Books

Get to know the 2020 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize finalists

The $50,000 prize annually recognizes the best in Canadian fiction. The winner will be announced on Nov. 18.

The winner of the $50,000 prize will be announced on Nov. 18

The winner of the 2020 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize will be announced on Nov. 18. (Submitted by the Writers' Trust of Canada)

Five titles have been shortlisted for the 2020 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

The $50,000 prize annually recognizes the best in Canadian fiction. The winner will be revealed on Wed. Nov. 18.

Here's everything you need to know about the 2020 finalists.

Ridgerunner by Gil Adamson

Ridgerunner is a novel by Canadian author Gil Adamson. (Jean-Luc Bertini, House of Anansi)

Ridgerunner is a novel about William Moreland, the notorious thief known as Ridgerunner, as he moves through the Rocky Mountains, determined to secure financial stability for his son. His son, Jack Boulton, is trapped in a life not of his own making. Semi-orphaned and under the care of a nun, Sister Beatrice, Jack has found himself in a secluded cabin in Banff, Alberta. Little does he know, his father is coming for him. 

Ridgerunner was also on the Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist.

Gil Adamson is a writer and poet. Her first novel, The Outlander, won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and was a Canada Reads finalist in 2009, when it was championed by Nicholas Campbell. She has published several volumes of poetry, including Primitive and Ashland

From the book: William Moreland kept moving south. If the moon was bright he walked all night, wading through dry prairie grass. He was alone and carried his meagre belongings on his back. It was November and snow clung to the hollows and shadows, but that snow was old, dry, delicate as meringue. He had come down the leeward side of the Rockies and had descended into the rolling grassland that runs from Alberta all the way into Montana. Having left the only real home he had ever known, he was heading for the border.

Jury citation: "Gil Adamson's Ridgerunner sinks readers into a Wild West never before seen in an adventure as sprawling and impeccably rendered as the land itself — a scrupulously researched, evocative landscape that shapes the spaces, both interior and exterior, of those who live there as well as the dangerous ties that bind them.

Ridgerunner sinks readers into a Wild West never before seen in an adventure as sprawling and impeccably rendered as the land itself.- 2020 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize jury

"Through the eyes of an infamous thief and the 12-year-old son for whom he is searching, Adamson explores notions of good and evil as ubiquitous as gun smoke and just as nebulous, along with the reminder that all which is fought for comes at a cost."

The Amazon first novel award, a Canada Reads finalist, a Globe & Mail book of the year... that's just a fraction of the praise heaped upon Gil Adamson's debut novel The Outlander. Great news for fans of that backwoods adventure thriller, the long-awaited follow-up has arrived. Ridgerunner has just been published by House of Anansi press and Gil Adamson joined our Gill Deacon for Here and Now's Tuesday afternoon book club. 6:49

The Beguiling by Zsuzsi Gartner

The Beguiling is a novel by Zsuzsi Gartner. (Hamish Hamilton, Imogen Broberg-Hull)

In The Beguiling, a young woman named Lucy had dreamed of being a saint as a child. This dream may actually come true after the death of her cousin Zoltan, and Lucy becomes someone people come to in order to confess their sins. But when the confessions seem connected, Zoltan's death doesn't seem so random anymore. Lucy must then confront her own lapses as a Catholic and a human being, and figure out what is happening, before it's too late.

Zsuzsi Gartner is a writer and journalist who currently lives in Vancouver. Her short story collection Better Living Through Plastic Explosives was a finalist for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize. She was a panellist on Canada Reads 2004, when she defended Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler.

From the book: Did it really all begin with that wretched business concerning my cousin?

Maybe there were signs earlier of what was to come; small overlooked invitations to bear witness. That fashionable woman walking twin schnauzers in Trinity Bellwoods Park who frequently allowed  encouraged?  her dogs to dart across my path, their leashes stretched so taut that I had no choice but to stumble over them or stop short. Or that guy of indeterminate age beside me on the Queen streetcar that time who whispered, "I need a sister," his Ovaltine-scented breath misting my neck, his shaved head glowing like a moon.

Jury citation: "A lapsed Catholic, curbside confessionals and quantum realities come together in a one-of-a-kind romp in Zsuzsi Gartner's The Beguiling: An exquisitely crafted, profoundly readable novel about the human compulsion to seek absolution in strangers, a page-turner so compelling, so inventive, so weirdly weird, readers will feel like they've been to a party that leaves them wondering at the genius of the host who pulled it off.

A lapsed Catholic, curbside confessionals and quantum realities come together in a one-of-a-kind romp in Zsuzsi Gartner's The Beguiling.- 2020 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize jury

"A book as full of imagination as heart, its structure like a nesting doll, a scrappy, unforgettable narrator, a multilayered look at stories as both connection and mode of transformation — this is Gartner at her best."

Zsuzsi Gartner takes us through her award-nominated novel The Beguiling. 12:56

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Michelle Good is a writer of Cree ancestry and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. (Kent Wong, Harper Perennial)

In Five Little Indians, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie were taken from their families and sent to a residential school when they were very small. Barely out of childhood, they are released and left to contend with the seedy world of eastside Vancouver. Fuelled by the trauma of their childhood, the five friends cross paths over the decades and struggle with the weight of their shared past. 

Five Little Indians was also on the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist.

