Register Sunday | May 26 | 2024

The Winter 2022 Book Room

Reviews of new work by Délani Valin, Bridget Canning, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Jessica Johns, Anne-Marie Saint-Cerny and Christian Quesnel.


Have you ever wondered if geese can see God? Délani Valin has. Her debut poetry collection, Shapeshifters (Nightwood Editions), has it all: Indigenous futurism, a poem anchored by Anne Carson, and even a recipe for a homemade hair mask. Valin animates the inanimate. She brings commercial iconography to life, asking: What is it like to be Betty Crocker? Does Mrs. Clean enjoy her husband’s hygiene? (Spoiler: she doesn’t.) Shapeshifters is hilarious and ironic, but it’s also quite serious at times. Valin writes from her experience as a neurodivergent Métis person: “Was I born / out of violence? Ask Kisemanito / or count beads on the rosary.” Valin’s vibrant imagery, skillful use of alliteration, and long-form narrative style guide the reader through portals and incantations that wrench open a new world, inviting a reimagining of how we relate beyond sexist, colonial constraints. In “The Seal,” Valin assures us: “some god is large enough / to hold us all.”—Nicky Taylor

No One Knows About Us

Bridget Canning’s debut short story collection is an exercise in reading between the lines. In “Gutless Bravado,” divided into four parts, Canning interrogates fear as the nameless protagonist oscillates between committing acts of heroism and petty crime after having his stomach removed. In “Losing Marsha Zane,” the uglier aspects of addiction and the impending death of a cancer-stricken family member seem almost beautiful as the characters connect and then split apart again. The collection feels disjointed at times, with some of the shorter stories lacking the enticing plotlines of their lengthier counterparts. “With Glowing Hearts” relies heavily on tropes that some readers might consider fatphobic to bring one of its characters to life, but there’s more to the story than that: characters navigate the awkwardness of middle age and create places for themselves when it seems like none exist. Overall, No One Knows About Us (Breakwater Books) is a challenging but refreshing read.—Yannick Mutombo

The Future is Disabled: Prophecies, Love Notes and Mourning Songs

What is interdependence, anyway? What happens when people think there is no disabled community around them? Community, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha offers, doesn’t “poof,” it’s built: “text-by-text, moment-by-moment.” Their latest book is imaginative, but it’s also a reported work, a how-to guide and a chronicling of disability justice. It looks at topics that can’t be separated from disability, like the changing climate, in order to see the wider picture of an increasingly disabled world. In this love letter to disabled queer BIPOC, Piepzna-Samarasinha explains how they’ve fought for a more accessible life. The Future is Disabled: Prophecies, Love Notes and Mourning Songs (Arsenal Pulp) includes a copy of their own access rider, recipes for soup and making friends, and actual strategies disabled artists can use for performing and touring while still honouring their needs. The beloved author of Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice gives us a map for new ways of being, informed by years of disabled dreaming and doing. “Dreaming not just what we’re against, but dreaming what we’re for,” they write, “is just what’s needed right now.”—Sarah Ratchford

Bad Cree

Mackenzie, a millennial Cree woman living in Vancouver, has trouble sleeping after her dreams start seeping into her waking life. Crows start following her from one world to another. After her dead sister Sabrina visits her in her sleep, Mackenzie starts getting texts from her when she's awake. These events prompt Mackenzie to return home to Alberta for the first time since her kokum’s passing. There, the women in her family work together to save Mackenzie from whatever it is that’s haunting her. Bad Cree (HarperCollins Canada) is a chilling mystery that explores grief’s changing nature, forgiveness, and the strength of kinship. Jessica Johns’s debut novel shows the power of women and femmes uniting against the ongoing consequences of a colonialist system that prioritizes profits over life. Bad Cree’s portrayal of the aftermath of loss will shatter your heart into shards and then glue them back together again.—Elif Kayali

A Train in the Night: The Tragedy of Lac-Mégantic

The most casual brand of cruelty is carried out by faraway men in offices, with clean hands and seemingly clear consciences. “Everywhere, always, they work the same way,” observes the narrator of A Train in the Night: The ­Tragedy of Lac-­Mégantic (Between the Lines). “And their coffers overflow with riches … Treasure built on blood and grief.” In this devastating graphic essay about the man-made rail catastrophe in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, author Anne-Marie Saint-Cerny and illustrator Christian Quesnel show how trauma, like an explosion, can echo through a community. In July 2013, a series of cost-cutting decisions from higher-ups led to the detonation of an oil-carrying freight train, which obliterated the downtown area and killed forty-seven residents. Rebuilding the town only resulted in ­further expropriation and displacement—and corporations ­profited. Alongside Quesnel’s noir-inspired artwork, Saint-Cerny has adapted years of research and survivor interviews into a poetic analysis of who was to blame, all while tenderly recording the grief of those left behind. This disaster, she stresses, was anything but natural. Translated from the ­original French by W. Donald Wilson, A Train in the Night is a deft and caring work.—Lucy Uprichard