Through Woods CarrollEmily Carroll’s Through the Woods (2014)

Comprised of five long and two short works, these tales are peopled with losses and lonelinesses. Hues of red, black and white dominate the volume, with other colours used sparingly for contrast. Panel use is unpredictable, with images sometimes boxed but often sprawling and dripping across pages, so that a ghost’s song in “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” meanders without boundaries or the edges of small talk are lost across borders of panels with the majority of words left for guessing in “The Nesting Place”.

Deliciously scary, these gothic tales invite rereading and sharing: whatever Emily Carroll writes and draws next is bound to satisfy those who enjoy beauty and horror in their storytelling.

Fred D’Aguiar’s The Longest Memory (1994)

Daguiar Longest MemoryFred D’Aguiar’s works landed on my TBR thanks to a Writers & Company interview with Eleanor Wachtel on CBC. (You can listen online or subscribe via podcast. If you already know this series and have other favourites which are like it, please let me know what else you enjoy listening to, as these programs are consistently a highlight of my week.)

The British-Guyanese poet, novelist and playwright won the Whitbread First Novel Award for The Longest Memory, though the interview focussed on his most recent novel, Children of Paradise.

The Longest Memory is elegant and powerful, like Beloved and Rashomon in a slow dance. In only 138 pages, a series of perspectives present a kaleidoscopic version of events which lead to a tragic outcome, which is tremendously disturbing despite the reader’s fleeting acquaintance with the victim and family.

The voice in each segment is distinct and resonant, and even when the connection to the broader story is not immediately evident, the gradual comprehension settles effortlessly as the reader turns the pages and uncovers not only the details surrounding the actual event but the historical context and interconnections which bring yet another dimension to the tale of loss.

Hannah Pittard’s Reunion (2014)

Reunion Hannah PittardLike the central characters in Meg Mitchell Moore’s The Arrivals and Jennifer Close’s The Smart One, Kate has returned home. Not for the same reasons as in these other stories, but with the same sense of failure. Kate is not an immediately sympathetic character and, yet, she is aware of her short-comings: “I wanted to start the day a better person, but now I’ll have to put it off until tomorrow.”

She is painfully aware that she has not made the right decisions: “I think maybe I didn’t get the instruction book. Other people make it look easy.” In fact, she has made some blatant errors, both in her career as a scriptwriter and in her marriage.

”’You didn’t learn anything from his bad habits?’
I did! What I learned was this: It’s easy. It’s so fucking easy. It’s disgusting how easy it is. Until it isn’t. Until you need a notepad or an email just to keep the lies organized.”

Hannah Pittard’s Reunion is a well-organized smorgasbord of lies and Kate is a credible witness to and designer of her own destruction.

Her intelligence and sense of awareness do ultimately pull readers to her side, and we yearn for a happier ending for her than she might write for herself.

Citizen Claudia RankineClaudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (2014)

This collection of essays and poetry also includes an assembly of visuals which complement the works brilliantly. These are as varied as an image of Caroline Wozniacki with towels stuffed in top and shorts at a tennis match to imitate Serena Williams, and a tableau of woodcut-styled letters which spell out Zora Neale Hurston’s “I feel most coloured when I am thrown against a sharp white background” and grow increasingly smudged as one’s eyes travel down the page.

Claudia Rankine references works from James Baldwin’s fiction to David Hammons’ mixed media works to YouTube videos; readers should expect to be not only engaged but educated and enraged, which is what much of Graywolf’s catalogue achieves.

Is December’s reading busy or stalled for you? What book in your recent reading log are you itching to recommend?