Brandon Book Club Summary

Manitoba Book Clubs

The Novels

Code:  M: Manitoba;  NC: Not Canadian

John Marlyn, Under The Ribs of Death M
Marlyn's novel tells the story of a Hungarian immigrant raised in poverty under the Salter Street Bridge in north-end Winnipeg who fights to make it up the ladder to success and a south-end home among the wealthy. His own struggles parallel and contrast with those of the workers who participated in the 1919 General Strike in Winnipeg.

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business
This novel tells the tale of Dunstan Ramsay, an eccentric high school teacher who shoves aside social normalcy to pursue his own interests. This is the first of Davies' Deptford Trilogy which also includes The Manticore and World of Wonders.

Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye
Painter Elaine Risley, at mid-life, returns from Vancouver to Toronto, a city she fled many years earlier after the end of her first marriage. While attending a retrospective of her artwork, Elaine is obsessed with memories of her childhood and adolescence, her family, the men she loved and her enigmatic friend Cordelia. Nominated: 1989 Booker Prize. Reader's guide at here.

Margaret Laurence, The Diviners M
Laurence tells the story of an independent woman who refuses to abandon her search for love. For Morag Gunn, growing up in a small prairie town is a toughening process -- putting distance between herself and a world that wanted no part of her. But in time, the aloneness that had once been forced upon her becomes a precious right -- relinquished only in her overwhelming need for love. Again and again, Morag is forced to test her strength against the world -- and finally achieves the life she had determined would be hers. Winner: 1974 Governor General's Award.

Hugh MacLennan, Barometer Rising
Set against the horrors of wartime and the Halifax Explosion, this novel explores the return of a young soldier, thought to have been killed in action and in disgrace, and the impact his return has on his former lover and family.

David Richard Adams, Nights Below Station Street
The story, showing how people come to terms with each other and with their fates, is about a man cheerful in the face of unemployment and a drinking problem, his wife always willing to believe the best about people and his rebellious daughter. Winner: 1988 Governor General's Award.

Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion
This novel tests the boundary between history and myth. Patrick Lewis arrives in Toronto in the 1920s and earns his living searching for a vanished millionaire and tunnelling beneath Lake Ontario. Winner: 1987 Trillium Award; Winner: 2002 Canada Reads Novel.

Beatrice Culleton, April Raintree M
Through the story of two young sisters removed from their family, Culleton illustrates the difficulties many Native Canadian people face in maintaining a positive self identity as they attempt to make their way in the dominant white culture.

Gabrielle Roy, The Hidden Mountain M
The Hidden Mountain tells the story of an instinctive artist, a young man working as a fisherman, trapper, hunter and miner in a northern Canadian boomtown. Living a solitary life, he is driven by his intense desire to create, through visual images, a beauty that doesn't yet exist. On his arctic journey, he finds, loses and, ultimately finds again the mountain symbolic of that beauty. An old missionary makes it possible for him to travel to Paris where established artists recognize the genius that shines through his naive technique.

W. P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe
A corn farmer in Iowa responds to mystical commands (only he hears them) to build a baseball diamond in his field and to enlist the support of reclusive author, J. D. Salinger. The ghosts of past players, including his father, emerge from the corn to play on his field. The novel is, about the importance of following one's vision and about the power of imagination. Winner: 1982 Chapters/Book in Canada First Novel Award.

Sandra Birdsell, The Missing Child M
Isolated deep in a glacial valley, the town of Agassiz has several conflicting undercurrents. But, only eccentric Minnie Pullman, possessed of an extraordinary gift of archetypical memory, is aware that an ancient underground glacier is melting and that the valley is about to be wiped out along with its communities of Hutterites, Mennonites, English, French, Native and Metis people. Winner: 1989 Chapters/Book in Canada First Novel Award.

Fred Stenson, Last One Home
In the vast ranching country of Alberta, Gabriel, with help from his friends (his ex-lover and his father's girlfriend), makes the trip to Batoche where he finds the spirit of a Metis warrior.

Robert Kroetsch, The Studhorse Man M
This is the odyssey of the last of the studhorse men, a madman who works naked in a bathtub, owner of a superb blue stallion, and their wild search to find the perfect mare for purposes of mating. Winner: 1969 Governor General's Award.

Timothy Findlay, Famous Last Words
Set in a variety of locales during World War II, the novel, some fact, much fiction, recounts Hugh Selwyn Mauberly's story scratched into the wall of an abandoned hotel. We learn of Mauberly's involvement during the war in a cabal of powerful British and German people which aimed to supercede both the British establishment and Hitler to form a super-nation.

Wayne Johnston, The Divine Ryans
This Newfoundland novel is about a boy, in early puberty, coming to terms with his relatives, an odd lot of folks who run a shabby newspaper, a funeral home, a convent and an orphanage. In between wakes and confessions, they watch Hockey Night in Canada, cheering for the (Catholic) Montreal Canadiens to beat the (Protestant) Toronto Maple Leafs. Winner: 1991 Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award.

Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon NC
The problem of ends and means, of love and truth and social organization, are dealt with through the thoughts of an old Bolshevik, Rubashov, as he awaits death in Stalinist prison.

Rudy Wiebe, Peace Shall Destroy Many
Wiebe examines the conflicts between the disciplined, peaceful dedication of a thriving Mennonite community and the increasing threats from the war-torn world of 1944.

