Gift Guide Week: Fiction

December 19, 2014 by Steph VanderMeulen

Stumped on what to buy for your lit-finicky family and friends this season? We're featuring hand-picked selections for your giftees (or yourself, lest we ourselves be judged) all week, from experts in  poetryshort storiesmysteries, YA/kids, and fiction.

On our last day of our holiday Gift Guide, Bella's Bookshelves creator Steph VanderMeulen selects her top six fiction picks for the die-hard novel-lovers on your list.

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Stumped on what to buy for your lit-finicky family and friends this season? We're featuring hand-picked selections for your giftees (or yourself, lest we ourselves be judged) all week, from experts in  poetryshort storiesmysteriesYA/kids, and fiction.

On our last day of our holiday Gift Guide,  Bella's Bookshelves creator Steph VanderMeulen selects her top six fiction picks for the die-hard novel-lovers on your list.

*****

Infidelity
by Stacey May Fowles (ECW Press)

I first got a taste of this book when I read the short story version of it (by the same name) in Taddle Creek. I enjoyed it so much that reading the book was a no-brainer. Infidelity is about an affair, but the way that Fowles treats it, with such sensitivity, truth, and insight into the vulnerability of people, situates the book apart from other like stories. What struck me most about this beautiful, sad novel is how our deep-seated, genuine needs for connection and love, to feel alive, drive us to do things that in the end highlight the complexity of our relationships and potentially leave us lonelier than before. Nothing about our capacity to love and need several people at once is simple.

 

And Me Among Them
by Kristen den Hartog (Freehand Books)

Another story about our inner workings. Ruth grows far beyond the height of her peers, to seven feet tall, and must deal with her otherness while having the normal thoughts and feelings of a girl her age. Her parents, not knowing how to connect with her or help her, recede to their own world, their ineptness causing issues in their marriage, and Ruth reaches out to the girl next door. That Ruth’s height is metaphorically also used to offer a different perspective on what is happening around her, particularly with her parents, makes the story even more poignant.

 

The Anatomy of Edouard Beaupré
by Sarah Kathryn York (Coteau Books)

This novel is based on a true story, making it even more heartrending. So much to say about this small and slim gem of a book! Beaupré had the misfortune of being a giant and thus unable to have a normal life. Where ideally a person’s height or any sort of difference would nevertheless be of lesser importance than their personality and heart, “normals” have either an aversion to or detached fascination with unusual people. Particularly in the 1800s and 1900s, the only way for unusual people to eke out a living was to be on display for the curiosity of others. What I loved most about this book was that it reflected a kind of giving back: after his difficult, though brief, life, after Edouard’s unfulfilled desires, the indignities and misunderstandings, the focus on his body rather than his mind, heart, and soul, after the unkind jokes and medical probing — after all that, York has presented us with who Beaupré was and may have been aside from his size. It’s as though she’s righted wrongs or at the very least offered a different (more important) way of seeing.

 

The Carnivore
by Mark Sinnett (ECW Press)

I hope it’s not groan-worthy to say that I devoured this novel. I enjoy reading CanLit that interprets major events in our history, and Hurricane Hazel in Toronto in 1954 was pretty major. The story focuses on a senior couple, Ray and Mary, and switches between past and present day, illuminating the downward spiral of their marriage that began with the events in 1954. Sinnett’s writing is superb, but one of the more striking elements of the novel is the rather ugly honesty each character allows themselves when they believe have nothing left to lose. Mary’s and Ray’s memories of the hurricane and its events, as well as of their marriage at the time are gripping. Through their flashbacks, other Canadiana is also brilliantly, not laboriously, revealed, vividly and effectively marking setting and time for us and also carrying such tension and thrill that it is impossible to stop turning the pages.

 

Roost
by Ali Bryan (Freehand Books)

A funny one! Snappy dialogue, odd kid stuff that can only be true, the scramble of trying to do it all. CanLit doesn’t get enough credit for its actually significant contribution to humour. Right from the first page, we’re laughing. We get an idea of the chaos of family, parents included, and the shambles of a house of a busy mom. I don’t have kids, on purpose, so I related to Claudia, in her thirties, single mom of two, who misses her single life; the book was a confirmation of my choice! But then her mom dies. And things are turned on their head again as she grapples with the loss of her parent and tries to succeed at being one herself.

 

The Douglas Notebooks: A Fable
by Christine Eddie, trans. Sheila Fischman (Goose Lane Editions)

This is a novella, a slim, beautiful story filled with the magic and atmosphere of a fairy tale. Romain and Éléna meet when she’s drawn by the music of his clarinet to the forest where he lives outside her small French village. Both have fled their less-than-desirable families. Éléna becomes enamoured with Romain, and renames him Douglas. When he finally lets her into his life, they fall deeply in love and have a child named Rose. Years later, we discover that tragedy has struck and Rose is abandoned to the village by Douglas when he retreats from the advances of industry to the solace of the forest. In this way, the story opens to introduce new characters, who in their sleepy village find new desires and passions awakened.

***

Steph VanderMeulen is a stalwart advocate for CanLit and writes the book blog Bella's Bookshelves. She is a freelance copy editor for publishers, writers, and Modern Luxury magazine, as well as a creative writing coach. Steph lives in Belleville, ON, and is working on a collection of stories.


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