Season's reads range from zombies to raptors

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      A new array of compelling titles has rounded the corner. Here are a few promising ways to spend those extra hours of daylight.

      FICTION

      All-Day Breakfast
      By Adam Lewis Schroeder. Douglas & McIntyre

      The sense that the legs of the zombie genre have finally decayed and fallen off may come from the fact that stories about shambling corpses are now usually told with the grinding solemnity of The Walking Dead. Whatever became of Godfather Romero’s wry social humour? Adam Lewis Schroeder knows. The Penticton-based author’s generously gory novel is coated in satire, just as thoroughly as its main character, a fussy schoolteacher, is slathered in a mysterious pink goo during an industrial accident, turning him and his students into crumbling, strangely reflective members of the undead with an insatiable craving for bacon. Yes, bacon.

      Ravenscrag
      By Alain Farah. House of Anansi

      This swift, Montreal-set fiction splices genres and historical eras with such nerve that it rolled onto best-of-the-year lists everywhere from the Governor General’s Awards to La Presse and Le Devoir when it appeared in its original French in 2013. Alain Farah has one foot in autobiography here: Ravenscrag’s first-person narrator has Farah’s name as well as his position as an author working at McGill University. Still, this is not a case of writing what you know, but rather what you don’t know—particularly about lurking intelligence-agency projects bent on invading and manipulating the human psyche. With a protagonist whose identity and experience seem to flicker between 2012 and 1962—when a certain Dr. Cameron was performing CIA–funded experiments on psychiatric patients at McGill—the effect is a realm of echoing paranoia where Farah-the-narrator asks, “How can I be sure that…if I crossed paths with myself on the street I would recognize me?”

      Get in Trouble
      By Kelly Link. Random House

      All right, so the fiction we’re focusing on here hardly belongs to the poignant-vignettes-of-ordinary-life category. Well then, let’s get properly weird. Massachusetts-based Kelly Link earned serious fans (among them such big-name writers as Karen Russell, Yiyun Li, and Peter Straub) with uncanny short-story collections like 2001’s Stranger Things Happen and 2005’s Magic for Beginners. Here, in these long-awaited new tales, she continues to open windows onto worlds where the rules of day-lit reality bend under the force of dreams: some people are born with two shadows, while others have demon lovers; rich kids have implants that make them invisible to cameras; pyramid-building comes back into fashion. But none of this is for show. Within each of these strange mirrors are human heart, wit, and longing.

      NONFICTION

      I am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son
      By Kent Russell. Knopf

      And speaking of Karen Russell… How about that? Here’s her brother Kent, a widely published young writer of first-person journalism that’s won comparisons to the work of Hunter S. Thompson. Now, every 18 minutes on average a young American writer somewhere in the U.S. gets compared to Hunter S. Thompson, so this alone is no recommendation. But here, it points to more than the usual willingness to get loaded with an interview subject (as the author indeed does in one story). In this collection of features about his experiences with everyone from Insane Clown Posse fans to retired NHL enforcer John Brophy—not to mention his own father—Russell is struggling with the inexhaustibly bizarre concept of masculinity, a topic that Thompson himself, with his drug stuntwork and gunplay, was addicted to. Part of the interest lies in how much or how little that concept has changed.

      H is for Hawk
      By Helen Macdonald. Hamish Hamilton

      Poet, naturalist, and Cambridge academic Helen Macdonald follows up her 2006 book Falcon with another blend of nature writing and cultural history about a sleek and sublime winged predator. This time, Macdonald herself is at the centre of the story, as she tries to train Mabel, the imposing goshawk she’s brought home in the wake of her father’s death. It’s as if the confusion of grief can be cleared by winning the trust of this finely tuned hunter. Even readers with no interest in wildlife seem enthralled by the book, which won the latest Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

      Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen
      By Lisa J. Shannon. PublicAffairs

      The previous work by Portland, Oregon–based Lisa J. Shannon, 2010’s A Thousand Sisters, was about Congo and carried a flatly disturbing subtitle: My Journey Into the Worst Place on Earth To Be a Woman. It described the human-rights activist’s travels to meet with hundreds of women who told stories of murder, torture, and rape suffered in their war-torn country. In Mama Koko, Shannon narrows her focus to one: her friend Francisca Thelin, an expatriate who returns, along with the author, to a town where family members and their fellow residents are besieged by the Lord’s Resistance Army, the brutal militia run by the infamous Joseph Kony. Harrowing but driven by courage.

      Lisa J. Shannon will read from Mama Koko at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch on April 8, as part of the Vancouver Writers Fest’s Incite series.

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      Ann McDonell

      Mar 18, 2015 at 3:16pm

      Thanks for mentioning our Incite event on April 8. Adam Lewis Schroeder will also appear at Incite on May 6, with Russell Smith and Kristi Charish.