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
Ondaatje's poetic novel is about love and confusion set in Italy at the end of World War II after the Allied forces have passed through. The four characters develop intense relationships in the midst of espionage, air planes buried beneath desert sand and bomb-defusion activities. Winner: 1992 Governor-General's Award. Winner: 1992: Trillium Award. Nominated 1992: Booker Prize. Reader's guide

Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries M
Shields tells the life story of a woman, written to resemble a biography, complete with family photos. The chapter headings tell us how the novel has been ordered: "Birth, 1905;" "Childhood, 1916;" "Marriage, 1927;" "Love, 1936;" "Motherhood, 1947;" "Illness and Decline, 1985;" and, finally, "Death." Winner: 1993 Governor-General's Award. Winner: 1995: Pulitzer Prize. Nominated: 1993 Booker Prize. Nominated: 1996 American

Frederick Phillip Grove, Settlers of the Marsh M
A early novel of the prairie realist genre, this psychological portrait of life in the Canadian West presents, with chilling accuracy, the hopes, passions and anxieties of young immigrant pioneers.

Guy Vanderhaeghe, Homesick
Vanderhaeghe explores the precarious nature of a family triangle when a stubborn woman, who ran away from her Saskatchewan home 17 years ago, returns with her rebellious teenage son to live with her lonely but embittered father.

Margaret Sweatman, Fox M
Set against the political and social events of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, Fox depicts the collision of wealthy and working classes following the end of the First World War. Sweatman demonstrates the conflict between idealism and desire. The passion of the New Left is dramatically contrasted with the greedy, insular world of the city's affluent citizens. Winner: 1991 McNally Robinson Fiction Award.

Denise Chong, The Chinese Concubine
This novel is Chong's retelling of the story of her grandparents' immigration from China to Canada in the 1920s. Chong details us about the difficulties experienced by her grandfather's family divided by his two relationships (with his wife in China and with his concubine in Canada), and their eventual reunion. Winner: 1995: Vancity Award.

W. O. Mitchell, For Art's Sake
A professor of fine arts had turned his ranch into a haven for homeless artists including a widowed sculptor, an actor down on his luck, a poet who raunchily makes his money at Sears' Men's Wear. But, when he is forced out of his job, the professor and his tenants decide to liberate art pieces from the homes of wealthy collectors in order to return them to public galleries.

Roch Carrier, The Man in the Closet
When a young actress staying in a borrowed cottage is attacked mysteriously in her bed, the lives in a small Quebec village are transformed.

David Gilmour, How Boys See Girls
How Boys See Girls explores what happens when 40 year-old Bix, suffering from a failed marriage, a faltering career as a speech-writer, a drinking problem and a wayward eye for women, falls in love with and obsessively pursues 19 year-old Holly.

Jane Urquhart, Away
Set in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in Ireland of the potato famine and in Northern Ontario, Away traces the lives of several generations of O'Malley family women. Winner: 1993 Trillium Award. Nominated: 1996 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
Quoyle, a third-rate newspaperman, is wrenched out of his workaday life in New York when his two-timing wife dies. He retreats with his two daughters to his ancestral home on the Newfoundland coast. As three generations of his family grow into new lifestyles, Quoyle confronts his private demons, finds himself professionally, and begins to see the possibility of love. Winner: 1994 Pulitzer Prize. Winner: 1993 National Book Award. Nominated: 1995 American Booksellers Book of the Year.

Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces
Fugitive Pieces first section is the Holocaust survival story of Jakob Beer, a Jewish boy in Poland. He is saved from death by a gentle and wise Greek archaeologist who takes him to the island, Hydra, then later to Toronto. Beer describes the way the Nazis manipulated archeology to prove the superiority of the Aryan race. The second half of the novel, following Beer's death, explores his biographer's transformation as he comes to terms with Beer's beginnings and his own demons. Winner: 1996 Chapters/Book in Canada First Novel Award. Nominated: 1996 Giller Prize. Winner: 1996 Trillium Award. Winner: 1997 Orange Prize. Winner: 1997 Guardian Fiction Award. Winner: Lannan Literary Fiction Award. Reader's guide

Barbara Gowdy, Mister Sandman
This is a zany novel mainly about Joan who was dropped on her head at birth. The result is that Joan grows to be a dwarf unable to speak. But, she is still able to mimic sound to the point of even playing the piano. The novel describes the impact she has on her family (her 15_year_old mother, lesbian grandmother, homosexual grandfather, and the grandfather's male lover, none other than Joan's father) as they confide in her through a closet door. Nominated: 1995 Giller Prize. Nominated 1995: Governor General's Award.

Brian Moore, The Statement
Pierre Brossard (in real life, Vichy Nazi collaborator, Paul Touvier) is on the run from a determined squad of unknown hit-men and from his former "friends". Condemned to death in absentia by French courts for crimes against humanity during the war, he has been in hiding, frequently in monasteries, for over forty years.

Richard Wright, The Age of Longing
Set in small town Ontario, the novel spans three generations and tells the story of Howard Wheeler and his search to make sense of his past, a past that includes his debonair mother and hard living hockey player father. Nominated: 1995 Giller Prize. Nominated: 1995 Governor General's Award.

Katherine Govier, Angel Walk
Corinne Ditchburn is a photographer who made her name in World War II as a war correspondent for Lord Beaverbrook. When, many years later, her son reviews her photographs, we learn about her life and loves in various locales: in London, on the battlefields of Normandy and Italy, and on an island in Ontario's Georgian Bay. Nominated: Trillium Award.

