The 2014 finalists for the Rogers Writers' Trust Prize for fiction were announced on Wednesday. They are:
Pastoral by André Alexis
There were plans for an official welcome. It was to take place the following Sunday. But those who came to the rectory on Father Pennant's second day were the ones who could not resist seeing him sooner. Here was the man to whom they would confess the darkest things. It was important to feel him out. Mrs Young, for instance, after she had seen him eat a piece of her macaroni pie, quietly asked what he thought of adultery. André Alexis brings a modern sensibility and a new liveliness to an age-old genre, the pastoral. For his very first parish, Father Christopher Pennant is sent to the sleepy town of Barrow. With more sheep than people, it's very bucolic;too much Barrow Brew on Barrow Day is the rowdiest it gets. Bu things aren't so idyllic for Liz Denny, whose fiancé doesn't want to decide between Liz and his more worldly mistress Jane, and for Father Pennant himself, who greets some miracles of nature;mayors walking on water, talking sheep;with a profound crisis of faith.
The Confabulist by Steven Galloway
To confabulate, according to Merriam-Webster, is to fill in the blanks in one's memory by fabricating. If one repeats the lie often enough, does it then become truth? In this engaging novel, based loosely on the life of Harry Houdini, Canadian author Galloway (The Cellist of Sarajevo) challenges readers to distinguish between illusion and reality through the metaphor of magic. The story centers on narrator Martin Strauss, diagnosed with a degenerative disease that affects memory, as he struggles to recall, and atone for, the fateful night that he and the great magician first crossed paths. Martin and his lover Clara were attending -Houdini's performance in Montreal when a confluence of circumstances resulted in Martin's delivering the sucker punch to Houdini's gut that would lead to his death from a ruptured appendix. Confused and guilt ridden, Martin abandons Clara and becomes obsessed with meeting Houdini's widow, Bess, to make amends. VERDICT Like a magician, Galloway embeds enough curveballs and red herrings in his narrative to keep readers on unsteady footing throughout, as they circle back to reread a chapter, trying to decipher what is real and what is illusion. This blending of fact and fiction is reminiscent of work by E.L. Doctorow or Colum McCann, ensuring interest for both history and mystery buffs.
All Saints by K.D. Miller
From the first page of All Saints, readers know they’re in the hands of a true writer. With language both rich and restrained, images both precise and evocative, Miller entices us into the lives of people who all share a connection to an Anglican church being slowly deserted. Thanks to the subtle and intricate structure of the collection, the individual stories knit into a whole, achieving the effect of a novel, offering portraits of individuals and their tenuous community that claim a permanent place in our minds, and leaving us grateful for K.D. Miller’s artistry.
Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder
Girl Runner is the story of Aganetha Smart, a former Olympic athlete who was famous in the 1920s, but now, at age 104, lives in a nursing home, alone and forgotten by history. For Aganetha, a competitive and ambitious woman, her life remains present and unfinished in her mind. When her quiet life is disturbed by the unexpected arrival of two young strangers, Aganetha begins to reflect on her childhood in rural Ontario and her struggles to make an independent life for herself in the city. Without revealing who they are, or what they may want from her, the visitors take Aganetha on an outing from the nursing home. As ready as ever for adventure, Aganetha's memories are stirred when the pair return her to the family farm where she was raised. The devastation of WWI and the Spanish flu epidemic, the optimism of the 1920s and the sacrifices of the 1930s play out in Aganetha's mind, as she wrestles with the confusion and displacement of the present. Part historical page-turner, part contemporary mystery, Girl Runner is an engaging and endearing story about family, ambition, athletics and the dedicated pursuit of one's passions. It is also, ultimately, about a woman who follows the singular, heart-breaking and inspiring course of her life until the very end.
All my puny sorrows by Mirian Toews
In her most passionate novel yet, she brings us the riveting story of two sisters, and a love that illuminates life. You won't forget Elf and Yoli, two smart and loving sisters. Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. Yoli is a beguiling mess, wickedly funny even as she stumbles through life struggling to keep her teenage kids and mother happy, her exes from hating her, her sister from killing herself and her own heart from breaking. But Elf's latest suicide attempt is a shock: she is three weeks away from the opening of her highly anticipated international tour. Her long-time agent has been calling and neither Yoli nor Elf's loving husband knows what to tell him. Can she be nursed back to "health" in time? Does it matter? As the situation becomes ever more complicated, Yoli faces the most terrifying decision of her life. All My Puny Sorrows , at once tender and unquiet, offers a profound reflection on the limits of love, and the sometimes unimaginable challenges we experience when childhood becomes a new country of adult commitments and responsibilities. In her beautifully rendered new novel, Miriam Toews gives us a startling demonstration of how to carry on with hope and love and the business of living even when grief loads the heart.
With all of the literary prizes coming up in November, our reading piles should be getting very high.