Off/Kilter: Five Reads for A Surreal Escape

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. Stay weird and stay well,—Leyla T.


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Queen and Carcass  by Anna Van Valkenburg (Anvil Press)

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.

Affect  by Charlene Elsby (Porcupine’s Quill)

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.

The Rage Room by Lisa de Nikolits (Inanna Publications)

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?

The Loop by Dan Sanders (Anvil Press)

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.

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Read on for more strange reads in our Off/Kilter column >>