All Lit Up Fall Preview 2021: Staff Picks
From literary debuts to gothic short stories and performance poetry, here's a list of staff picks to stave off our end-of-summer blues.
BEST OF THE BLOG 2021
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Suture by Nic Brewer (Book*hug Press)
"Blending body horror with meditations on love, art, and forgiveness, this novel will startle and captivate you." —Catriona Wright
Suture shares three interweaving portraits of artists literally sacrificing themselves to make art. In many ways, Brewer's debut is reminiscent of my fantastic fall 2018 staff pick, The Death Scene Artist; each story explores the relationship between identity, mental health, and creative expression in a visceral way that is sure to get under my skin.
From the publisher:
To make her films, Eva must take out her eyes and use them as batteries. To make her art, Finn must cut open her chest and remove her lungs and heart. To write her novels, Grace must use her blood to power the word processor.
Suture shares three interweaving stories of artists tearing themselves open to make art. Each artist baffles their family, or harms their loved ones, with their necessary sacrifices. Eva's wife worries about her mental health; Finn's teenager follows in her footsteps, using forearms bones for drumsticks; Grace's network constantly worries about the prolific writer's penchant for self-harm, and the over-use of her vitals for art.
The result is a hyper-real exploration of the cruelties we commit and forgive in ourselves and others. Brewer brings a unique perspective to mental illness while exploring how support systems in relationships—spousal, parental, familial—can be both helpful and damaging.
This exciting debut novel is a highly original meditation on the fractures within us, and the importance of empathy as medicine and glue.
The Cine Star Salon by Leah Ranada (NeWest Press)
Rounding out my TBR with a strong debut is The Cine Star Salon by Leah Ranada, a novel about "women's work," friendship, immigration, and family drama. At the centre of the novel is Philippine-born Vancouverite Sophia who looks forward to her future with her fiancé and her modest hair salon, a future she worries will be derailed after a call from Manila. Touted by Carleigh Baker as "a stunning debut," I'm looking forward to digging into this one when the leaves turn.
From the publisher:
Philippine-born Vancouverite Sophia is most grateful for two things: her modest hair salon and Adrian, her mild-mannered fiancé. She is eager to get married, move away from her highly educated but career-frustrated parents, who believe that their daughter can be so much more than a beautician.
Then Sophia's estranged friend reaches out from Manila, desperate for help. After a dubious accident, her fiery Auntie Rosy is on the verge of losing the Cine Star Salon--the place where Sophia first felt the call to become a hairstylist and salon owner. Coming to her auntie's aid is not so easy though. Sophia worries helping might reopen old wounds and threaten the bright future she has planned.
Leah Ranada's debut novel is a graphic and engaging depiction of the importance of women's work and the loyalties that connect friends across oceans. The Cine Star Salon marks the entry of a vital new voice in Canadian literature.
The Pump by Sydney Warner Brooman (Invisible Publishing)
I love short stories set in small towns. Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," Thomas Ligotti's "The Town Manager."..I could go on. This breed of story sees past the facade of white picket fences and the smiling faces of local residents to the dark things that often lurk below a small town's surface. Adding to this cannon, Sydney Warner Brooman's new collection of connected stories takes place in a southern Ontario town referred to simply as The Pump—a place where order and morality fall apart. Where sewage seeps up through the ground, and sacrificial games threaten the survival of its residents. A place where, if you listen real closely, you'll hear the beavers cry...
From the publisher
For fans of Shirley Jackson and Alice Munro, a Gothic collection of stories featuring carnivorous beavers, art-eaters, and family intrigue.
The small southern Ontario town known as The Pump lies at the crossroads of this world’s violence—a tainted water supply, an apathetic municipal government, the Gothic decay of rural domesticity—and another’s.
In Brooman's interconnected stories, no one is immune to The Pump’s sacrificial games. Lighthouse dwellers, Boy Scouts, queer church camp leaders, love-sick and sick-sick writers, nine-year-old hunters, art-eaters—each must navigate the swamp of their own morality while living on land that is always slowly (and sometimes very quickly) killing them.
Searching for Eastman by Charles C. Smith (Mawenzi House)
I'm captivated by the idea of a choreopoem, a form combining poetry, dance, music and song first articulated by Ntozake Shange in 1975. This was in the context of describing her work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf, a title I had known about forever but first read a few years ago. The combination of Charles C. Smith working in this tradition and the subject—exploring four musical compositions by Black American composer Julius Eastman—makes his book a must-read for me.
From the publisher
searching for eastman is a multidisciplinary performance in 4 acts, based on the interpretation of four of Julius Eastman's compositions through poetry, theatre, music, dance, video and digital. ("Julius Eastman [October 27, 1940 - May 28, 1990] was the great Black American composer, pianist, vocalist, and dancer whose work fell under minimalism." —Wikipedia)
"searching for eastman is a choreopoem whose roots trace through the African griot tradition, the harlem renaissance (e.g. the work of Langston Hughes with jazz and Kurt Weil), the black arts movement (e.g., Amiri Baraka’s work with sun ra). It is a form of dramatic expression that combines poetry, dance, music, and song...(as) first coined in 1975 by Ntozake Shange in a description of her work, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow Is Enuf."
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