Holiday reading runs from suspense to insight
Using the word summer to describe what we’ve experienced so far this season would be a daring act of fiction in itself. Luckily, there are books out now that offer far more plausible fantasies, as well as gripping glimpses behind front-page headlines and a few much-needed laughs.
(By Gillian Flynn. Crown)
With her previous thrillers Sharp Objects and Dark Places, the Chicago-based author earned a name for evoking warped minds bent on evil in small-town America. Flynn’s latest trip down the shafts of the psyche focuses on the disappearance of a young woman, Amy Dunne, from her Missouri home on her fifth wedding anniversary. Flynn cagily pits the narrative voice of Amy’s husband, Nick—now accused of murder—against Amy’s own diaries, creating jarring discrepancies and constantly loosening the reader’s grip on what is real. An ideal tale if you like to spike your holiday with cold shots of suspense and psychosis.
Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan
(By Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Alfred A. Knopf)
The senior correspondent and associate editor at the Washington Post follows his highly praised 2006 book on Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, with this work of reportage on the Iraq war’s older, equally violent sibling. Between early 2009 and the summer of 2011, from the “surge” during Barack Obama’s early days in office to the “drawdown”, Chandrasekaran made more than a dozen trips to the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, interviewing everyone from generals and aid workers to local sharecroppers. As his depiction unfolds and bickering U.S. officials are yet again derailed by their own failure to understand a foreign country, Afghanistan once more becomes one of the bloodstained centre squares on the international chessboard. “For years, we dwelled on the limitations of the Afghans,” Chandrasekaran writes, summing up the many wrong turns. “We should have focused on ours.”
(By Alix Ohlin. House of Anansi)
This new novel by the native Montrealer is one half of a rare two-pronged literary attack, published as it was on the same June day as her latest short-story collection, Signs and Wonders. In Inside, Ohlin uses a small network of vivid characters—a therapist, her ex-husband, her fame-obsessed teenage patient, and the man she discovers one day in the woods, shortly after he’s attempted suicide—to show that drama flows naturally from the treacherous currents of ordinary daily life.
The McSweeney’s Book of Politics & Musicals
(Edited by Christopher Monks. Vintage)
If you felt that the Nazi-era setting of The Sound of Music wasn’t dire enough, or that the premise of The Wizard of Oz lacked a surreal edge, then perhaps you’ll find that the depressingly weird state of American politics supplies the right backdrop for song. This collection of short, wicked pieces of satire by writers from The Onion, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, and Conan contains fragments from such Broadway-ready productions as “Wikileaks! The Musical”, “Santorum! The Musical”, and, of course, “Palin! The Musical”. Alongside is an excerpt from an all-new version of Atlas Shrugged, updated for the financial crisis (“in the pleasure she took from him her body became an extension of her quarterly earnings report”), as well as a template for creating your own op-ed column in the glib style of the New York Times’ consistently awful Thomas Friedman—and much, much more. Laugh, cry, or try both at the same time.
The Prisoner of Snowflake Falls
(By John Lekich. Orca)
Henry Holloway is 15 years old and wants to preserve what independence he has. That’s why he secretly moves into a treehouse when the petty-crooked uncle caring for him gets hauled away by the cops. Of course, Henry also wants to avoid hunger—and that’s why he takes up burgling houses (as politely as he can). But his own eventual run-in with the law gets him sent to a foster family in a little town, and when his uncle shows up there with a plan to rob its citizens, Henry is forced to choose sides. Vancouver-based author and Georgia Straight contributor John Lekich proves that clashes between moral codes start early in life.
The Village of Many Hats
(By Caroline Woodward. Oolichan)
Sometimes the story behind a novel is as good as the one it tells. While writing this magic-infused tale of a girl coping with her younger sister’s serious illness, Caroline Woodward (author of the acclaimed Singing Away the Dark) discovered that all of the provincial funding for the volunteer-run reading centre in her hometown of New Denver, B.C., had been slashed. So to raise money for the centre, Woodward auctioned off the names of five characters in the book. To top it off, she’s donating a portion of the royalties to B.C. Children’s Hospital, in honour of the sick little girl at the heart of this drama for readers seven to 10 years old.
A Boy and a Bear in a Boat
(By Dave Shelton. David Fickling Books)
Even for very short trips across the water, it’s probably best not to rely on a boat rowed by a ukulele-strumming, tea-sipping bear. In this buoyant, marvellously illustrated little hardcover by Cambridge, England’s Dave Shelton, a young boy makes that very mistake, and the voyage is soon sidetracked by bad weather, sea monsters, ghost ships, and the bear’s truly rotten navigational skills. Shared adversity, however, is one sure way of building a friendship.