David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars NC
Set on an island in Puget Sound in 1954, the story revolves around the trial of a Japanese-American man accused of murdering a white fisherman he had known all his life. But, the drama is as much in the flashbacks to the forceful interning of the Japanese residents during World War II, the coming-of-age love affair between a white boy, now the editor of the local paper, and a Japanese girl, now the wife of the accused man, the shifting trust and enmity between the two communities, as it is about the resolution of the murder case. Winner: 1996 American Booksellers Book of the Year. Winner: 1995 Pen/Faulkner Award. Reader's guide

Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace
Alias Grace is a fictionalized account of Grace Marks, a maid who murdered her employer and his mistress in Canada in 1843. A stable-hand, who was her accomplice and who claimed she put him up to it, was hung for the crime while Grace ended up in a lunatic asylum. The novel analyzes the question: was she actually guilty or mentally ill? Winner: 1996 Giller Prize. Nominated: 1996 Governor-General's Award. Nominated: 1996 Booker Prize. Nominated: 1997 Orange Prize. Nominated: 1998 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. 1997 Salon Book Award. Reader's guide at here

Anne-Marie MacDonald, Fall on your Knees
A catalog of rape, incest and death in early twentieth century Cape Breton, MacDonald gives us the story of three generations and, in particular, one complicated family of sisters and a twisted father. MacDonald's prose evokes the almost mythical setting infused with ghosts, spirits and the remains of the dead. Nominated: 1996 Giller Prize. Shortlisted: Trillium Award. Winner: 1997 Commonwealth Prize for Best First Novel. Winner: CAA Literary award for Fiction. Winner: Dartmouth Award for Fiction. Nominated: 1996 Chapters/Book in Canada First Novel Award. Winner: 1997: Canadian Author's Association Literature Award for Fiction.

Guy Vanderhague, The Englishman's Boy
This novel links together Hollywood in the 1920s with one of the bloodiest, most brutal events of the nineteenth-century Canadian West -- the Cypress Hills Massacre in which native people were tragically slaughtered. Winner: 1996 Governor-General's Award. Nominated: 1996 Giller Prize. Nominated: 1998 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Miriam Toews, Summer of My Amazing Luck M
This comic novel tells the story of two single moms who live in a welfare housing project: Lucy who has no idea who the father of her son is and Lish, mother of four, who says she doesn't want a man around but still longs to see the fire-eating busker who fathered her twins. Nominated: 1996 Leacock Award for Humour. Shortlisted, McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award, 1996.

Carol Shields, Larry's Party M
Larry's Party is a comedy on the rise and life of Larry Weller, a Winnipeg floral designer who goes for his honeymoon to England. He and his wife visit Hampton Court with its shrubs, and Weller discovers his vocation; he becomes a _maize_ builder and gains fame for his efforts. The novel ends with a party in which the separate threads of his life are brought together. Nominated: 1997 Giller Prize. Nominated: 1998 Leacock Award for Humour. Winner: 1998 Orange Prize.

Bernard Schlink, The Reader NC
German schoolboy Michael Berg, 15, meets Hannah, a woman in her mid-thirties, and they have an affair. After a couple of years of relationship in which they bathe and have sex before he reads to her, she breaks the relationship off and disappears. Seven years later, Berg, now a law student attending a post-war criminal trial, finds Hannah accused of committing a serious war crime. He sees that she doesn't defend herself when she could. As "The Reader" unfolds, and the older woman's wartime background becomes clear, what began as a novel about a clandestine affair becomes a tale about morality, love and mercy in Germany before and after World War II. "Why does what was beautiful suddenly shatter in hindsight because it concealed dark truths?" the young boy asks. It's the question of his generation, and this book explores the potential answers. Nominated: 1999 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. 1997 Salon Book Award. Reader's guide

Michael Helm, The Projectionist
In a small Saskatchewan farm town, Toss Raymond, a local high school teacher with a failing reputation, faces the loss of his girlfriend and dismissal from the school board as he struggles with remaining true to his desire to follow his heart and his imagination. Nominated: 1997 Giller Prize. Nominated: 1997 Trillium Award.

Martha Ostenso, Wild Geese M
In this 1920s "prairie realist" novel, a young teacher, on her first assignment, lives in the Interlake region of Manitoba with the Gare family. The tyrannical, land-loving father, Caleb, attempts to keep everyone, especially his wife and rebellious 17 year-old daughter, under his control with a combination of abuse and deceit. Winner: 1925 First Novel Award.

Carole Corbeil, In the Wings

In this tale of love and loss, Corbeil explores the enchantments, loves, and intrigues beneath the surface of contemporary life. Scheduled to play Gertrude in Hamlet, Alice, almost 40, sweeps Allan, a young actor with possibilities of a brilliant career, into her world. Their intense relationship shifts when Allan is cast as Hamlet. Robert, a newspaper critic on the outside looking in, is drawn into the drama when he becomes obsessed with a young actress during a separation from his wife and son. Nominated: 1998 City of Toronto Book Award.

