The Best of Atlantic Canada 2018

Three years ago I decided to challenge myself to read more books from Atlantic Canada. In my first year I read 22 from the region, and in my second year 30. This year I read 23.

% of books read from Atlantic Canada: 26% (last year, 32%)

Newfoundland: 7 (last year, 6)

Nova Scotia: 14 (last year, 17)

New Brunswick: 0 (last year, 2) – Sorry, James! I will fix this!

Prince Edward Island: 2 (last year, 6) – The 6 books last year were all by L.M. Montgomery. This year, the two I read were by David Helwig. So a win, really.

 

Standouts

(Read, but not necessarily published, in 2018. In no particular order.)

Malagash by Joey Comeau – This is one of my favourite books of the year. Small but mighty.

I thought Malagash would be a small town, but it is not even that. One long road, a twisting red paved loop around the north shore of Nova Scotia. There’s a tractor sitting in a field. A dirt bike leaning up against a shed. We pass a pen of llamas, who look bored as hell. The Atlantic ocean itself comes right up to drive along beside us. Then it slips away.

 

Most Anything You Please by Trudy J. Morgan-Cole – This multi-generational story about women in Newfoundland is a joy to read.

She learned more about her neighbours in those first days of shopkeeping than she had in six months of living on the street. She learned that Myrtle Hiscock was frustrated with her sickly husband and would give anything to go back out home to Spaniard’s Bay where she came from, but there was nothing to do there but fish and her husband was too weak to go out in boat ever again. She learned that the police had been called in to break up yet another fight between the two men who owned land down on Liverpool Avenue, and that one man had beaten the other with his own wooden leg in an argument over the property line. She learned that Mrs. Hynes was worried sick that her oldest daughter was only being led along by that young Ivany fellow, that he would get her in trouble and leave her. She learned that Mrs. Kelly’s daughter really did get in trouble, with Leo Nolan, but they were getting married and nobody was asking questions.

 

The Boat People by Sharon Bala – Timely, entertaining, and thoughtful.

These girls had been born into a country at war, in a place where children were given guns and taught to fight, where girls strapped on explosives and turned their bodies into weapons. A place where ‘suicide bomber’ was the highest possible calling. They had lived unimaginable lives. While all the violence Meg and Brianne had ever known was confined to a video game.

 

In the Field by Claire Tacon – The author is not from Nova Scotia, but the story is almost entirely set here. A woman struggles with her marriage while reconciling with her past and her ageing mother.

The birds lift off, hundreds of them rising up on some unknown cue, the whole group swarming above me. In flight, the flock squishes and stretches, fans out across the water then curves back over the waves. It’s hard to fathom how so many separate beings can operate as one, their movements so perfectly synchronized that there’s an audible snap as they switch directions, crisp as a flag in the wind.

 

The Luminous Sea by Melissa Barbeau – Scientists make a polarizing discovery while testing the waters of a small outport in Newfoundland. Mesmerizing.

The fishermen stopping in for a cup of coffee after coming off the water offer ever more apocalyptic opinions about the jellyfish blooms smothering the coastline: they’re getting so thick, maid, the boat brings up short on them; the bay’s going to be a bowl of gelatine, mix in a little custard and you’ll have dessert; I believe they must go all the way down — won’t be long now you’ll be able to jump off the cliff by the lighthouse and bounce your way over to the far point.

 

In the Wake by Nicola Davison – This debut, contemporary novel explores marriage, parenting, and mental illness in an engaging and suspenseful way.

Relaxing in the shower is not possible with a small child in the house. Even with the help of cartoons, she is always listening for telling noises or dubious silences. . The running water deadens the sound from the next room. She cocks her head in the direction of the door and hears a commercial on TV along with the small sound of Ryan’s voice. She lets out a breath and then catches a deeper voice speaking. It’s probably the TV. She puts down the razor and strains to make out the sounds. Too many horror movies as a teenager. It’s easy to imagine terrible things happening while naked, wet, and blinded with soap. Or, more likely, this would be the time Ryan would fling open the front door and run into the street, suddenly filled with speeding cars, or turn on all of the burners on the stovetop piled with stuffed animals. No, it’s just the TV.

 

A Circle on the Surface by Carol Bruneau – Like In the Wake (above), this novel also explores marriage and mental illness, but in an historical setting where the characters are facing isolation and the effects of war.

A dullness overcame her as she paused in the front room. Under the feeling’s spell, she imagined her uterus as a pear snapped from a twig, her spirits sinking the way the car had earlier in ruts of dried mud. In her imagination Enman whistled a country tune he claimed to hate. Who knew what Enman really thought, what he truly felt? His true feelings surfaced about as often as a whale did: a flash of fin, a bit of spray, appearing mostly to be a vague, random nothing.

