You might remember that I’ve been sampling books from Indie presses that have been shortlisted for this year’s ReLit Awards. Not just novels, but short stories, even poetry (which is adventurous for me). For a month of Sundays (at least), I’m Buried in ReLit Print.
This Sunday is all about works that stretch beyond the ordinary. This wasn’t intentional; I’ve been trying to combine forms each week, but it’s an accident that each of these books is unconventional.
Or, perhaps it’s not accident. I’m fairly sure that Brian Joseph Davis could, for instance, write a story about the spines of these volumes coming alive and holding a board meeting to determine how they would insert themselves into my TBR pile.
Sweet England, Steve Weiner (New Star)
Sample: First 42 pages
Opening sentence: “A flint and stone church stood on a grassy rise in Somerset County, England.
Here you are, in the English countryside.
There’s a church. There’s a pub.
The descriptions are rich, though rooted in simple language.
But don’t take anything you know about English countrysides and churches and pubs and look to Steve Weiner’s novel to find more of the same.
It’s evocative. It’s dialogue-driven. It’s completely wacky.
And the opening sentence doesn’t hint at this, so here is a random passage:
“Brenda turned on a lamp. Jack had raised a knee and bent over, rubbing his hands.
‘I am a fly,’ he said.
He chased her.
‘Good Lord, I married an insect!’
A blue-feathered tail grew from his backside.
Ronald Reagan, My Father, Brian Joseph Davis (ECW)
Sample: “The Unicorns” (Part One and Two); “The Libertine”; “Voice Over”; “Bury My Heart at Tataouine”
Opening sentence: “Most days you would have already checked the cargo door with a weak tug, hit the light switch and watched the overhead fluorescents stutter out.”
If Steve Weiner’s novel is a bit crazy, it’s the kind of crazy that brings to mind long-term recreational drug use. Brian Joseph Davis’ stories are the kind of crazy that makes you think of an unending succession of espressos.
The characters in his stories are sometimes even almost-ordinary, but there is a sense of fun poking from within them nonetheless. It’s as though a couple of everyday elements have started out in the same neighbourhood and collided in narrative partway to their destination.
For instance, in the first part of “Unicorns”:
“You were a print-on-demand publisher and you were being held hostage by the husband and wife team responsible for the 872-page Index of Equine Characters in Fantasy Fiction. It had not received a single order, and its authors were upset and armed.”
I, too, am upset. Despite all the Rob-Ford-cutbacks in this city, I am appalled that the Toronto library system did not order even a single For-Reference-Only copy of this index for its shelves.
The Inquisition Yours, Jen Currin (Coach House)
Sample: The first 11 poems
Opening Sentence: (from “Sock Martyrs”):
Black dress – I’ve already donated
my own death.
No psychedelic drugs, no espresso. Reading this collection feels like the kind of soft disconnect you get from high quality tequila, the kind with the smoky flavour which isn’t anything like the cheap sort you downed in shots when you were a college student.
This collection is like one of those sets of magnets that you see on other people’s fridges. Words set out on white rectangles, designed to be combined in unexpected ways. The verses cast a high gloss on the ordinary.
“Wide sleeves of a death unmade.” (From “Amaze”)
“Instant. Constant. Commodify.” (From “A Narrative in New Blue Jeans”)
Sometimes, there is a glimpse of something like narrative:
“When I was tired of him
I set his things outside the door.
This was called divorce.”
But mostly it’s beautiful sounds, rhythmic sounds, and what is caught in the interstice.
“Salt makers like ceramicists —
I am familiar with the fear you describe.”
(From “The Shivers”)
This set of works is one that I wouldn’t likely have sampled, had the books not been up for consideration for this year’s ReLit Awards. If you’re bored with the stuff of the Giller list, you should give these a try. It might widen your definition of Canlit and that’s a good thing.
Please let me know what you’ve been sampling this weekend?