It can be too easy for Canadian urbanites to forget that abortion services aren’t available from coast to coast to coast. Aimee Wall’s We, Jane (Book*hug) is a candid reminder that the right to choose still needs to be fought for, and someone’s got to do the fighting. We, Jane takes the reader along on a road trip from Montreal to the rugged shores of rural Newfoundland. Thirty-something-year-old Marthe is leaving her unfulfilling metropolitan life in the hopes of finding a sense of purpose in her home province. Back on the island, she’s introduced to an older woman who performs the essential service for women who can’t make the drive to the clinic in St. John’s, as well as her small group of helpers. Initially, this strikes Marthe as just the kind of meaningful responsibility she was looking for, but her idealism and the realities of the job don’t align quite as well as she expected. A meditation on purpose, the complexities of female friendships, and the fundamentality of the right over one’s own body, We, Jane is witty, unexpected, poetic and so necessary.
In his debut collection, Bardia Sinaee writes: “If everyone saw me how I see me, / I wouldn’t have to write so many poems, sitting / all day by the window.” The bristling, self-aware poems in Intruder (Anansi) do not conceal their seams—instead, Sinaee often lays bare their internal architecture and artifice, admitting that he’s “written about this several times already, / how the wasp traces a line around the silence in the room.” Throughout this darkly funny book, Sinaee interrogates how power, authority and violence manifest and intersect in both art and contemporary life, decrying how “it is so hard for some men to be men / and be humans also.” With a scrupulous and unromantic lens, he details encounters with wildlife, disease and urban sprawl, unveiling comedic contradictions in unexpected places. “Hating on this city,” he writes, “is a rite of passage I embrace / to demonstrate my love.” Sinaee gets millennials: we are “porn-addled, content-ravenous,” our unique “adaptability forged in the pressure cooker of two recessions (and counting).” Intruder serves as a reminder that “all poems are true / even the ugly ones.”
What You Are
That in-between feeling that comes from being of two worlds is a central theme of many immigrant narratives. M.G. Vassanji’s third short story collection What You Are (Doubleday Canada) is no exception. He explores the familiar beats of life in a new society: lost loves, discomfort over newfound social mobility and regular reassessments of the elusive target known as home. But Vassanji’s dry humour gives the tropes new life. In “The Send Off,” a favoured son tasked with end-of-life care reasons with his mother’s death saying, “we had little time for her and had grown weary of waiting. And it was quite apparent that the home needed another bed.” The wars, displacement and surveillance of post-colonial legacies are never far from the surface. The collection is at its best, though, when Vassanji looks at the community self-governance that emerges when the police turn their backs. In “An African Problem,” a Mullah, teaching Islamic parables at a masjid, and a ragtag community coalition must consider removing a Toronto father who was formerly involved in the Rwandan genocide from the local community. Though his characters face the typical tolls of memory, history and geography, there is an emotional distance in Vassanji’s prose. It’s like a museum of roads, lives led and lives relinquished that “still exist somehow in the circuitry of his brain.”
As a cartoonist, Guy Delisle is known for employing an outsider’s perspective. His newest book applies this framework to his own personal history, leading to a nostalgic account of his first summer job. In Factory Summers (Drawn & Quarterly), Delisle recounts his teenage summers spent working at a paper mill in Quebec City, the same one where his father has spent his career. On the factory floor, Guy observes the no-nonsense culture perpetuated by the lifers around him, catching regular glimpses of his father on the job. After years of distance in their relationship, Guy’s perception of his father begins to shift as his understanding of his own adult self begins to develop. The book has an introspective evolution; Guy first appears as an outsider learning the ropes of a new job, and leaves the factory three years later with an intimate knowledge of his artistic passions, career aspirations, and more insight into his father’s life than he thought possible. Reading Factory Summers evokes all the formative memories associated with that first summer job—the eclectic coworkers, the long hours and the bittersweetness of clocking out for the last time.
Brent LaPorte is trying to end the cycle of family trauma. He’s white-knuckling it. His dad died by suicide when he was nine, and hard drinking and violence run in the family. After a lifelong avoidance of closure (and nine years of being a cop), he travels back in his memoir Unatoned (ECW) to ask the questions that plagued his small self. The story isn’t beautiful, and the writing isn’t, either. LaPorte’s aim is honesty, not beauty. The book reads like someone’s journal entries following their first few therapy sessions. LaPorte doesn’t research or psychoanalyze himself, and his language around substance use is harsh. But his work grabs you nevertheless: it’s about the thick arm of men’s thwarted rage and what it can do to a family. It’s also about LaPorte’s efforts to control his own anger. Gentleness comes through: he reminds the partners of abused people that when their partners are “detached, not saying much,” they’re often dissociating, momentarily gone. He highlights how so many serious drinkers are “trying to quiet a voice or erase an experience.” It’s a still-rare look, complete with quotes from The Boss, into a “suburban dad’s” emotional life, worth reading for the anthropological factor alone.