 

Perfect World by Ian Colford – This is a story about the impact mental illness can have on a family, how it can be passed down through generations and continue to wreak havoc. It is chilling and sad, and painful to watch, but I highly recommend it. (Reviewed at The Miramichi Reader.)

Idly, he lines up the nine pill bottles side by side across the coffee table. They stand like chess pieces or sentinels guarding an entryway, each wearing a white or yellow or brown uniform and white cap. A few are fat and squat, a couple are slender and taller than the rest. Each throws a distinctive shadow. They are his only friends, his intimate confidants. He knows them by name, by colour, by shape: round white olanzapine, the red capsule risperidone, the pale blue lozenge clomipramine. They have saved him and they are killing him.

 

 

Something For Everyone by Lisa Moore – Short stories. The kind that have you moving quickly from one to the next because they’re that good.

For all of David’s childhood there was a sign of a thermometer on the parking lot of the church with the mercury painted red and rising to show the amount of donated funding for the restoration of the church. Now it seemed to him a measurement of the fear in the city. His mother’s fear, the fear of the girls he knew, the fear on Facebook. — from “Skywalk”

 

Have you read any of these? Which ones tempt you? Do you have any recommendations for this year’s reading?

 

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39 thoughts on “The Best of Atlantic Canada 2018

  1. LiteraryHoarders (@LiteraryHoarder) says:

    I read the top 2 – Malagash and Most Anything you Pleased and they both made my Top 10 CanLit books, Malagash also making one of my favourite audiobooks and Most Anything You Please making my overall top books read in 2018.

    I also read Something for Everyone, but it wasn’t for me.

    I have many of the others on my list to be read though and The Luminous Sea is on hold for me at the library – just waiting for it to come in!

    Great project! 🙂

  2. carin says:

    What a wonderful list. Am currently reading Something for Everyone. Next up, Carol Bruneau’s ‘Circle on the Surface’… she’s one of my faves. Have you read ‘Glass Voices’?

    • Naomi says:

      Yes! Glass Voices is so great. I read it for my Halifax Explosion reading project. I think it was on my list last year!
      Enjoy your reading! You have good taste. 🙂

  3. wadholloway says:

    I knew enough to google ‘Canada provinces’ rather than ‘Canada states’ – came up with a map of the 36 provinces. Interesting, some of those provinces must be mostly Inuit (I looked that up too). Then I see “if it had 36 provinces”. Start again, there appear to be 13. I see you’re Nova Scotian. You’re a long way out to the right! Is it regarded as remote? Do you feel any commonality with say, Saskatchewan? Australia which is nearly as big is relatively homogeneous, partly I guess because nearly all the population live in the south east (Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane) or as I do, in the south-west.

    I’d better start reading – I’ve made a start, Anne of Green Gables. And some Atwood though I don’t remember any geography from her.

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, there are 10 provinces and 3 territories (those are the 3 up north).
      I think Nova Scotia is regarded as somewhat remote, but I’ve never felt like we’re remote. The funny thing for Canada is that many of us are closer to the US than other parts of Canada. So, I know lots of people who have been down south but have never been to the other side of Canada. Me included. (Although, I’ve only been below the border twice and both times were when I was a student.)
      There are definitely differences between the provinces, but since ‘different’ is what Canada is all about, I’d like to think we all feel Canadian. (Obviously, I’m trying to speak for everyone here – which I can’t really do.)
      I have a brother who has lived in Alberta, a sister who has lived in Manitoba, and another sister who has lived in the Yukon. I’m happy to say that they’re all home now. 🙂
      Is Perth the only big city in south-west Australia? Is that where you live? Why do more people live in the south than the north?
      My story about Australia is that, for us, it represents the farthest you can get from here (and maybe it is!). And when we were young we would say that when the sun went down here it was coming up in Australia.

      Anne of Green Gables is an excellent start! I would say that most of Atwood’s books are set around Ontario.

  4. whatmeread says:

    It’s not very often someone prints a list where I haven’t read any of the books, but this is it. I think I should write down some of these names, though.

  5. annelogan17 says:

    I have GOT to read that Joey Comeau one, I know I would love it. I don’t believe I’ve posted my review of the Lisa Moore yet, but I did like, I read it in December. And The Boat People was probably one of my favourties from this year. Great list!!!

  6. The Cue Card says:

    I like how you have opened us up to books about Atlantic Canada or by authors there. I definitely want to visit the area in the future. Is Lisa Moore from there? Cheers. I’ve been in Western Canada about 10 years now and love it. A Big Country

    • Naomi says:

      Thank you, Susan! Yes, Lisa Moore is from Newfoundland. (And still lives there.)
      So many people move out west and love it. Once the kids are independent, I plan on going to see it for myself!

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