Good is a Cree writer and lawyer, as well as a member of Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Five Little Indians is her first book. CBC Books named Good a writer to watch in 2020.

From the book: Clara stood behind Mariah's cabin, the late summer warmth rising from the soil. She looked down the hill and watched Mariah's helpers readying the sweat lodge. She turned and headed toward the cabin door, a silvery glimmer distracting her. She looked east and saw the beginnings of the many trails she and Mariah had walked so many years ago. She thought she saw her dog, now long dead, a ghostly image running ahead of her as he had done then. She made her way toward the beginning of the trail she and Mariah had often walked to set snares, a faint tinkling rising on the breeze from the grove around the lodge. She walked, oblivious to time, only turning back when the sun was high and the birch leaves shimmered all around her.

Jury citation: "Michelle Good's Five Little Indians poignantly underscores the tragedies and triumphs of residential school survival unlike any other Canadian novel. Through five profoundly intimate perspectives, Good skillfully details the brutality endured by Indigenous children at a British Columbia residential school and the complex ways trauma defines their adult lives. Like many survivors of this violent school system, they're left on their own to heal in a hostile urban environment.

Michelle Good's Five Little Indians poignantly underscores the tragedies and triumphs of residential school survival unlike any other Canadian novel.- 2020 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize jury

"Through heartache and hope, Good binds the five survivors together in an elaborate interconnected narrative of resilience. The result is unique portrayal of unvanquished Indigenous spirit rising above Canada's shameful history."

Today we are remembering and honouring those who were forced to attend residential schools. Those who managed to leave carried the weight of how they were treated with them and it affected every aspect of their lives. Host Leisha Grebinski speaks to Michelle Good, the author of Five Little Indians, a book nominated for the Giller prize, about why it's important to reflect on life after residential school. 8:38

Indians on Vacation by Thomas King

Indians on Vacation is a novel by Thomas King. (HarperCollins Canada)

Indians on Vacation is about a couple named Bird and Mimi, who decide to travel through Europe after discovering postcards from Mimi's long-lost Uncle Leroy, who sent them while on his own European adventure almost 100 years ago.

The novel was also on the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist.

King is a Canadian-American writer of Cherokee and Greek ancestry. His books include Truth & Bright WaterThe Inconvenient IndianGreen Grass, Running Water and The Back of the Turtle. He also writes the DreadfulWater mystery series.

From the book: In Prague, we stay at the Hotel Certovka in the shadow of the historic Charles Bridge. Second floor. Some of the rooms overlook the Vltava River.

Ours doesn't.

However, we can see the tourists on the bridge, can hear them talking, as they stroll from the Lesser Quarter to Old Town and back again, and if we were so inclined, we could lean out our window and engage them in conversation.

We don't.

But we could.

Jury citation: "Thomas King's Indians on Vacation slyly pulls readers along on a European travelogue that reveals itself to be both intimately personal and cuttingly political, as an older Indigenous couple attempt to retrace the movements of a long-lost family member and perhaps find the medicine bundle he took with him on his travels — while also navigating a colonial history that has resonated through each of their lives.

Only King can craft a story like this one.- 2020 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize jury

"Only King can craft a story like this one: warm and charming and knife-sharp all at once, a novel that serves grief and anger with a constant yet somehow always-unexpected wit."

Thomas King talks about the autobiographical inspiration by his novel Indians on Vacation, which is longlisted for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize. 16:47

Good Citizens Need Not Fear by Maria Reva

Good Citizens Need Not Fear is a book by Maria Reva. (Knopf Canada)

Good Citizens Need Not Fear is a short story collection that revolves around a cast of characters connected to a rundown apartment building in a small, industrial Ukrainian town just before, during and after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

Maria Reva is a writer from Vancouver who now lives in Texas. She won the 2018 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for emerging writers for The Ermine Coat. The Ermine Coat appears in Good Citizens Need Not Fear. Good Citizens Need Not Fear is Reva's first book.

From the book: The first time Smena's neighbor knocked on her door, she asked to borrow cloves. The woman stood in Smena's doorway, clutching a canvas sack to her chest. Her diminutive frame barely reached the latch. "I'll bring the cloves back," she promised. "You can reuse them up to three times."

This neighbor, Smena knew, associated with the building's benchers. The woman never sat with them but did spend a good deal of time standing beside them, cracking sunflower seeds, no doubt gossiping, and Smena would often hear the metallic clang of her laughter through the bedroom window. Smena had placed the woman in her mid-sixties, around Smena's age, but up close her wet lips and bright caramel eyes made her look younger. Her cropped hair, dyed bright red, reminded Smena of the state-made cherry jam she used to see in stores.

Jury citation: "Set in Soviet-era Ukraine, in a crumbling apartment building somehow scratched from the State's all-important records, Maria Reva's Good Citizens Need Not Fear is a magic trick of a book: a dark and scathingly funny set of interconnected stories, each one alive with originality, that nonetheless leave the reader immersed in the very wholeness of these characters and their place in the world.

Maria Reva's Good Citizens Need Not Fear is a magic trick of a book.- 2020 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize jury

"Erased and ground down, Reva's good citizens rise up and shine, insisting that their existence matters in harrowing and surreal and sometimes hilarious detail, as she proves the importance of writing toward the light, even — or especially — in the darkest times."

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