Ruby – Cynthia Bond

Ruby - Cynthia BondThis is a tough read because of disturbing content. Set in an all-Black community in East Texas in the 1950-70s, there is blatant racism, violence and tremendous cruelty. Well-written but be warned … This doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation but in this new era of increasing intolerance, it is worthwhile, I think, to try and learn from historical precedent and ask the question: are we really moving forward?

The Transcriptionist – Amy Rowland

the-transcriptionist-amy-rowlandThis book is a gem, a short but meaningful book about loss and finding one’s place in the world. First, it is a very New York book. But it is mostly an existential book. Lena is a transcriptionist at a prestigious newspaper; her job is to transcribe dictation, a job that is disappearing in 2001. Thus, Lena is looking for meaning in her life, a quest that is precipitated by chance encounter with someone on the subway. A very good read.

Harmless Like You – Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

harmless-like-you-rowan-hisayo-buchananThere is much to love about literary festivals, but one distinct pleasure is the chance encounter with a new author. Buchanan is such a bonus from the Calgary Wordfest. This is a remarkable first novel with two parallel time lines: NY from 1968-83 and contemporary 2016. Profound sadness pervades Yuki’s story in NY as an abandoned 16 year-old and her subsequent struggle to do art. She then abandons her son when he is 2 years old to live in Berlin as a struggling performance artist. The contemporary story line is about her adult son Jay who has remarkable insecurities. Mother and son are finally reunited and the confrontation/reconciliation is both beautiful and painful. This is an excellent read, exploring the thin line between attachment and abandonment, love and pain, sacrifice and selfishness, with an impressive maturity. This is an author to follow in the future.

The Witches of New York – Ami McKay

the-witches-of-new-york-ami-mckayThis book takes place in 1880 New York, with Moth from The Virgin Cure as one of the central characters. Witches abound in New York, along with ghosts and spirits. The practise of witchcraft is mostly folk magic. The story-telling is excellent, with some peril of course for the sisterhood. And there is an alienist. Will there be another sequel?

An Uncommon Education – Elizabeth Percer

an-uncommon-education-elizabeth-percerThis is a remarkable first novel about relationships (my favourite topic): Naomi and her parents; Naomi and her childhood friend; Naomi and her fellow Wellesley College students. Parts of this book reminded me of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which is high praise.

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

A Litte LifeThis is a powerful and also profoundly disturbing book, a guy book about 4 male college friends, with a detailed (1352 pages in my digital library copy) account of their relationships with each other mostly: intense friendship and sometimes love. There are essentially no important relationships with women. At the core of the book is Jude, who undergoes horrific abuse as a child that will bring you to tears. Predictably, Jude suffers pronounced attachment disorder which makes his subsequent relationships with his friends very complicated. One of the brilliant features of this book is the ability to illustrate how someone who is very very intelligent can repeatedly engage in completely irrational behaviour: Jude knows this but can’t stop. This should produce a pause in those who think that abuse can be trivialized by “just get over it”. This is a tough read for emotional reasons but very worthwhile. This book is a Man Booker finalist.