Chris Bohjalian, Midwives
On an icy winter night of 1981, in the rustic community of Reddington, Vermont, seasoned midwife Sibyl Danforth is forced to make a life_or_death decision that will change her world forever. Trapped by the weather in an isolated farmhouse, cut off from the hospital or even the emergency squad, she takes desperate measures to save the life of a baby, performing a caesarean section on a woman she believes has died of a stroke during a long and painful labour. But what if the woman was still alive during the surgery? What if Sibyl herself inadvertently killed her? The hair-raising story of Charlotte Bedford's death and of the subsequent trial of Sibyl Danforth is told by Sibyl's fourteen-year-old daughter Connie, now an obstetrician. She is remembering, and it is through her intelligent and watchful eyes that we witness the tragic effects of Charlotte's death and Sibyl's trial. As Sibyl faces the antagonism of the law, the hostility of the medical establishment, and the nagging accusations of her own conscience, we are compelled to confront questions of human responsibility that are fundamental to our society. Reader's guide

Marilyn Bowering, Visible Worlds
At a football game in Winnipeg in 1960, a brilliant ball of light descends from the skies, engulfs the quarterback, leaving him dead. In his boot is found a map of Siberia, drawn by the narrator's brother who was lost in the Second World War. From this beginning, Visible Worlds winds back through the traumatic events of mid_20th century history, crosses continents and links characters in remarkable ways. Winner: Ethel Wilson B.C. Fiction Prize.

Josef Skvorecky, Two Murders in My Double Life
The modus operandi Skvorecky has chosen in "Double Life" concerns two overlapping story lines involving Smiricky. The first involves the murder of a colleague at Edenvale College in Toronto _ a murder that, as in traditional detective stories, is duly solved by Smiricky, the clues leading logically to a tidy if complex solution. The second story line involves "the assassination of souls" that occurred in Czechoslovakia under the Communists and that continues, in more recent times, in the form of recriminations against people falsely accused of being informers for the old regime's secret police. One of those people happens to be Smiricky's wife, Sidonia, who once told the secret police a white lie about her best friend, Juliette, to try to shield Juliette from persecution and who now finds herself reviled by expatriates despite her long and valiant record as a publisher of dissident writing.

Tomson Highway, Kiss of the Fur Queen
In his first novel, Kiss of the Fur Queen, noted playwright Tomson Highway tells the story of two Cree brothers who were torn from their magical life in Northern Manitoba and thrust into a life of severe abuse, including physical, at a Catholic residential school. Their language is forbidden and their names are changed. As young men, estranged from their own people and alienated from the culture imposed on them, the brothers fight to survive. Yet, wherever they go, the wily shape-shifting Fur Queen watches over them and their development as artists.

Jose Saramago, Blindness
In an unnamed city in an unnamed country, a man sitting in his car waiting for a traffic light to change is suddenly struck blind. But instead of being plunged into darkness, this man sees everything white, as if he "were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea." Within a day, all the people whom he encounters succumb to blindness. As the epidemic spreads, the government panics and begins quarantining victims in an abandoned mental asylum __ guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot anyone who tries to escape. So begins Portuguese author José Saramago's gripping story of humanity under siege, written with a dearth of paragraphs, limited punctuation, and embedded dialogue minus either quotation marks or attribution. In this community of blind people there is still one set of functioning eyes: the doctor's wife has pretended to be blind in order to accompany her husband to the asylum. As the number of victims grows and the asylum becomes overcrowded, systems begin to break down: toilets back up, food deliveries become sporadic; there is no medical treatment for the sick and no proper way to bury the dead. Inevitably, social conventions begin to crumble as well, with one group of blind inmates taking control of the dwindling food supply and using it to exploit the others. Through it all, the doctor's wife does her best to protect her little band of blind charges, eventually leading them out of the hospital and back into the horribly changed landscape of the city. 1998 Salon Book Award. Nobel Prize Literature 1998.

Jim Harrison, The Sweet Hereafter
Harrison's novel begins with a fatal school bus accident in Sam Dent, a small town in upstate New York. The circumstances leading up to the accident appear in the first chapter, whose narrator is the bus driver Dolores Driscoll. The remaining chapters have three different narrators: Billy Ansel, who lost a son and daughter and now drinks himself into a less painful state; Mitchell Stephens, a lawyer from New York City who appears days after the accident, fueled by his belief that there is no such thing as an accident, himself the grieving father of a drug-addicted daughter; Nichole Burnell, a teenage survivor of the crash, now a parapalegic. Each presents a different view because of the unique history each brings to the tragedy.

Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes
"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." So begins the memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank's mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank's father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy -- exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling -- does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father's tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies. Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank's survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig's head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbours -- yet lives to tell his tale. Reader's guide at here and at here

J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace
Disgrace deals explicitly with J.M. Coetzee's homeland, South Africa, after apartheid. David Lurie, a white university professor expelled after a student affair, constitutes the novel's center. While regrouping with his daughter Lucy on her struggling country farm, an assault by local blacks derails their lives and shifts the novel's focus. "Lurie has the sense that, inside him, a vital organ has been bruised, abused, perhaps even his heart. For the first time he has a sense of what it will be like to be an old man, tired to the bone, without hope, without desires, indifferent to the future." What seems reporterly in initial description quickly accumulates symbolic potency: "In the middle of the night he is woken by a flurry of barking. One dog in particular barks insistently, mechanically, without cease; the others join in, quiet down, then, loath to admit defeat, join in again." Even the animals evidence psychological depth, and even they will not escape the rooted violence of African race relations. Winner: Booker Prize. Reader's guide

Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show
This first volume of the trilogy drops the reader into the one-stoplight town of Thalia, Texas, where Duane Moore, his buddy, Sonny, and his girlfriend, Jacy are all stumbling along the rocky road to adulthood. Duane wants nothing more than to marry Jacy; Sonny wants what Duane has; and Jacy wants to get the hell out of Thalia any way she can. Over the course of a year Duane and Jacy make up and break up, Sonny begins an affair with his high-school football coach's wife, and the only movie house in town closes its doors forever. Yet, out of these small-town experiences -- a nude swimming party in Wichita, a failed sexual encounter during a senior trip, a botched elopement, an enlistment -- McMurtry builds his tale and reveals his characters' hearts.

