Corridor Nine
Thistledown Press / 11 December 2019

Corridor Nine: A Novelby Sophie StockingPublished by Thistledown PressReviewed by Ben Charles$20.00 ISBN 9781771871815 Corridor Nine: A Novel, written by Sophie Stocking and published by Thistledown Press is an exceptional book that expertly encapsulates the extremes of soul-crushing emotions and outlandish behaviour in a way that is very accurate to the human experience. Even though this novel could be read within a weekend, it packs wallop. At under 200 pages this novel makes no room for literary fluff; every word is a thread that weaves into a beautiful and fantastical yet tender and tragic story of life and loss. The story follows Bernadette Macomber, who thought that she had all but completely cut ties with her troubled father, Fabian, to begin again and start a family of her own. In the wake of Fabian’s sudden suicide, Bernadette finds herself returning home. All is not over for Fabian, however, as he finds himself in a completely foreign afterlife named Corridor Nine and in the company of an angel/griffin-figure named Bune. As Fabian traverses life-after-life, Bernadette or “Bernie”, is left in the mundane to seek the source of her father’s recent insanity. As the twin narratives consecutively play out, they also intertwine…

Lost Boys
Thistledown Press / 22 November 2019

Lost Boysby Darci BysouthPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-175-4 Lost Boys is a short story collection with three-way heft: physical (eighteen stories), technical (diverse voices and plots; excellent characterizations; realism and magic realism are each employed to great effect), and emotional (wow). Effective art makes us think and feel, and in this, her first book, BC writer Darci Bysouth has mastered the tricky business of making the world seem both smaller and larger, and she’s made this reader’s heart turn over. Innate talent? I expect so, but Bysouth also honed her craft at the University of British Columbia and the University of Edinburgh, and her work’s appeared in respected literary journals and anthologies; these facts tell me that she paid her literary dues before breaking into the ISBN world with this fist-to-gut collection. I could speak of the equally convincing male and female narrators; the recurring themes of sibling relationships, poverty, addictions, and mental illness; or of settings that range from the “sheep and potholes” of Scotland to dark Canadian forests. I could write about the double entendre, the details, the poetic language, ie: “The water was such a long way below that it looked like…

Eater of Dreams, The
Thistledown Press / 22 November 2019

The Eater of Dreamsby Kat CameronPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl|$20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-184-6 Kat Cameron, a Swift Current-born poet, fiction writer, and English literature prof at Edmonton’s Concordia University, has penned a place-specific collection of sometimes-linked stories with an intriguing title: The Eater of Dreams, and the 67-page eponymous story is a fascinating read, complete with a 100-year-old ghost, a grieving and disillusioned English teacher in Japan, and so many sensory-rich glimpses into Japanese culture – albeit from an outsider’s perspective – readers might almost believe they are there. The opening stories are Edmonton-based, and as a former resident of that city I enjoyed tagging along with the female protagonists to the Muttart Conservatory, Whyte Ave, and Jubilee Auditorium, even if these gals were not in the happiest moods. One was not having any fun being the sole woman in a trio at the Muttart Conservatory without a toddler, then she lost her friend’s little girl among the poinsettas. Zoe lives in a university-area garret that’s so cold her “breath fogged the air while she watched late-night TV, huddling under three comforters,” and she’s terrified an abusive ex will reappear. In a linked story, Zoe accompanies her new…

Travellers May Still Return
Thistledown Press / 21 November 2019

Travellers May Still Returnby Michael KenyonPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Juliana Rupchan$20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-187-7 Travellers May Still Return is a collection of three fiction pieces: two novella-length stories, bridged by a third, shorter piece. Michael Kenyon is based out of Victoria, but the collection is published by Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press, known for publishing literary poetry and fiction. Kenyon’s previous work includes five books of poetry, four chapbooks, and seven books of fiction, including The Beautiful Children, which won the 2010 ReLit Award for best novel. This extensive cross-genre experience shines through in Travellers May Still Return. The stories have the tension and smoothly crafted characters of a practiced fiction writer, woven through vivid imagery and existential questions that evoke a poetic practice. South and Central America are the main settings, and a strong sense of place as well as a tension of displacement are powerful forces in the longer novellas. While the narrative is not always easy to follow, Kenyon has created striking stories with just the enough mystery to stick in a reader’s mind, like a vivid dream half-remembered. The first novella, “The Prehistory of Jesse Green”, does an excellent job of sketching the central characters, and explores desire…

Honest Woman, An
Thistledown Press / 21 November 2019

An Honest Woman: A Novelby JoAnn McCaigPublished by Thistledown PressReviewed by Ben Charles$20.00 ISBN 9781771871785 An Honest Woman: A Novel, written by JoAnn McCaig and published by Thistledown Press is a self-proclaimed “bookish novel” that lives up to this description with an undeniable charm. It is truly a reader and a writer’s book. The book begins with a lucid dream in which a writer mysteriously named “JM” reels at the thoughts and experiences of her romantic life. This bizarre account of life and romance also acts as a segue to introduce the character Janet Mair, who is also a writer and a mother. This portion of the novel has an interesting narrative in which fantasy and reality both play integral roles to form a complete story. Janet’s recounts of fantasy and her return to reality are signified throughout the novel by symbols that signify to the reader which part of Janet’s psyche they are currently experiencing. I must admit that when I was first introduced to this concept, I was somewhat dubious about its narrative potential. I am delighted to have been wrong and watch this narrative enigma unfold in several ways that I could have never imagined. The story…

For the Changing Moon
Thistledown Press / 10 January 2019

For the Changing Moon by Anna Marie Sewell Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-168-6 I’d been looking forward to multi-disciplinary artist Anna Marie Sewell’s second poetry collection, For the Changing Moon. She’d impressed with her debut, Fifth World Drum, and in her capacity as Edmonton’s poet laureate, I once observed her deliver an outstanding performance poem she’d created on the spot, based on a few words provided by the audience. It was a kind of magic few possess. In Sewell’s newly-released collection of poems (and songs) we again find an assured and original voice, and the kind of literary abracadabra (ie: superb use of linebreaks) only a skilled writer can pull off. “We are in large part composed of slanting/sun” she writes in “The Mortal Summer”. Sometimes playful, sometimes prayerful, sometimes angry, sometimes tinged with grief (particularly for lost family members and for injustices suffered by First Peoples and the impoverished) or inspired by legend, these eclectic pieces prove that Sewell knows her way around language, the map, and the moon. Each of the book’s five sections contains a kind of moon, ie: “Moon of Wolves,” and among my favourite poems is “Kinds of…

Spoon Asylum, The
Thistledown Press / 19 October 2018

The Spoon Asylum by Caroline Misner Published by Thistledown Press Reviewed by Ben Charles $15.95 ISBN 9781771871556 The Spoon Asylum, written by Caroline Misner and published by Thistledown Press is a fun and thoughtful piece of historical fiction that lets the reader laugh, while also reflecting on the ugly parts of Canada’s past that modern Canadians do not like to think about. Set in the 1930s at the peak of the Great Depression in the small Ontario town of Davisville, The Spoon Asylum follows the story of young Haven Cattrell, a precocious seventeen year old boy who is struggling find his identity and is hungry to prove his worth as a man to his family and to the world. While working as a farmhand on his grandmother’s farm, Haven comes across a vagrant who is looking for work in exchange for some food and shelter. Although the man is met with downright hostility by his grandmother, Haven cannot help but be enthralled by the man, and even more so by his harmonica and the sweet music that he plays through it. This exchange with the mysterious vagrant inspires Haven to go into town in search of work, himself. Perhaps this…

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…