The best Canadian fiction of 2019
Here are CBC Books's top 30 Canadian works of fiction that came out in 2019.
In Days by Moonlight, botanist Alfred Homer agrees to go on a research road trip with Professor Morgan Bruno, an old family friend, after his parents have died. As the sun sets, the two depart in search of an obscure, possibly dead poet named John Skennen and encounter a host of oddities in the gothic underworld of southern Ontario.
Days by Moonlight won the 2019 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and was on the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist. It is the fourth book in a planned quincunx. The previous titles were Pastoral, Fifteen Dogs and The Hidden Keys.
The Testaments is set 15 years after the events of The Handmaid's Tale and includes the "explosive testaments" of three women. The book answers questions on the inner-workings of Gilead, the oppressive dystopia where Offred, the novel's original narrator, was stripped of her freedoms and forced to be a handmaid for powerful men. The novel co-won the 2019 Booker Prize and broke Canadian sales records when it was published in Sept. 2019.
Atwood, 80, has been publishing poetry, fiction and nonfiction since the 1960s. Her acclaimed books include The Handmaid's Tale, Alias Grace, Oryx and Crake and The Edible Woman. She has won several awards for her work including the Governor General's Literary Award, the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Man Booker Prize.
In Bunny, scholarship student Samantha Heather Mackey feels like an outsider at her elite university, especially when it comes to her fiction writing class. That's where she first encounters the Bunnies, a comically tight-knit group of annoying rich girls who invite Samantha to their exclusive "Smut Salon." Against her better judgment, Samantha is drawn into the Bunnies' orbit.
Bunny is the second book by Awad. Her first, the linked short story collection 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, was shortlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the 2016 Amazon.ca First Novel Award. Awad was born in Montreal and currently lives in Boston.
In Bezmozgis's short story collection Immigrant City, a wannabe boxer finds work as a security guard in the Toronto suburbs, a father and daughter end up in a strange rendition of his immigrant childhood and a young man unwittingly makes contact with the underworld. Immigrant City was shortlisted for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Born in Latvia, Bezmozgis lives in Toronto. He is also the author of the novel The Betrayers and The Free World, both of which were also shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, in 2014 and 2011 respectively.
Described by publisher Coteau Books as "cronelit," Season of Fury and Wonder tells the stories of contemporary women in the winter of their lives. Each story is inspired by or is a tribute to a short story by literature's most celebrated writers, including Flannery O'Conner, Shirley Jackson, Anton Chekhov and Raymond Carver.
Season of Fury and Wonder was on the 2019 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize shortlist.
Butala is the author of 20 books. She has been nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award three times — in 1985 for the short fiction collection Queen of the Headaches, in 1994 for nonfiction workThe Perfection of the Morning and in 2017 for the memoir Where I Live Now.
In Greenwood, it's the year 2038 and most of the world has suffered from an environmental collapse. But there is a remote island with 1,000 year-old trees and Jake Greenwood works as a tour guide there. From there, the novel takes you back in time as you learn more about Jake, her family and how secrets and lies can have an impact for generations.
Greenwood was longlisted for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, Megan Gail Coles's debut novel, revolves around a cast of flawed characters who are implicated in each other's hopes, dreams and pains as they try to survive harsh economic times in the province.
Coles is a playwright from St. John's. She previously published the short story collection Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome.
In The Innocents, a young brother and sister live in isolation in Newfoundland, surviving alone on the bits of knowledge their parents left behind. Their loyalty to one another is the reason they are able to persist through storms and illness, but their relationship is tested as they grow older.
- With novel The Innocents, Michael Crummey explores strength, spirit and survival in 18th century Newfoundland
Michael Crummey is a poet and novelist from Newfoundland and Labrador. He has been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize twice and the Governor General's Literary Award three times. His other books include the novels Sweetland and Galore and the poetry collection Little Dogs.
Though he has been missing for nearly a year, Joan hasn't given up on finding her husband Victor, who disappeared after their first serious fight. One morning, hungover Joan finds herself in a packed preacher's tent on a Walmart parking lot. The charismatic Reverend Wolff is none other than Victor, who claims to have no memory of Joan or their life together.
Cherie Dimaline is a Métis author and editor whose award-winning fiction has been published and anthologized internationally. In 2017, her novel The Marrow Thieves won the Governor General's Literary Award for Young people's literature — text and the Kirkus Prize for young readers' literature. It is currently being adapted for television.
Radicalized is a collection of four novellas that explore the quandaries — social, economic and technological — of contemporary America. Cory Doctorow's characters deal with issues around immigration, corrupt police forces, dark web uprisings and more.
- Cory Doctorow on Radicalized, the problem with superheroes and writing speculative fiction in a jaded world
This Is How You Lose the Time War is a debut fantasy novel co-written by Canadian Amal El-Mohtar and American Max Gladstone. When two time-travelling agents from warring factions begin a clandestine correspondence, they're each determined to make sure their side has the best hope for the future. But when they fall in love, their secret may have deadly consequences.
