Autant
Thistledown Press / 31 August 2018

Autant by Paulette Dubé Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-156-3 Autant, the highly-original novel by Albertan Paulette Dubé, begins with a confession – in the Catholic sense – and a directory of the multiple characters who populate this 144-page tale set in small fictional Autant, Alberta. The inter-generational story unfolds between two years – 1952 and 2012 – and it’s big on superstition, angels, sibling dynamics, and bees. At the centre of the bustling “hive” is the Franco-Albertan Garance family, headed by Edgar and Lucille. The youngest of their daughters, perceptive Bella, is prone to bleeding and headaches, and as Lucille’s offspring she comes by her superstitions honestly. Lucille paints her kitchen door blue “so that angels would recognize the house as a safe place,” and as a child she found a stone that “gave her dreams of a tall ship, a beautiful woman with blue eyes, long red hair, and, then, a small boat on dark water”. Young Bella also has an affinity for stones. She leaves them for her mother as gifts “inside shoes, beside the bed, under the pillow. It was her way of saying I love you, goodbye, and I…

Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind, The
Thistledown Press / 24 August 2018

The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind: Stories by Vanessa Farnsworth Published by Thistledown Press Review by Ben Charles $19.95 ISBN: 9781771871570 The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind, a collection of short stories written by Vanessa Farnsworth and published by Thistledown Press, is a riveting adventure of both the zany and the ordinary shown through the lens of interesting and realistic female protagonists. In our age of insipid, lazy, and cliché literature and filmography I found it truly refreshing to live the experiences of women with actual depth and character that extend further than either hopeless romantics who just need a man or vapid arm candy. Farnsworth crafts her characters with such care and insight that it was impossible for me to not to crack smiles as I read these misadventures. In each story I found myself relating with her characters, laughing with them or at them, and sincerely resonating with their emotions and struggles. I do acknowledge that from reading this as a male I may not have the correct perspective to fully appreciate this work, but did gain valuable insight from it that I hope readers of all genders can also reap. After reading stories such as “The Canoe”…

Matronalia
Thistledown Press / 12 July 2018

Matronalia by A.B. Dillon Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-153-2 “Life had not taught you that you were a girl yet.” ” … my brain crawled with biting ants of recrimination.” “I am many diaries, and I know where all my keys are, except a few.” “I/always/worry/about/the/horses.” Rarely does a first book make me question: what is this magic? I need to know the who and how. When done exceptionally well, poetry, especially, can stir a cell-and-bone dance like no other genre. It’s just happened. Calgary poet A.B. Dillon’s Matronalia slices into the depths of what it is to mother a daughter, and to be mothered by a woman whose ideologies differ greatly from her own. Dillon illuminates what most keep hidden: the fear, the disasters, the terrible responsibility, the drowning in overwhelmedness, the non-understanding, the guilt (on page 78, “Forgive me” is the sole text). “You have wandered into my ward/and infected me” she writes of a young daughter. She later admits that “it becomes impossible to breathe”. While alternating between poems addressed to “you” (presumably the daughter to whom the book’s dedicated) and poems about being quite differently daughtered herself, Dillon weaves…

Culverts Beneath the Narrow Road
Thistledown Press / 22 June 2018

Culverts Beneath the Narrow Road Written by Brenda Schmidt Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-154-9 How interesting to watch a poet’s repertoire grow and change over the years, and learn what’s freshly inspiring him or her. For some it’s nature, a new relationship, travel, or a loved one’s passing. Trust Creighton, SK poet, visual artist, and naturalist Brenda Schmidt to eschew the usual … this SK Poet Laureate has turned to the lowly culvert for inspiration in her latest title, Culverts Beneath the Narrow Road, and it’s a romp. This handsome collection begins with a short essay that introduces us to the kind of writer Schmidt’s become. While she and her husband are driving down the Saskatchewan map, the poet blurts out questions some may consider inane. But, she writes: “Nothing I say surprises him anymore. He knows better than anyone how difficult writers can be to travel with, due in part, perhaps, to sensory overload, all these places flying by, all these junctions, private roads and keep-out signs, the mind filtering the 100 km/hr stream of information for connections …”. Indeed, connections are key in this book. Always fascinated with culverts, Schmidt’s mined…

Oil Change at Rath’s Garage
Thistledown Press / 21 December 2017

Oil Change at Rath’s Garage by Shari Narine Published by Thistledown Press Review by Mazin Saffou $20.00 ISBN 9781771871327 When the mysterious Humphreys boys arrive in Delwood, they immediately grab the attention of the prying eyes of the townsfolk—despite Matt Humphreys’ efforts to keep a low profile and not bring attention to their unsettling home life. Matt and Ben are latchkey kids whose alcoholic, womanizing father, Jack, has been dragging them from one depressed town to another. Matt has been forced to grow up fast, raising his little brother, Ben, with unwavering devotion, and protecting him from their abusive father. Then there is the equally wounded Rutger family next door: Allie and her unfaithful husband, Doug, and their three daughters, Lyne, Glory, and Becca. Lyne is gorgeous and popular, but selfish, petty, and spiteful and trapped in a relationship with the über-jock and bully, Rick. Glory is tender and imaginative and lost in books—and deeply in love with Matt. Quickly a bond forms between Becca and Ben, the youngest and most innocent characters in the novel, which brings Matt and Glory closer together. The friendship that forms between these four characters is an idyllic haven away from the pain that…

