On the surface, Edmonton writer Dan Vyleta's Giller-nominated novel The Crooked Maid seems simple enough: a tale about two people who return to Vienna in 1948 and struggle to reintegrate in the scarred, post-Second World War capital. But scratch the surface and the layered story reveals much more.

As the annual Giller Prize gala approaches, CBC News presents a chat with each finalist. The 2013 nominees are:

“They’ve been away from a city that’s experienced war, so they’ve missed something fundamental and they can’t understand it," he tells CBC News.

"The entire book is them struggling to understand what they’ve missed. Nobody in the city can really talk about it because they either have things they want to hide from themselves, or from others, or [their memories are] so traumatic they can’t communicate them."

While Vyleta himself felt at times that he was writing a black comedy, he was surprised at some reviews that called The Crooked Maid a "psychological horror story." After some thought, however, he accepted the perspective.

"I like to use the whole tonal palette," he acknowledges. "It seems to me life is very broad... so if you want to capture it, it can't all be in the same tragic note."

In the attached video, Vyleta talks to CBC’s Alice Hopton about his book, exploring the wide range of human emotion and pulling many pieces together into a novel.