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March Break

Since we’re all grounded by COVID-19, allow your imagination to take flight with new fiction guaranteed to transport you / BY Nathalie Atkinson / March 5th, 2021

March may come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, but this month’s best fiction adds talking ravens, monsters and even a robot from Nobel Prize-winning British author Kazuo Ishiguro in his new novel Klara and the Sun. There’s lots of mysticism, mystery and mayhem from Eden Robinson, S.J. Bennett and Stephen King, while Russell Banks is back with a novel about an aging draft dodger who lives in Montreal.

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1Return of the TricksterBy Eden Robinson

Robinson, a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations from Kitamaat Village, B.C., concludes her groundbreaking trilogy with Return of the Trickster. The bestseller has been a finalist for the Giller Prize and her books were recently adapted into the acclaimed and but short-lived CBC series Trickster. The darkly imaginative work, populated with talking ravens, mysticism and monsters, follows Jared Martin, an Indigenous teen in recovery, as he confirms he is the only one of his father’s children with supernatural powers. (March 2)

2The Committed By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The ironic voice picks up where its Pulitzer-winning political satire The Sympathizer, about a communist agent hiding in the U.S., left off. This time the action takes place in the harsh world of ethnic violence and conflict that lurks beneath the elegance of 1981 Paris, where the agent works for a drug ring while posing as an Asian restaurant waiter. Nguyen, an English professor at the University of Southern California, infuses his hotly anticipated sequel with equal parts brutality and philosophy. (March 2)

3Half Life By Krista Foss

Like Foss’s debut novel Smoke River, the Hamilton, Ont.-based writer examines the clash of values in many sides of a conflict in Half Life. Here we meet Elin, a middle-aged high school physics teacher who is devoted to edifying and encouraging young women in her class to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The narrative explores complicated family dynamics, anchored by the unexpected death of Elin’s father in 1993, as she deals with a teenage daughter, a mean and obstinate aging mother and her estranged siblings. (March 2)

4Foregone By Russell Banks

Banks, 80, always wanted to write a novel about draft dodgers who fled to Canada during the Vietnam War. It’s been 10 years in the making and now the author of The Sweet Hereafter gives us Leo Fife, a Canadian documentarian so famous he refers to himself in the third person. Former students gather round the Montreal apartment where Fife is dying of cancer to record the story of his life and oeuvre in one grand, final interview. He plans to reveal the truth — at last — about his youth and the series of adventures that led him to Canada. The novel explores whether vanity, the unreliability of an aging memory and a morphine drip will allow Fife to strip back the self-mythology. (March 2)


5LaterBy Stephen King

King’s new novel is his third with Hard Case Crime, a niche imprint of pulp-styled crime fiction, and as fits the genre, it’s a retro coming-of-age horror. Everything about it is a nostalgic throwback in the best possible sense, from the pleasures of its original, pulp-inflected cover art to the suspenseful plot. In echoes of It, a young man with an unnatural ability to see beyond the real world reflects on his youth. Series editor Charles Ardai says it is about growing up and facing demons, “whether they’re metaphorical or (as sometimes happens when you’re in a Stephen King novel) the real thing.” (March 2)


6Klara and the SunBy Kazuo Ishiguro

In the citation awarding him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, The Remains of the Day author is described as a writer who “has uncovered the abyss beneath of illusory sense of connection with the world.” For his first novel since the Nobel, the British laureate explores a near-future, dystopian America unsure of the ethics of its technological advances through Klara,  an enhanced sentient being. She’s an AF, or Artificial Friend — a solar-powered robot that humans buy to serve them. As Klara observes and absorbs the world around her, she mirrors aspects of the human experience such as self-interest and greed. Like the voice of its narrator, it’s a hopeful novel that Ishiguro has described as “an emotional reply to Never Let Me Go.” (March 2)

