By chad pelley
special to The Telegram
• Russell Wangersky — “Whirl Away” (Fiction)
• Elisabeth de Mariaffi — “How to Get Along with Women” (Fiction)
• Samuel Thomas Martin — “A Blessed Snarl” (Fiction)
• Jill Sooley — “Baggage” (Fiction)
• George Murray — “Whiteout” (Poetry)
• Patrick Warner — “Perfection” (Poetry)
• Gerard Collins — “Finton Moon” (Fiction)
• “The Cuffer Prize Anthology” (Fiction)
• Bobbi French — “Finding Me in France” (Non-fiction)
• Mike Heffernan — “The Other Side of Midnight: Taxi Cab Stories” (Non-fiction)
• Greg Malone — “Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders” (Non-fiction)
• Don McKay — “Paradoxides” (Poetry)
We all want something different from a book, so instead of simply ranking this year’s offerings, I’ll run through a dozen great reads, penned in this province, that offer something for everyone.
Personally, my favourite two Newfoundland books of the year were Russell Wangersky’s “Whirl Away” and Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s “How to Get Along with Women.” Both are tack-sharp works of carefully written short fiction, and both authors are true wordsmiths, so you’ll delight in their lush language alone. Wangersky is a seasoned writer, quite used to the awards’ spotlight, but with this year’s release of “Whirl Away,” he was crowned Canadian literary royalty. Earlier this fall he shortlisted for the Giller Prize. For those of you not familiar with the award, it’s the Oscars of Canadian books, and the country’s richest, most esteemed literary award.
I have noticed, in talking to Newfoundland readers, or perhaps busy people in general, that short fiction is a good match for our busy, bustling lives, as we can read one story at a time, when we have the time. So, to suggest a third book of the year, that happens to be more short stories, I’d recommend “The Cuffer Prize Anthology, Vol. 4.” The Cuffer Prize is a wonderful initiative of the Telegram and Creative Books, in which the public is asked to submit very short stories, set in Newfoundland. The best 35 submissions are bound as an anthology, and the top three are graciously awarded $2,000, $1000, and $500. “The Cuffer Prize Anthology, Vol. 4” features stories by Grant Loveys, Eva Crocker, Beth Ryan, Gerard Collins, Samuel Thomas Martin, and Danielle Devereaux, among others. These anthologies have truly become a book to anticipate every year.
In terms of 2012 novels, fresh off the heels of winning the Newfoundland & Labrador Ches Crosbie Barristers fiction award, Gerard Collins released a new novel, “Finton Moon,” about a gentle, possibly gifted child, growing up in the rough town of Darwin, N.L., and it’s been many peoples’ picks as best novel of the year.
Winterset Finalist Samuel Thomas Martin released his debut novel, through Breakwater Books, just before fleeing to the United States for a teaching position. It’s called “A Blessed Snarl,” and Martin has a commendable knack for capturing the emotional turmoil of his characters’ lives. It’s about the dissension of the Wiseman family, and a man who “moved his wife and son back to Newfoundland to start a new Pentecostal church, but when his wife Anne leaves him for a man she meets on Facebook, and his son Hab moves in with his girlfriend Natalie — a burgeoning alcoholic with a fiery past — Patrick takes a suicidal leap of faith that brings him face to face with his estranged father Des.”
To suggest a third novel: Jill Sooley’s “Baggage” has the right amount of humour, humanity, and heart to please a wide audience. Her novel tackles the aspects of stepfamily most of us skirt around. In the opening paragraph, a mother candidly explains why she has a favourite daughter. Funny, poignant work.
It’s been a great year for some interesting works of non-fiction.
If you’re looking for inspiration to radically reinvent your life in 2013, take a note from Bobbi French’s book, “Finding Me in France.” French was a revered child psychiatrist, with a dream home straight out of a homemaker’s magazine, but she fell in love with France, and sold everything she owned to move to a small village there and live happily ever after. She started a blog about it, called “Finding Me in France,” to chronicle the panic and pleasure of following one’s passion, and the world fell in love with vicariously living through her wildest adventures, comic misfortunes, and life-affirming moments of revelation. Creative Books offered her a book contract, to summarize her story. So, take it from a psychiatrist, the key to happiness really is as simple as doing what you want to do.
Another interesting book is Mike Heffernan’s “The Other Side of Midnight.” Heffernan spent years in the backseat of taxi cabs, doing interviews with cab drivers in St. John’s. The resulting book offers a unique perspective on our city and its people, since no one but a taxi driver gets a better glimpse of the good side of bad people and the bad side of good people. All the things happening in this city, and their industry, you’d be surprised to hear.
And speaking of surprising stories, funny man Greg Malone’s book, “Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders,” is a brand-new and highly acclaimed reinvention of the story of Confederation. To quote a promotional line, “the official version of Newfoundland history has held for over 50 years almost without question. ‘Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders’ will change all that.”
To conclude, I’ll point out that, numerically speaking, 2012 has been a year of poetry for our province. Normally we see works of fiction and non-fiction rolling out of here by the barrel, but this year it’s been a steady supply of poetry, and among them, new works from two of my favourite poets: “Whiteout” by George Murray, and “Perfection,” by Patrick Warner. Both poets tackle the sorts of fleeting thoughts we all have, but they have a gifted knack for making the potency of a fleeting thought or observation explode with meaning. You needn’t be a poetry scholar to enjoy their work.
The masterful Don McKay also released a collection this year, “Paradoxides,” as did Monica Kidd, with “Handfuls of Bone.” Kerri Cull’s “Soak” and Grant Lovey’s “Our Gleaming Bones Unrobed,” marked the appearance of two new vivacious voices to watch as well.
If you’re reading this article, you’ve survived the Mayan Scare of 2012. Take a moment to yourself to celebrate, and curl up with one of these local works of literature. If you bent my arm to recommend just one, I’d utter Wangersky’s “Whirl Away” without flinching. Because of his talents and dedication to crafting perfect sentence after perfect sentence, readers don’t simply read his stories, they feel them.
Chad Pelley is an award-winning writer from St. John’s. His second novel,
“Every Little Thing,” will be released
in the spring of 2013.