Decoys
Thistledown Press / 26 October 2017

Decoys Written by William Robertson Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-150-1 In Decoys, the new poetry collection by William Robertson, the long-time Saskatoon scribe plumbs his own history and threads personal anecdotes into a textured fabric that reflects the prairie from what might be considered a bird’s eye view. In the country, kids push a puck around on ice “rippled/frozen by the wind,” and at Gull Lake we see “the grass in all its greens,/that bull, sequestered from the rest”. Birds are carefully considered and rendered poetic in myriad unique ways, ie: “Ruffled grouse leads its perfect/rusty brown and black fan/out of the spruce, through the ditch,” and in “Raven on Frozen River,” the poet beautifully writes “I could spend all day/watching you divide/snowy silence/from itself”. The author’s urgency to “hold onto things beautiful” is apparent, page after page. There’s a reverence for the rural, here, including lakes, and the Muenster area, with its amicable chickadees at St. Peter’s Abbey, where Robertson penned some of these poems at Saskatchewan Writers Guild artist retreats, but the city is also carefully considered – and sometimes found lacking – “Outside the rickety/red fence, unpainted for years, the…

Wanderlust
Thistledown Press / 24 August 2017

Wanderlust: Stories on the Move Anthology edited by Byrna Barclay Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-135-8 How does a book idea begin? Wanderlust: Stories on the Move started when seven reputable Saskatchewan writers enjoyed a barbeque together. In her introduction, editor Byrna Barclay explains that the idea for this anthology was spawned when Shelley Banks expressed a desire to tour and read with her fellow prose-writing diners at a Regina barbecue. Barclay compiled and edited the work, and though no theme was suggested, she found that “in every story a person embarks on a journey of discovery”. Along with Banks and Barclay, Brenda Niskala, Linda Biasotto, James Trettwer, Kelly-Anne Riess, and Annette Bower share imaginative journeys, and the result’s a literary road trip that takes readers to places near and far, real and imagined. Niskala transports readers to a Norse trading voyage in 1065 in her exciting novel-in-progress, “Pirates of the Heart,” and Biasotto to favoured Italian locales. Trettwer takes us to a fictitious potash company, and Riess has contributed a moving novel chapter about a twenty-one-year-old who’s never been kissed, and is leaving Saskatchewan for the first time. “Tara had never seen a…

Glass Beads
Thistledown Press / 6 June 2017

Glass Beads by Dawn Dumont Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-126-6 The cover image on Dawn Dumont’s short story collection, Glass Beads, is an ideal visual metaphor for its content. The high-heeled Chuck Taylor sneakers embroidered with flowers that look like beadwork and a (notably faceless) woman in a First Nations’ jingle dress suggest a contemporary twist on traditional First Nations’ culture, and that’s exactly what Dumont delivers. The book’s twenty-three stories are real, relevant, and riveting, and Saskatoon’s Dumont – an actor, comedian, newspaper columnist, and three-book author – was a “shoe in” to write these often hilarious interconnected stories about urban-Indigenous friends in the ’90s and early 2000s. The tales are so credible-from the diction to the romantic disasters-one can easily believe the author, who hails from Okanese First Nation, is writing exactly what she knows. This book’s overwhelming success lies in its structure, realism, and its characterizations of four friends whose lives crackle with energy, humour, and heartache. All but a few stories are dated by month and year, from 1993 to 2008, and it’s interesting to watch these characters both grow but also stay true to who they always were….

nipê wânîn
Thistledown Press / 6 June 2017

nipê wânîn: my way back by Mika Lafond Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-129-7 In her first poetry collection, nipê wânîn: my way back, Saskatoon writer and U of S educator Mika Lafond pays homage to her Cree heritage, the landscape that nurtured her as a child, and various family members-with particular gratitude expressed for grandmothers and great grandmothers-in heartfelt and easy-to-read poems presented in both English and Cree. As the book’s title suggests, the poems tell a story of a woman’s “way back” to the lessons her ancestors taught to her in their quiet ways. Lafond writes: “Words are spoken in hushed voices/their sacredness not to be shouted.” Lafond’s a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, and, with a strong interest in education and the arts, Lafond and her cousin (Joi Arcand) initiated Kimiwan Zine as a venue for Indigenous visual artists and writers. A few of the poems in this book hint at some of the heart-breaking situations she’s faced as a teacher and the difficult business of “[getting] through the walls” adolescent male students sometimes put up. One student is “always tired on cheque day” and though “winter is definitely here…

Fabric of Day, The
Thistledown Press / 5 June 2017

The Fabric of Day: New and Selected Poems by Anne Campbell Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-130-3 I do love “New and Selected” poetry collections, and so it was with delight that I opened The Fabric of Day: New and Selected Poems by Regina’s Anne Campbell, who has been making poetry and sharing it with appreciative readers since her first book, No Memory of a Move, was released in 1983. In a retrospective such as this readers can track a poet’s evolution, and I was interested to read the new work: what’s in Campbell’s poetic gaze now? In the book’s introduction Campbell explains that the prairies and “time” have been her major concentrations across the decades. In the newest poems I see that the trials of aging – the poet was born in 1938 – are also receiving attention on the page, and always, there is the undertone of love that’s missed, or love that might have been. In the poem “Retiring, Gone Missing,” she writes “It’s a puzzle at this late stage, a nuisance,/really, feeling the self, one used to be/ gone” and later in this poem, “it’s odd/being with the stranger I…