Sometimes you’ve gotta give up to get ahead. Just ask Patrick deWitt, the Sidney, B.C.–born author of the massively popular novel The Sisters Brothers. Nominated for multiple awards (including the Booker and Giller), optioned for a movie by John C. Reilly with Jacques Audiard tapped to direct, and topping just about everyone’s list of the best reads of 2011, it was a monumental book to follow up. And deWitt’s first attempt at doing so just wasn’t cutting it.
Often, first books are proclaimed an “experiment” with literature, but for scientist/writer Irina Kovalyova, it’s truer than for most.
A senior lecturer in the microbiology department at SFU, Kovalyova turned to writing after claiming a couple of graduate degrees in chemistry and microbiology, interning for NASA, and working as a forensic analyst (which all sounds easy-peasy in comparison to the gruelling labour of writing).
The Making of Zombie Wars, MacArthur “Genius Grant”–winning author Aleksandar Hemon’s third novel, opens on an ominous note: with quotations from rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza (on the nature of being) and George W. Bush (on us versus them).
From there, it leaps right into the mind and dubious creative process of one Joshua Levin, the dissipated antihero who blazes a haphazard trail through the novel. Juxtaposing seriousness with levity and pitting rational against irrational, Hemon creates a hilarious caper that also happens to be a dark reflection on violence.
There’s a lot out there in the world that can hurt us, and that pain is the current running through Galiano Island–based writer Michael Christie’s debut novel, If I Fall, If I Die. A complex book exploring mental illness, mother-son relationships, and the freedom of skateboarding, it’s also a coming-of-age friendship story that could be filed next to Stephen King’s The Body (the basis for the 1986 film Stand by Me).
Nobody would accuse literary fiction—the unrivalled territory of bookworms and librarians and nearsighted people in general—of being extroverted. But in her debut collection, Wallflowers, Vancouver-born, Victoria-raised emerging literary star Eliza Robertson creates such a peculiar and pretty world of misfits and loners that one could imagine her work being filed on the shelves of some magical, imaginary bookstore as “introvert fiction”.
What does it mean to be an adult? It’s a tough question, as the trappings of adulthood (marriage? kids? not living in your parents’ basement?) become less defined, and people compensate by declaring whatever decade they reluctantly inhabit “the new 20”.
It’s also the question at the heart of Emily Gould’s first novel, Friendship, which follows two of New York’s sad young literary women from their friendship’s rosy beginnings in their 20s to their beyond-the-pale 30s.
Sure, Canada is home to an above-average pool of talented writers—but self-serious CanLit, with its stoically rugged terrain and small-town immigrant stories, can sometimes be a little, oh, predictable, leaving it open to criticisms like the dig from Gary Shteyngart on Vulture in January (“people just don’t take the same damn risks!”) that raised the hackles of our country’s Net-savvy literati. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For proof, just look to Vancouver writer Doretta Lau’s debut, How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?: a wildly creative, irreverent, and pleasantly weird collection that absolutely refuses to be boring—yet somehow remains unmistakably Canadian (and sports one of Shteyngart’s cult-venerated blurbs on its cover, to boot).
B. J. Novak is best known as an actor, writer, director, and producer on The Office, a show beloved for its sweetly awkward humour and deadpan dialogue. But like many a screen celebrity these days (see: James Franco, Ethan Hawke), Novak has decided to bring his talents to literature. Who could blame publishers for welcoming him (and them) with open arms? The Office luminary, Inglourious Basterds star, and Mindy Kaling’s sometime boyfriend, Novak is going to move more copies than some unknown schmuck who does nothing other than write.
It’s sometimes difficult to see through the blinding mist, but Vancouver isn’t just famous for its enviable bounty of condos, yoga pants, and artisanal doughnuts. The City of Glass has problems, too, and back in 2010, our coastal utopia was named the Gang Capital of Canada (an honour that drifts from place to place like the guilty conscience of the Economist’s “most livable city” ranking). The ensuing media frenzy inspired Ashley Little’s third novel, Anatomy of a Girl Gang, which offers a brash, no-holds-barred portrayal of gangster life—in a gang of teenage girls.