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it -- from garden seeds to Scripture -- is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is the story of the family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa. The novel is set against one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the twentieth century: the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister, the CIA coup to install his replacement, and the insidious progress of a world economic order that robs the fledgling African nation of its autonomy. Against this backdrop, Orleanna Price reconstructs the story of her evangelist husband's part in the Western assault on Africa, the tale darkened by her own losses and unanswerable questions about her own culpability. Also narrating the story, by turns, are her four daughters -- the self-centered, teenaged Rachel; shrewd adolescent twins Leah and Adah; and Ruth May, a prescient five-year-old. These sharply observant girls, who arrive in the Congo with racial preconceptions forged in 1950s Georgia, are marked in different ways by their father's intractable mission, and by Africa itself. Ultimately, each is forced to strike her own separate path to salvation. Their intertwined stories become an exploration of moral risk and personal responsibility. Reader's guide at here and at here

Matt Cohen, Elizabeth and After
Carl McKelvey returns to his hometown in eastern Ontario, looking for work, anxious to see his daughter, and not daring to hope that his broken marriage with Chrissy can be rebuilt. She is living with Fred, who has political aspirations. He finds his widowed father, William, living in a senior's home, disoriented and angry. The local politician/used-car salesman gives Carl work renovating a house and renting videos, but only the reclusive Adam seems to take an interest in his well-being. Through a series of flashbacks told from shifting perspectives, the people of this small community are gradually connected to each other through their relationships with Carl's sophisticated mother, Elizabeth. She was killed a decade before on New Year's Eve, when her car crashed into an oak tree, her drunken son at the wheel. Guilt, remorse, and shame plague Carl, but he little realizes that the same feelings combined with regret are the constant companions of Adam who was once Elizabeth's improbable lover and Carl's biological father. Adam sifts through a series of secret, wild plans intended to "save" Carl. Finally, he drives himself and Fred into the same tree that killed Elizabeth, leaving his estate and a letter for Carl. In the end, Carl seems to have reclaimed his daughter and reestablished his life, but his future with Chrissy is ambiguous. Winner: Governor-General's Prize.

Bonnie Burrard, A Good House
In 1949 Stonebrook, Ontario, Bill and Sylvia Chambers and their three children feel optimistic about the future after the gloom of the recent war. However, the boom economy fails to keep reality out as a few years later, Sylvia dies. Not too long after that, Bill marries Margaret Kemp. Over the subsequent years, happiness and tragedy strike the now-extended Chambers family. Through the best and worst of times, Margaret, surprisingly, becomes the glue that keeps the family together even as new families have been formed and the younger generation moves on to new lives. Winner: 1999 Giller Prize.

Nancy Huston, Mark of the Angel
In 1957, a young German girl arrives in Paris, a city still recovering from World War II and on the brink of another period of violence and intolerance fomented by escalating tensions between France and Algeria. Saffie, however, is indifferent to both past and present conflicts. Seeking only to find food and shelter, she accepts a job as housekeeper for Raphael, a privileged young man and acclaimed musician. Entranced by Saffie's cool and distant manner, Raphael seduces her and, in heady defiance of his mother's objections, soon makes her his wife. But neither Raphael's open adoration nor his sexual passion breaks through Saffie's shell; even the birth of their child leaves her unchanged. A chance encounter turns out to be the spark that awakens Saffie from her dreamlike state. On a routine errand for Raphael, Saffie meets Andras, an instrument maker in the Marais, Paris's teeming immigrant neighborhood. The attraction between them is as immediate as it is inexplicable, as undeniable as it is dangerous. Winner: Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle; Finalist: Prix Goncourt. Shortlisted: 1999 Giller Prize. Reader's guide

Alaisdair MacLeod, No Great Mischief
This is a story of families, and of the ties that bind us to them. It is also a story of exile and of the ties that bind us, generations later, to the land from which our ancestors came. In 1779, Calum MacDonald set sail from the Highlands of Scotland with his extensive family, and the loyal family dog that swam out to join them. It was a long, hard voyage below decks - he left Scotland a husband and father and arrived in Canada a widower and a grandfather - and the early years in Cape Breton were not easy. But the family settled in "the land of trees" and grew and spread until it became almost a separate Nova Scotia clan, red-haired and dark-eyed, with its own story. It is the 1980s by the time our narrator, Alexander MacDonald, tells the story of his family. Raised by their grandparents, he and his twin sister have done well and left home. He is an orthodontist in Ontario, his sister a prosperous oilman's wife in Calgary. Together they marvel at how the family story intersects with history: with Culloden, where the clans died, and with the 1759 battle at Quebec won by the English General Wolfe with the help of the Highlanders whom he once recommended as soldiers because it was " no great mischief if they fall." Part of the MacDonald family is still at risk: Alexander's older brothers are specialist shaft miners, in demand around the world from South Africa to Peru for their skills in dangerous mines. When our narrator graduates from university in 1968, they are at work at Elliot Lake in the uranium mines. There, a misunderstanding with a French-Canadian crew leads to an accident. Fresh from university, with a soft white-collar job awaiting him, out of loyalty Alexander feels obliged to join the family mining crew. And, in that long hot summer in the bush, although they share fiddle tunes and the same clannish culture, the tension between the Cape Breton men and the French Canadians continues to mount. Winner: 2001 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; Winner: 1999 Trillium Award. Reader's guide

Anita Shreve, The Weight of Water
"I wonder this: If you take a woman and push her to the edge, how will she behave?" The question is posed by Jean, a photographer, who in 1995 arrives on Smuttynose Island, off the coast of Maine, to research a century_old crime. As she immerses herself in the details of the case -- a fit of passion that resulted in the deaths of two women -- Jean herself becomes caught in the grip of an intense emotion. The suspicion that her husband is having an affair burgeons into jealousy and distrust, and ultimately propels Jean to the verge of actions she had not known herself capable of - actions with horrific consequences.