7The Windsor Knot By S.J. Bennett

What if the world’s foremost amateur sleuth was hiding in plain sight? That’s the premise of this delightful cozy mystery, the first in a new series. An amalgam of The Crown and Murder, She Wrote, Her Majesty The Queen has been living a double life, solving crimes since her 1953 coronation. Between the corgis, horses, official schedule and nips of gin, Bennett fleshes out the particulars of Her Majesty’s sense of humour and shrewd personality with warmth and reverence. (The depiction of the rapport with husband Prince Philip is particularly lovely.) It is set in 2016 amid preparations for the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations. When a Russian pianist is found murdered in the loo at Windsor Castle the morning after performing at a party and suspicion falls on a member of the Royal household, what’s a monarch to do? With the help of private secretary Rozie Oshodi, a resourceful, British-Nigerian, ex-army assistant and her partner in crime solving, the Queen quietly investigates. A mix of international diplomacy, boldface cameos (like the Obamas) and daily palace gossip, it’s more Jane Marple than James Bond—but only just. (March 9)

8The Girls Are All So Nice Here By Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

A subset of campus novels called dark academia has recently come back into vogue. These descendants of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, like Megan Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand and Emily Laydens’ All Girls, are psychological novels that examine the complicated and often toxic facets of intense female friendship. This one by London, Ont.-based Laurie Elizabeth Flynn explores the cult of personality around magnetic Sloane ‘Sully’ Sullivan, who is always surrounded by “girls and boys trailing her like a cape,” and the fallout from her friendship with the more naïve, fish-out-of-water protagonist Ambrosia Wellington during their freshman year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. (March 9)

9The Impudent Ones By Marguerite Duras

This debut novel by the late Marguerite Duras, who won the French Prix Goncourt for her landmark erotic masterpiece The Lover, was published in 1943, but has just been translated into English. It concerns the star-crossed liaisons of 20-year-old Maud, living unhappily with her family in suburban France, and shares similar autobiographical elements of absent fathers and possessive mothers – and familiar themes of illicit desire, suicide and dysfunctional families – of Duras’ later and more enduring work, illuminated with an essay by her biographer Jean Vallier. (March 9)


10The Rose Code By Kate Quinn

The legacy of the women of Bletchley Park, the wartime base in the English countryside where the German Enigma codes were cracked during the Second World War, comes alive in this novel. Once again the San Diego author (The Alice Network) meticulously reconstructs elements of England’s secretive wartime past; here, Quinn introduces three very different female cryptanalysts before reuniting them several years after the war to piece together a new puzzle. It’s like a thrilling lost episode of The Bletchley Circle. (March 9)

11Shadow Life By Hiromi Goto

The buzz is deafening for this graphic novel by Japanese-Canadian writer and poet Goto (co-winner of the Canada-Japan Book Award for Chorus of Mushrooms) and Ignatz-nominated illustrator Ann Xu. Goto’s work centres on the lives of Asian Canadian women — in this case strong-willed, 76-year-old Kumiko, whose daughters want to move her into an assisted living facility. Independent-minded, she moves to an apartment in Vancouver’s gay village instead. The book takes an unconventional approach to queer narratives and infuses Kumiko’s daily routine with elements of magic realism and examples of self-reliance. It’s perfect for fans of Hayao Miyazki, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-winning Maus who love the possibilities of the comics form. Booklist praises it as “an empowering, emotional tribute to defiant, independent, kick-ass old women living their best lives.” (March 30)


12Libertie By Kaitlyn Greenidge

Inspired by one of the first Black female doctors in America, this literary novel of magic and history is about figuring out one’s destiny. Set in the 1860s, this Roxane Gay book of the month chronicles a free-born Black girl’s coming of age in post Civil War-era Brooklyn. Libertie Sampson’s mother is a doctor and she is on the same path until, worn down by the derision of her medical school classmates and spellbound by the stories of a man she meets, she accepts his marriage proposal and moves to Haiti with him. (March 30)

13Wild Women and the Blues By Denny S. Bryce

This vivid historical novel will satisfy those who were transfixed by Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the Netflix adaptation of August Wilson’s play. Novelist Bryce, a former marketing executive who now covers books for NPR, takes an original slant to conjure the gritty blues scene of Jazz Age Chicago. It’s evoked in a dual timeline, as super-centenarian Honoree Dalcour recounts her rise from sharecropper’s daughter to glamorous speakeasy chorus girl in the treacherous world of bootleggers. Miss Honoree’s youthful ambition intersects with well-known figures such as blues singer Alberta Hunter, Louis Armstrong, Al Capone and pioneering Black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux and explores the convergence of race, art, and ambition. (March 30)


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