Even in lives riddled with tragedy, there are always moments, if scattered, that give hope for the future. Nova Scotia author (and Understorey Magazine contributor) Laura Best builds on this duality in every aspect of her latest novel, Good Mothers Don’t (Nimbus Publishing, 2020). Best details the after-effects of electroshock therapy and other ‘treatments’ for mental illness in the mid-1900s, only to then contrast them with warm themes of motherhood, family, and home. She portrays her characters in their many shades of gray, never sacrificing their realism to earn the affections of her readers. Among Best’s characters, none are completely evil and none are completely innocent; there are only broken people, and those who are a little more broken than others.
The summary and review excerpts on the front flap and back cover of Medrie Purdham’s Little Housewolf (Véhicule Press/Signal Poetry, 2021) celebrate the considerable skill with which the poet brings tiny, fragile objects into focus—often temporarily into life.
All this laudatory metadata is perfectly true, yet at odds with what I found most intriguing in Purdham’s collection: its teeming menagerie of birds. Whether as specimens or metaphors, lead actors or silhouettes, they are everywhere—roosting and nesting in more poems than not.
The book opens with “Hinge,” a meditation on a creaky old gate that I suspect of being narrated by three birds in a trench coat, pretending to be human: “And every day we came home / […]. Each to his identical little plot / piled high with long mouldy hay and lost plumage.”
From there, the game is afoot: where else are birds hiding in this book that so carefully minds things that are lost in pockets, rolled into corners, almost out of view?
If I could hold Little Housewolf to my ear like a seashell, who would be chirping in the background? In “Carapace,” for instance, the reader is invited to consider crab shells, yet a grandmother’s long-wounded foot has the unfeathered flesh of a newly hatched chick: “tended and collapsed / simmered red”—an image both delicate and unnerving, cooked and raw.
The Quiet is Loud (forthcoming from Invisible) is a zeitgeist zirconia, a choker of sparkling speculation for Gen Z readers whose reading tastes are migrating toward adult literary spec fic. For her debut novel, Toronto writer Samantha Garner pours her curiosity into an approachable, recognizable narrative structure that is just right for this audience: the world as we know it, but with one important, uncanny difference. In Quiet, that key difference is the existence of people with telepathic and telekinetic powers—“vekers.”
Garner is deeply attentive to the social consequences of the world she has created. As we might expect in a reboot of The Twilight Zone or in an X-Men spin off, vekers are misunderstood and feared; their nickname is a slur. Most have no choice but to hide their identities, including our protagonist, Freya. Though in her mid-20s, Freya’s maturity and independence are hindered by a childhood tragedy that occurred just as she was discovering her psychic abilities. With the support of a trusted cousin and a handful of new veker friends, Freya’s story becomes a coming-of-age narrative that allows her to develop and heal.
Who am I is a question many biracial and bicultural people ask themselves. Society and family often demand they choose a side. Hollay Ghadery was born in Ontario to a white Canadian mother and an Iranian, Muslim father. Her memoir Fuse (Guernica Editions; MiroLand, 2021) is a revealing and thoughtful book about her hybrid, perhaps multiple, identities.
Written as series of short essays, Fuse explores identity and health from childhood through adulthood and motherhood in poignant anecdotes. Ghadery sets out to write about the “prevalence of eating disorders and body image issues in biracial women.” The project quickly broadens as she considers the intersections of these issues with culture, religion, family, and language. Intense anxiety begins at a young age for Ghadery and fuels obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and depression. Is her mixed background the cause? There is also a family history of mental illness. A therapist informs Ghadery that when racial and cultural origins are very different within an individual, anxieties are more likely.
Continue Reading Fuse
Ask any young person what they think about climate change and the prognosis is likely grim. They’ll recall childhood science classes full of dire nature documentaries and summers that got warmer and warmer with each passing year. I am twenty-one years old and the idea that damage done by the climate crisis will soon be irreparable is not new to me, but that doesn’t make the reality of the situation any less haunting. Life is a constant balance of doing my part for the world and trying not to think too hard about the things I cannot change.
Perhaps for this reason Fauna (Coach House Books, 2020), Christiane Vadnais’s debut eco-fiction, managed to be both beautiful and terrifying, a love letter to mother nature and a warning to those who dare cross her.
Vadnais writes with a beautiful eloquence that brings her lush and terrifying world to life. Given the fresh, natural talent displayed in Fauna, it’s no wonder Radio-Canada named her as a young writer to watch in 2020. Equally impressive, the original novel was written in French and stunningly translated to English by the brilliant Pablo Strauss.