Catherine Bush, Rules of Engagement
Andrea Hearne is a researcher who studies contemporary war and specializes in issues of military intervention. Far from her hometown of Toronto, she has created a new life for herself in London. While she pursues the study of violence, surveying the rich arsenal of current global conflicts, she refuses to put herself either physically or emotionally at risk. Thrust into a world full of people who, like her, hide secrets and are in flight from difficult pasts, Arcadia is compelled both to contemplate new possibilities for intervention and to confront her own painful history.

Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach
On the peaceful shore of the Douglas Channel lies the remote Haisla community of Kitamaat, British Columbia. Seventeen-year-old Jimmy Hill, ambitious and handsome, is the pride of the village: an Olympic hopeful. Despite being sought after by the local boy-chasers, serious-minded Jimmy shows little interest in courtship, until he falls in love with Karaoke, tough as nails and the village beauty. But their young romance is cut short by the news of a horrifying accident at sea and Jimmy's mysterious disappearance. Circling the disaster are Monkey Beach's characters: Jimmy's older sister Lisamarie, the narrator; their loving parents, struggling to marry their Haisla heritage with Western ways; Uncle Mick, Native-rights activist and devoted Elvis fan; the thrifty, self-directed Ma-ma-oo (Haisla for 'grandmother'), guardian of the old traditions. But Lisamarie has other advisors less tangible or trustworthy: ghosts, sasquatches and animal spirits that weave their way into her life as she struggles with Jimmy's vanishing. Monkey Beach is a story about childhood and the pain of growing older, a multi-layered tale of family grief and redemption. Nominated 2002 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; Finalist: 2000 Giller Prize; 2000 Governor General's Award.

Andrew Miller, Ingenious Pain
Conceived on an icy night as a result of an adulterous coupling, James Dyer is a strange child, unable to feel physical or emotional pain. When his family are all but wiped out by smallpox, he attaches himself to a quack show, is abducted and kept in a rich man's house as a curiosity, acts as an assistant to a ship's physician and, later, becomes a brilliant but supremely arrogant surgeon in fashionable Bath. When scandal ruins his practice, he joins a race to St. Petersburg to inoculate the Empress of Russia against smallpox. Along the way, he meets a strange woman whose miraculous powers enable him to feel pain, his own and others. The road to redemption goes through madness before he dies having experienced a modicum of peace. Winner: 1999 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Mordecai Richler, Barney's Version
Ebullient and perverse, thrice married, Barney Panofsky has always clung to two cherished beliefs: life is absurd and nobody truly understands anybody else. But when his sworn enemy publicly declares that Barney is a wife abuser, an intellectual fraud and probably a murderer, he is driven to write his own memoirs. Winner: Stephen Leacock Award for Humour; 1998 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada and Caribbean Region); 1997 Giller Prize.

Ian McEwan, Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the story of two friends: classical composer, Clive Linley and newspaper editor, Vernon Halliday. At the beginning of this novel, Linley and Halliday attend the funeral of Molly Lane, the darling of London's social and political elite. Aside from the lack of refreshments, McEwan writes, "one might have been at one more gallery opening, one more media launch." Discussing Molly's slow disintegration and subsequent death, Linley and Halliday confront their own days of decrepitude. Convinced that Molly would have preferred a quick, dignified end, the two make an agreement to euthanize the other when the time comes -- an arrangement they believe will honour their friendship, love, and trust. Such amity, however, does not last long, and conflict soon arrives in the form of a cross_dressing Foreign Secretary, Julian Garmony. Garmony is vying for the title of Prime Minister of England, but his aspirations are compromised by some incriminating photos Halliday acquires from Molly. Though Linley opposes their release, Halliday publishes them anyway. And this spells the beginning of the end for their friendship, and the first steps on the path to murder. Winner: Booker Prize. Reader's guide at: here and at here

David Adams Richards, Mercy Among the Children
Mercy Among the Children is the story of Sydney Henderson and his son Lyle. As a young man, Sydney, believing he has accidentally killed a friend, makes a pact with God vowing to never harm another if the friend's life is spared and the boy walks away unharmed. Later, tragedy strikes when a small boy is accidentally killed and Sydney is accused of the crime. While Sydney refuses to defend himself and his family, Lyle adopts a more aggressive strategy and it is left to Lyle to decide what the legacy of his father's pact will be. Richards' characters strive for a sense of human dignity that rings with universal truth. Co-Winner: Giller Prize, 2000; Nominated: 2001 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; Winner: 2001 CBA Libris Fiction Book Of The Year

Elizabeth Hay, A Student of Weather
"Two sisters fell down the same well, and the well was Maurice Dove." In Canadian writer Elizabeth Hay's first novel, the charming Maurice Dove, a 23_year_old student from faraway Ottawa, comes to the plains of Saskatchewan to study the region's unusual weather. He first arrives at the Hardy's farm, and meets Ernest Hardy's two young daughters: the beautiful, hardworking, 17-year-old Lucinda and her odd, homely 8-year-old sister, Norma Joyce. But what Norma Joyce is missing in the looks department, she more than makes up for with her relentlessly inquisitive mind. She shadows Maurice, asking incessant questions about his studies, and it is she "who learns about weather while the birds return and the crops grow and the light lingers in the long evenings of early June." The two girls find themselves competing for Maurice's affections, but Lucinda is the recipient of his letters after he departs. When Maurice's letters mysteriously stop, Lucinda is devastated. Years later, the Hardys inherit a house in Ottawa, just across the street from the Doves. Norma Joyce, now a teenager and still obsessed with Maurice, becomes romantically involved with him. But, the price she will pay for her obsession and the betrayal of her sister is devastatingly high. Winner: The 2001 CAA Mosaid Technology, Inc. Award For Fiction.

