Small and independent presses are real treasure troves for great stories that you won’t necessarily see splashed across ad banners and subway stations but they. are. so. good. As much as I love seeing lists like this one pop up, there are so many indie titles that I would have LOVED to discuss with my friends over guacamole and wine (and, in some cases, probably would have helped me cope with my feeling afterwards)! So I’ve decided to make up my own lists, starting today, to spread the book club love around, even though my “book club” is basically just me reading with my cat in the room. (thanks for the inspo Buzzfeed!)
Full disclosure! Some of the books I pick will be from the company I work for, BUT were published before I got here, so I’m calling it a fair loophole.
In Da Club (Part I)
Wet, Hot, and Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex by Kaleigh Trace (Invisible Publishing)
Who doesn’t want to talk about sex? But, like, in a funny, positive, honest way with no “grey” in sight.
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis (Coach House Books)
If you’ve ever owned and/or loved a pet, this is a must-read.
Every Little Thing by Chad Pelley (Breakwater Books)
Prepare to yell “What the hell happened to Cohen??” over and over in this love story + mystery.
Matadora by Elizabeth Ruth (Cormorant Books)
Dive into the Spanish Civil War alongside a killer young heroine you can really root for.
Enter, Night by Michael Rowe (Chizine Publications)
If you’re going to read a vampire book, make it a really good vampire book!
Infidelity by Stacey May Fowles (ECW Press)
Cheaters are supposed to be bad people, right? Not exactly. Let’s discuss!
The Indifference League by Richard Scarsbrook (Dundurn)
Light, fun, and truly super.
Where Did You Sleep Last Night by Lynn Crosbie (House of Anansi)
Read this and then tell me you don’t want to devour this book right now.
I’ve had Tony Burgess on my to-read list for months. Unfortunately, things keep getting in the way, which has kind of upped the suspense in reading horror stories by someone who seems synonymous with the term “maniac” (based on the reviews I’ve read so far). I’ve been doing some zombie recon for a super secret pet project (NO, I am not trying to grow synthetic zombie replicas to sell on kijiji during The Walking Dead off season…but CLOSE! Nevermind, I’ve already said too much…) and reading Burgess was definitely an eye opening, near retching experience. And I say that with praise.
So I actually read two Burgess novels this week because after I finished the first one, I didn’t really know how to move on with my life, let alone a new book, so I figured I might as well keep walking down this road to creep town.
Tony Burgess’s novel Pontypool Changes Everything (ECW Press, 1998) takes place in the small town of Pontypool Ontario, about 30 minutes from where I live. One time, I saw a wonderfully charming live performance about the settlement heritage of Pontypool put on by 4th Line Theatre. Burgess’s novel is the complete antithesis of that. Exploring a deadly virus that is contracted through language, the story follows several characters in the wake of this epidemic that begins spreading across Ontario, first as a version of aphasia and culminating in bloody, neck-breaking cannibals. This original and brilliant premise is wrapped in a fragmented, surreal, violent, and hazy narrative that takes some commitment as a reader. There is also film version, loosely based on the novel.
The N-Body Problem is Burgess’s latest (released in October from Chizine) and it might be the most shockingly twisted novel I’ve ever read. Ever. A story that starts off in a world where the bodies of the undead are orbiting the Earth, turns into something so insane and grotesque, I’m actually awestruck. Tony Burgess definitely isn’t for everybody, but this is post-apocalyptic horror literature (and I mean literature because it is severely well-written) that stretches the genre to the extreme. A particularly unique and wild take on a zombie story, I read The n-Body Problem in one sitting, and was immobilized for a good 30+ minutes afterwards. If you want to blow your reader expectation out of the water (and have a stomach for the sick and graphic) give this one a shot, it’s on a whole other warped little planet.
The Delphi Room by Melia McClure comes from oddball, Toronto-based publisher ChiZine. ChiZine is basically the unofficial “sponsor” for my little freakbook show this month as 3 of the 5 titles are coming from them (Thank you!!). They are THE place to find all the strange, scary, and surreal in the book world and this novel is a pretty good example of all three. After hanging herself, Velvet finds herself locked in a version of her childhood bedroom all alone. No way out, no view from the window. Just the bedroom, a bed, mirror and a pad of paper on a desk. Is it Hell? Heaven? Somewhere in between? With no signs from above or below, Velvet begins to (understandably) freak right out. Until she hears a knock on the wall beside her and finds a note stuffed into an air grid. Living beside her, in his own room is Brinkley. Through the passing of letters, the two try to uncover some kind of answer for their current situations. Inexplicable scenes from their lives begin to play through the mirrors in their respective rooms and as one watches the other’s tragic moments, they begin to gain empathy and understanding for each other, but above all, the feeling of not being alone in the universe.
I was a little confused since The Delphi Room was described as a story about finding love after death. I didn’t feel like V&B fell in love, but rather they fell into a comforting friendship that was based on mutual circumstances (both past and current). In fact, their lives mirror each others (figuratively AND literally) almost perfectly. Both had stunningly beautiful, albeit batshit crazy, mothers who resembled old hollywood movie stars. Both of these mothers offered wild, unsteady upbringings for their children and the result became a manic depressive Velvet who was tormented by an imaginary figure named The Shadowman and a socially inept Brinkley who talked to a poster of Clara Bow. Interestingly, half the novel unravels through their letters back and forth, while the other half is written out through scenes depicting moments from their lives with the dialogue and descriptions of a screenplay.
Perhaps it was naive of me to think the threads in this story were going to piece together cleanly, or that the connection between the characters would solidify. It seemed like each revealing moment or confession acted like a grab bag of images, displaying only excerpts of these two quirky, tormented lives but never the whole picture. Despite that, the conceptual strength of the novel made up for it’s intermittent plot and execution, (historically, Delphi is one of the most important religious sanctuaries in Greek mythology. It is an oracle that is believed to answers questions through riddles). I thought the story of Velvet and Brinkley was a surreal, visual journey through the unknown that shows that the search for answers is often meaningless. That whatever happens will inevitably happen, whether it’s a slow descent into insanity or a quick fall from grace. And that life after death is very open to interpretation.