, Available October 1)
Wendy McGrath’s North East (NeWest Press) is the sequel to her 2011 title Santa Rosa*. The novel, based in Edmonton in the early ’60s, follows a young girl named Christine as she navigates the uncertain and disquieting gulf developing between her working class parents.
McGrath crafts a child narrator with great confidence; Christine’s voice is never overwhelmed by authorial presence. As her awareness of the world around her expands from what was shown in Santa Rosa, the adults in the tale—only a few are ever directly named—increasingly become objects of curiosity, dramatically shaping and affecting her still somewhat limited world view but never wrestling away control of the narrative.
Like its antecedent, North East is a carefully constructed hybrid of poetry and prose, with occasional extratextual elements interspersed throughout, to emphasize certain moments or specific memories. In fact, every aspect of North East, down to the very spacing between paragraphs, signals “intentional.”
If the first entry in this trilogy felt like an elegy for a place, this second book is more an early funeral for a family struggling to remain cogent. This is an elegant, artful piece of work.
Bunny and Shark by Alisha Piercy (BookThug, Available Now)
Switching gears, Alisha Piercy’s Bunny and Shark (BookThug) is a twisted, dark comedy. The novel begins with a surreal and disorienting attempted murder, as Bunny is literally thrown to the sharks by her former lover, “the Bastard,” the Mafioso-style boss operating on a small island off the coast of Florida. Our Playboy model-cum-heroine survives and stows away on a yacht, hidden in the closet of former associates who tell her to get to the mainland and change her identity.
Each chapter is another day dead—assumed dead, at any rate. In the interim, between Bunny’s “execution” and the end of her life-as-she-knew-it, and her inevitable revenge, she takes time to reflect on how she ended up in such a strange situation—how she became a threat by first becoming the Bastard’s equal and ally.
By writing in the second person, Piercy keeps the reader at a deliberate distance, half in and half out of Bunny’s agitated mind. It’s an effective choice, structuring the narrative almost like a modern fairytale gone horribly awry. To this end, Bunny and Shark is a little like a strange, hyper-sexualized Cinderella story, only this Cinderella is trying to escape her prince (and maybe kill him, if she gets her chance). On a greater level, it’s about a Playboy bunny’s ascribed worth when her time as a prime physical specimen (and little else) is over and done, and what if anything remains of the woman beneath the veneer once she’s been cast aside.
Diving deeper down into the experimental rabbit hole are the unexpected thematic duet of Temenuga Trifonova’s Rewrite (Now Or Never Publishing) and Universal Bureau of Copyrights by Bertrand Laverdure (BookThug).
Rewrite, the more academically minded of the two, follows recently separated history professor Bruno Leblon, a pill-popping intellectual snob, as he attempts to research his family’s aristocratic roots for a book he’s writing. Meanwhile, a man named X is also investigating Bruno’s family’s history—to what end is a mystery that propels Bruno through much of the narrative.
Bruno is as much a narcissist as he is intelligent. He hires a detective to follow him around so he can read the detective’s reports and learn what sort of person he really is—what sort of man the world sees when his academic interior monologue is stripped away. As a result, Trifonova’s book feels less like a novel and more like a dissertation being written in real-time by the subject himself, complete with copious citations and unexpected divergences into phrenology and Aristotelian principles.
As compelling as the novel first appears, the Gaspard storyline—the narrative tied to the photographs—is not nearly as engaging as Bruno’s immediate existential crisis. The photographs and the detailed account of his family’s history, including Gaspard’s life, unfortunately overwhelm Bruno’s character and distract from the initially exciting premise.
As a narrative within a narrative about swapping, extending, and fabricating identities—with echoes of the film Synecdoche, New York—I did not so much enjoy Rewrite as I admired its ambition.
Bertrand Laverdure’s Universal Bureau of Copyrights posits a world void of free will, where the titular entity holds the copyrights for all things, real and fictional alike. The main character, a bit of an identity-less avatar, finds himself tumbling down the “hole of the living,” being taken apart as an individual the closer he gets to the Universal Bureau of Copyrights.
In many ways, Universal Bureau of Copyrights is the poetic, minimalist brother to Trifonova’s Rewrite — another narrative about the search for The Self, though the historical research in this case is presented by way of actual character deconstruction and literary tourists watching as the protagonist learns “how to become a character.”
An awareness of purpose (or lack thereof) blossoms partway through Laverdure’s book as the main character comes to understand that while he is the protagonist of his own life, he is and will always be a secondary or tertiary character in the lives of others. And in the end, accepting the bubble in which one lives is as important as knowing how such bubbles can be stretched. It’s an intriguing premise that took a little time to sink its hooks into me, but six or seven chapters in I was along for the ride.
Hypocritic Days by David Fiore (Insomniac Press, Available November 1)
Last but not least, David Fiore’s Hypocritic Days (Insomniac Press) is a time travel what-if story about one film critic’s attempts to right a wrong several decades in the past—a wrong that if righted might set the world on a different, less soul-destroyingly conservative path. The only problem? Righting said wrong might eliminate protagonist Douglass Infantino from the timeline—one of them, at least.
The novel’s DNA is split between pulp and science fiction—it never fully affixes itself to one genre, employing ambiguity and loose explanations of causality and alternate realities to sell its impossible narrative. That’s to say nothing of Infantino himself—a writer’s pulp/noir hero-by-circumstance, complete with women practically falling into bed with him (or offering him food).
While I appreciated the decision to limit the discussion about time travel’s more obvious pitfalls (such as paradoxes), the no-time-to-waste pace of the narrative strips Infantino of having any real emotional shock and awe over the more emotionally impactful aspects of the narrative, such as befriending his grandmother and being present for the birth of his own mother.
All that being said, I had a good time with Hypocritic Days. Fiore’s novel is quite a romp; however, one’s mileage will likely depend on whether you prefer your pulp with a dash of sci-fi or the other way around. Though it never soars as far into the absurdity of time travel as I would’ve liked, I still had a lot of fun with this title and would recommend it, more for its pulp than its science fiction.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I worked closely with Wendy on the development, editing, and promotion of Santa Rosa during my two-year stint as NeWest Press’s Marketing and Production Coordinator. That being said, the review is as honest and forthright as any I’ve written, and I stand behind every word of it. North East had not been submitted to NeWest before my departure in 2012.
Andrew Wilmot is a writer, editor, publisher and artist currently living in Toronto, ON. He holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts and a Master of Publishing degree, both from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC.
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