Carol Shields, Happenstance M
These two unique novels tell the stories of Jack and Brenda Bowman during a rare weekend apart in their many years of marriage. Jack is at home coping with domestic crises and two uncouth adolescents, while immobilized by self-doubt and questioning his worth as a historian. Brenda, travelling alone for the first time, is in a strange city grappling with an array of emotions and toying with the idea of an affair. Intimate and insightful yet never sentimental, Happenstance is a profound portrait of a marriage and the differences between the sexes that bring life - and a sense of isolation - into even the most loving of relationships.

Carol Shields, Unless M
Unless is about a writer--in this case, Reta Winters, a middle-aged novelist, mother, and translator who lives in a pastoral town just outside of Toronto. Reta lives a happy and successful life until her eldest daughter, Norah, abandons family, boyfriend, and university to panhandle on a busy and slightly seedy Toronto street corner, saying nothing and wearing a sign that reads only "Goodness." Norah's strange self-sacrifice sends Reta into despondency, and she seeks some sort of explanation for her daughter's behaviour, insisting again and again that Norah, as a young woman, was simply shut out of any hope for a fulfilling life by a monolithic and masculinist culture. Shortlist: 2002 Giller Prize; Shortlist: 2002 Governor General's Literary Award For Fiction. Reader's guide at: here and at here

Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections
The Corrections is a novel about a family breaking down in an age of easy fixes. After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson's disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing spectacularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man -- or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home. Stretching from the Midwest at midcentury to the Wall Street and Eastern Europe of today, The Corrections brings an old-fashioned world of civic virtue and sexual inhibitions into violent collision with the era of home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental health care, and globalized greed. Winner: 2001 National Book Award; Nominee: 2002 Pen/Faulkner Award; Nominee: 2002 The National Book Critics Circle Awards; Nominee: 2002 American Booksellers Association Awards. Reader's guide

Richard Wright, Clara Callan
It is the year 1934, and in a small town in Canada, Clara Callan reluctantly takes leave of her sister, Nora, who is bound for the show business world of New York. It's a time when people escape from reality through radio and the movies, when the Dionne Quints make headlines, when the growing threat of fascism in Europe is a constant worry, and the two sisters -- vastly different in personality yet inextricably linked by a shared past -- try to find their place within the complex web of social expectations for young women in the 1930s. While Nora embarks on a glamorous career as a radio soap opera star, Clara, a strong and independent-minded woman, struggles to observe the traditional boundaries of a small and tight-knit community without relinquishing her dreams of love, freedom, and adventure. But Nora's letters eventually begin to reveal that her life in the big city is a little less exotic than it may seem: though her career is flourishing, her free spirit is curbed by a string of fairly conventional and unsuccessful personal relationships. Meanwhile, the tranquil solitude of Clara's life is shattered by a series of unforeseeable events, turns of fate that require all of Clara's courage and strength, and that will put the seemingly unbreakable bond between the sisters to the test. Ultimately, both discover not only the joys of love and possibility, but also the darker side of life -- violence, deception, and loss -- lurking just beneath the surface of everyday experience. Winner: Governor General's Literary Awards 2001 English; Winner: 2001 Giller Prize; Winner: 2002 CBA Libris Fiction Book Of The Year; Winner: 2001 Trillium Award.

David Lodge, Thinks
Set in the fictitious University of Gloucester, it tells of Ralph Messenger, womanising cognitive scientist, who sets out to bed Helen Reed, a recently-widowed novelist who arrives on campus to teach a summer writing course. Written from three viewpoints - Ralph's dictaphone transcriptions, Helen's journal, and an all-seeing narrator - it deftly highlights the problem of working out what people are thinking, and of analysing and anticipating their behaviour. Ralph's initial efforts to seduce Helen are fruitless, but he persists. She instinctively resists, but eventually realises that she'd actually like to be seduced. An affair quickly develops between Ralph and Helen, and intensifies when Carrie, Ralph's Californian wife, is called home to attend to her sick father. But all is not as it seems. Carrie knows that Ralph is having affairs and accepts the situation, as long as it's out of sight. Helen, who has become a confidante of Carrie's, is placed in a morally difficult situation when she begins the affair with Ralph: to whom does she owe the greater loyalty? An extra layer of complexity is added when she discovers that Carrie is also having an affair. And it appears that Helen's husband also played away before his untimely death.

Graham Swift, Last Orders
The central event of the novel is the laying to rest of the remains of Jack Dodds, family butcher, who has left instructions that he wants his ashes scattered off the end of a pier in Margate, a faded resort on England's southeast coast. Three friends and his adopted son gather in a pub to drive down to Margate to carry out Jack's wishes. As Vic, Lenny, Ray, and Vince make their desultory progress from south London to the sea, the reader gets to know them intimately, and becomes aware of the web of connections between them--animosities, loves, secrets, and lies. In short, the accumulation of detail amounts to a realistic portrait not only of Jack Dodds and his friends, but also of life itself, as experienced by a particular generation and class of Londoners.

