The majority of the books I read are by American authors, but I definitely make an effort to reach for Canadian ones when I can, which is why today’s Book Whimsy features three books by Canadian authors, each with a very different Canadian setting. It’s basically a trip across the country, starting with The Lobster Kings on the Atlantic Coast, moving to Emancipation Day in Newfoundland and Toronto, and finally ending with Who By Fire in Alberta. Also, for once I loved all three of these books!
The Lobster Kings* is the second novel by Alexi Zentner, whose debut was nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award. It is set on the fictional Loosewood Island, a sort of no-man’s-land on the east coast border of the US and Canada, where for 300 years the Kings family has lived, both blessed and cursed by the ocean. Cordelia is the oldest child, and she is set to inherit it all, but along the way there are meth dealers, sibling rivalry, and her own heart to combat.
Zentner’s writing is powerful and evocative as he brings a mythic struggle to life in The Lobster Kings. It was really interesting to be immersed in the lives of fishermen, and the female perspective was a unique twist. There is a touch of the surreal in the book, and I really preferred the aspects of the story that centre on the family, rather than the meth dealing. Ultimately, The Lobster Kings was a riveting story filled with powerful characters, with the most powerful being the ocean itself.
Who By Fire by Fred Stenson* begins with the arrival of a sour gas plant in southern Alberta in the 1960s, one which poisons the farm Tom Ryder lives on, as well his relationships with his family. The story moves between Tom’s struggle, and that of his son, Bill, who works as an engineer for an oil company in Fort McMurray several decades later.
Although Who By Fire takes awhile to get into and can move slowly, especially the parts told from Bill’s perspective, it was well-written and emotional story. Stenson deals with both the environmental and human consequences of the oil industry–and of course, the inextricable link between the two. I think he manages the perfect balance in tackling the issues, and while there is some light in the story, it is not a cheerful read. If the slower pace doesn’t deter you, Who By Fire is a moving and detailed look into the incredibly important Canadian gas industry and real, human impact it can have.
Earlier this week I read Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady* over just a couple days, following a pretty lengthy reading slump. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but Grady’s book had rave reviews, including a Giller nomination, so I decided to try it out. Despite taking place during the 1940s and 50s, Emancipation Days is extremely current with the tackling of race issues. In it, Jack Lewis meets Vivian Clift while stationed in Newfoundland, and the two fall in love and marry, despite her family’s disapproval. After the war, they travel to Windsor, Ontario together to meet Jack’s family, and that’s when Vivian begins to realize that not everything is how Jack presented it to be, including Jack himself.
Despite being a country that often prides itself on diversity, Grady’s novel shows some of Canada’s dark history. Race is a complicated issue, and this is extremely evident in Emancipation Day as it alternates between Jack, Vivian, and occasionally Jack’s father’s perspective. It’s an emotional and nuanced story that I was barely able to put down over the 2.5 days I read it. As much as I wanted the characters to act differently, with Grady’s writing their actions and emotions felt authentic, which is exactly what makes Emancipation Day such an excellent and heartbreaking book.
The Lobster Kings, Who By Fire and Emancipation Day are all family sagas set in different parts of Canada, but they all have one thing in common–written by brilliant Canadian authors, each of them is worth picking up.