With the inability to travel right now, many of us are looking for ways to escape our current reality. I can promise you this: these five books will take you further than your daily walk ever could—to surreal places ruled by the imagination, where, for better or worse, dream and reality become one.
The line between real and imagined is darkly and delightfully blurred in this first collection of poetry from Anna Van Valkenburg. Promising a haunting collage of Slavic folklore and Boschian landscapes, these poems take on surreal forms in uncovering the most fundamental questions of our existence and the contradictions that lie within. It's beautiful, it's grotesque, and this cover is serving Max Ernst, Une Semaine de Bonté vibes—all of which will transport you into a dark world that is uniquely its own.
Another great pick for those lovers of the surreal (or just plain lovers)! Charlene Elsby's Affect is narrated by a graduate student, who, after falling for a colleague through a series of strange and surreal events, deeply explores the philosophy (and in that, the absurdity) of love. The result is a collision of worlds, and a questioning of the singularity of life and death, when "I" and "Other" become intertwined. Add this one to your 2021 reading list if you're looking for an escape from those pesky confines of "self" and the traditional love story.
Tatouine by Jean-Christophe Réhel, translated by Katherine Hastings & Peter McCambridge (Baraka Books/QC Fiction)
Working for minimum wage at a supermarket and managing life with cystic fibrosis, the 31-year-old unnamed narrator of this story dreams of his escape to the fictional planet of Tatouine—a place where the disappointments and struggles of real life are traded in for the joys of a personal playground. Don't worry if you're not a dedicated Star Wars fan—this book is so much more than that. If you've been weathering this pandemic alone, the internal dialogue of this book, with its balanced mix of humour, honesty, and heart is the perfect fit to rescue you from any socially-distanced funk.
Maybe the escape you're looking for is one that takes you away from your past mistakes? Queen of Canadian spec Lisa de Nikolits gives us The Rage Room—a speculative-thriller that takes place in 2055 after husband and father Sharps Barkley kills his family, then jumps back in time to correct his actions. But despite its sunny skies and McMansions, 2055 is far from a utopia—it is a mayhem, lead by robots and virtual data; a time when arts and culture do not exist and humans are prescribed visits to rage rooms to vent their all of their anger and discontent. Can the data from the Rage Rooms help Sharps save his family and the fate of the earth?
Lastly but not leastly—Dan Sanders The Loop, which won Anvil Press' 2020
International 3-Day Novel Writing Contest. This is a story about not being able to escape, following Alan, an alcoholic, on a purgatorial path through an unending forest where death and dream are one, and any deviation from the path means beginning all over again. Caught in this endless loop, Alan must relive some of the most painful moments of his past, confronting past traumas and how they have become him.
All Lit Up is produced by the Literary Press Group and LitDistCo. LPG and LitDistCo acknowledge the financial support of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council.
All views expressed by bloggers and contributors to the All Lit Up blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of All Lit Up or the Literary Press Group.
All Lit Up acknowledges we are hosted on the lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat. We also recognize the enduring presence of all First Nations, Métis and the Inuit people, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to meet and work on this territory.