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The Book Room: Issue 45

Sept. 17, 2012

Christine Pountney’s third book, Sweet Jesus (McClelland & Stewart), ties together the stories of three characters—two sisters and their estranged brother—who reunite on a road trip that winds from Toronto to a mega-church in the American Midwest. The book critiques US-style evangelical Christianity, and, at times, that criticism is overly facile—churchgoers are portrayed as pushy, loud and naïve. But Pountney also digs into difficult questions about faith, its foundations and its place in modern life with a rare sense of nuance. She does all this in gorgeous, vivid prose—a character stands at the door of a train, his jacket “flaring open like the wings of a moth.”
—Amelia Schonbek

The Devil’s Curve (Douglas & McIntyre), Arno Kopecky’s first book, follows the development of a 2009 anti-mining protest in Peru that ended in dozens of deaths. But the story quickly broadens: Kopecky, a journalist, also travels through Colombia and Bolivia, revealing how Canada’s free-trade agreements and overseas resource extraction impact indigenous Amazonians and their environment. Part history lesson, part thriller, part ethnographic investigation, Kopecky’s account aims to fill in the spaces between news headlines. The story that results is eye-opening and critical, but never moralizing; graceful, poetic writing makes the heavy subject matter approachable.
—Erica Ruth Kelly

All Souls’ (Signal Editions), Rhea Tregebov’s seventh collection of poetry, unwraps the banal, beautiful experiences of a uniquely Canadian life. The lines are delicate but visceral: “Soon / it will rain, soon wind will spread / the prairie dust, moths will give up / their lives against the glass,” Tregebov writes in “House Work.” Tregebov’s poems are thoughtful and confident, but never overreach. Her use of language is effortless, allowing the book to contemplate—sometimes quietly, sometimes more forcefully—the way in which small moments speak to a larger human consciousness.
—Taylor Tower

In Rawi Hage’s Carnival (House of Anansi), a taxi driver named Fly roams through an unnamed, magical-realist version of Montreal, ferrying about drug dealers and nymphomaniacs before returning home to masturbate amid the stacks of his massive library. Line for line, Carnival is a beautiful read, but it sags under the weight of its nonlinear ambitions. In an effort to avoid a straightforward narrative, Hage leaves much unresolved; during the novel’s final act, the murders that propel the plot seem to spring from nowhere. Still, Hage has created a memorable protagonist in Fly—an erudite, unreliable narrator who invites us into his cab for a twisted night ride.
—Drew Nelles

And the Birds Rained Down (Coach House Books) by Jocelyne Saucier (translated by Rhonda Mullins) unravels the intertwined stories of a handful of old folks who live off the grid in northern Ontario. Among them are two woodsmen with a suicide pact, their mangy mutts and, later, a fragile yet genteel woman named Marie Desneiges. The book is as much historiographic metafiction as it is improbable fable; stories of natural disasters, institutionalization, addiction and isolation are patched together via recovered paintings, pictures and recollections. One of the characters is a photographer, and visuals often drive the narrative. Saucier describes with particularly riveting tactility the 1916 forest fires that ravaged much of northern Ontario.
—Melissa Bull