Lori Lansen, Rush Home Road
The protagonist, Adelaide Shadd was born in Southwestern Ontario in the first decade of the 20th century in an all-black town settled by fugitive slaves. Now an old woman, she lives a quiet life in a trailer park until five-year-old Sharla Cody is abandoned on her doorstep. Sharla helps Addy to open a door to her past, find forgiveness, and finally make the journey home again.

Margaret Sweatman, When Alice Lay Down With Peter M
Alice falls in love with Peter in Orkney in the 1860s and pursues him to the New World. They join the rebellion against the Canadian acquisition of Manitoba and fight on the side of the charismatic Métis leader, Louis Riel. While not Métis themselves, they prefer the company of rebels and outcasts to the men who are invading from the east. Alice participates in the political execution of Thomas Scott, an odious Orangeman who is determined to destroy Riel and crush his followers. Thereafter, she is haunted by Scott's ghost... Winner: 2001 McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award; Winner:The 2001 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award; Winner: The 2001 Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction; Winner: 2001 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize; Winner: Sunburst Award For Canadian Literature Of The Fantastic.

Catherine Hunter, The Dead of Midnight M
Members of the Mystery au Lait Cafe book club can't get enough of the Midnight Mystery Series until the books' terrifying crimes begin to happen for real in the quiet town where the club meets. Someone is imitating the Midnight Mystery murders and killing off the book club, one member at a time.

Mary Lawson, Crow Lake
Set against the wild terrain of northern Ontario, where heartbreak and hardship are mirrored in the landscape, this drama of love and misunderstanding recounts a family' tragic and moving past. Orphaned young, Kate Morrison and her siblings were bound together by loss. None of them could have expected the tumultuous times ahead - least of all Kate' older brothers, Matt and Luke. Twenty years later, the sacrifices they made and the promises they broke continue to reverberate through their lives and the quiet rural community of Crow Lake. Shortlisted: Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award.

The Short Stories

Sandra Birdsell, Agassiz Stories M
This amalgam of two books of short stories contains coming-of-age stories in a Mennonite/Metis family in Southern Manitoba along the banks of the Red River.

David Arnason, The Happiest Man in the World M
These are short stories about a variety of post-modern themes. People's traditional roles blur as dreams enter their lives.

Fredelle Maynard Bruser, Raisins and Almonds M
These are short stories about the trials and joys of a Jewish girl growing up in small-town Manitoba.

W. O. Mitchell, According to Jake and the Kid
Set in the fictional town of Crocus, Saskatchewan, Jake, the farm hand, and his impressionable charge, the Kid, meet entertaining characters and challenging adventures. Winner: 1990 Leacock Award for Humour.

Alice Munro, The Progress of Love
Here, Munro writes short stories about love in many of its manifestations. Winner: 1986 Governor General's Award.

Stephen Leacock, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
These are typical Leacock -- humourous stories about the people of Mariposa.

Oakland Ross, Guerilla Beach
Ross writes about the human and political terrain he covered for many years as a journalist in Latin America during the 1980s, a period of fierce social turmoil.

Sharon Butala, Queen of the Headaches
In Queen of the Headaches, Butala's short stories are about women, about the neighbours, friends and relatives of everyday lives in the isolated ranching country of southern Saskatchewan. Nominated: 1985 Governor General's Award.

Elisabeth Harvor, Let Me Be the One
In the first of several short stories, a woman writer, taking over a high school English class, quickly loses control of all of her students but one. Nominated: 1996 Governor General's Award.

Greg Hollingshead, The Roaring Girl
Stories on a variety of themes --- a teenager back at his parents -- after a year of travel sees a naked man pass a doorway; a housewife is blamed for giving away a box of mysterious medical supplies intended for the Sudan and tries to get it back; a businessman being bought out by his wife discovers that the appraiser evaluating their cottage thinks the end of the world is at hand; --- all with mystery just below the surface. Winner: 1995 Governor General's Award.

Marsha Boulton, Letters from the Country
Boulton writes humourous stories about what happens when a city woman takes up rural roots and becomes a shepherd. Winner: 1996 Leacock Award for Humour.

Bill Richardson, Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast M
Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast is a book of short, humourous stories about an island rustic retreat hosted by eccentric Hector and Virgil, twins by birth but not by nature, and their sometimes peculiar clientele. Winner: 1994 Leacock Award for Humour.

David Bergen, Sitting Opposite My Brother M
Bergen writes short stories in which unexpected life events and constantly changing priorities transform relationships.

A Puzzle-Mystery, A Play, and Two Difficult-to-Classify Works

Graeme Base, The Eleventh Hour
This is an illustrated puzzle-mystery for both adults and children.

George Ryga, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe
This play tells the story of a native woman from the reserve who encounters the incredible difficulties of life in the discriminatory big city.

Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow
Stegner applies his own childhood remembrances and reflection to this book in three parts: a history, a memory and a story of the Cypress Hills in southern Saskatchewan.

Nick Bantock, Griffin and Sabine (series)

Griffin had never met a woman named Sabine. How did she know him? How did she know his artwork? Who is she? Thus begins the strange and intriguing correspondence of Griffin and Sabine. Since each letter in this beautifully illustrated series is either a postcard or must be pulled from its own envelope, the reader has the sensation of reading someone else's mail. Nominated: 1992 American Booksellers Book of the Year.

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