El-Mohtar's short story Seasons of Glass and Iron won Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. Gladstone is the author of the Hugo-nominated series Craft Sequence.
Every Little Piece of Me revolves around the friendship of two women, Ava and Mags, whose every humiliation is tabloid fodder. Ava grew up on a hit reality television show where her big city family runs a small town B&B. Mags is the lead singer of a troubled Halifax rock band.
As the son of a humble tailor, Danio Cerra rose through the ranks of society with his incredible intelligence. He's unhappily employed at the court of a count whose nickname is 'the Beast,' but fate throws him a bone in the form of Adria Ripoli, an assassin who traded her family's wealth for freedom.
Kay was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2014. His Fionavar Tapestry fantasy series has sold over a million copies worldwide since being published in the 1980s. Some of Kay's other titles include Children of Earth and Sky, Tigana and River of Stars.
There Has to Be a Knife is about a chef who unravels after the death of his ex-girlfriend. When Omar Ali is informed his ex-girlfriend Anna has died, he resolves to retrieve her suicide note from her parents. Filled with grief and unable to cope, the 27-year-old line cook spirals out of control, participating in break-ins and online terrorism.
Stéphane Larue had the least glamourous job at a restaurant — a dishwasher. But it gave him an inside look at the hard-living characters working in frenetic, stress-filled kitchens. He turned those experiences into a novel, The Dishwasher, that takes the reader into the demi-monde of restaurant kitchens.
The French version of the book, Le Plongeur, won the Prix des libraires du Québec and the Prix Senghor and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction. The Dishwasher is Stéphane Larue's first book.
Autopsy of a Boring Wife by Marie-Renée Lavoie is an unexpectedly funny story about a woman named Diane whose husband of 25 years says she's too boring to stay with, so he leaves her for a younger woman. Diane dreams up ways to get her husband back, torture his new girlfriend and move on with the support of her best friend and three children.
Autopsy of a Boring Wife was translated from French by Arielle Aaronson.
Lavoie is the author of three books, including Mister Roger and Me (La petite et le vieux in French), which won Radio-Canada's Les combat des livres in 2012. Lavoie lives in Montreal.
Since Hazel Ellis returned home to Spirit Bear Point First Nation, an old crow has been visiting her dreams to tell her he's come to save her. As Hazel investigates what this could mean, she discovers an old magic awakening in the quarry on her late father's land. The adventure Hazel embarks on will have a lasting impact on her family and community.
Karen McBride is an Algonquin Anishinaabe writer from the Timiskaming First Nation in the territory that is now Quebec. Crow Winter is her first novel.
The Wagers, Sean Michaels's second novel, follows a Montreal grocer named Theo Potiris who works at his family's shabby supermarket by day and bikes to open mic nights at night, never telling the same joke twice. He's been waiting 15 years for his big break, but with his girlfriend overseas with a wealthy benefactor, Theo decides to trade in his dream for the promise of something more. The gamble takes Theo to a fantastic alternate reality of Montreal filled with peacocks, luck thieves and sports-mad mathematicians.
Michaels's first novel, Us Conductors, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2014. Michaels is also a music critic who founded the popular blog Said the Gramophone.
Shut Up You're Pretty is a short fiction collection that tells stories of young women coming of age in the 21st century. Mutonji's characters include a young woman who shaves her head in an abortion clinic waiting room, a mother and daughter who bond over fish and a teenager seeking happiness with her pack of cigarettes.
- Why Téa Mutonji wanted her first short story collection to challenge what diverse literature is supposed to be
In Dual Citizens, Lark Brossard is a supporting character in the lives of her artistically talented loved ones: her sister Robin is a wild and brilliant pianist, while her sometime lover Lawrence is a famous filmmaker. When Lawrence tells her he doesn't want children, Lark re-examines her life and takes control of her story.
Ohlin is also the author of the novel Inside, which was nominated for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2012. Ohlin lives in Vancouver where she is chair of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia.
In Price's novel Lampedusa, the last prince of Lampedusa, Giuseppe Tomasi, faces the end of his life in 1950s Sicily. He spends his final days labouring over the manuscript of his novel, The Leopard, which he believes will be his lasting legacy.
Price also the author of the novel By Gaslight, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the poetry collections Anatomy of Keys and Omens in the Year of the Ox . He lives in Victoria.
Frying Plantain follows Kara Davis through elementary school to her high school graduation, as she comes of age while being perennially caught between her Canadian nationality and Jamaican heritage. Over a series of 12 stories, Davis visits her great aunt in Jamaica, endures a cruel prank by close friends and deals with her stubborn grandparents.
- Why Zalika Reid-Benta wrote a short story collection that looks at growing up young and black in Toronto
Reid-Benta is a graduate of Columbia's MFA program and was named a writer to watch by George Elliott Clarke. Frying Plantain is Reid-Benta's first book. CBC Books named Reid-Benta a writer to watch in 2019.
The Youth of God tells the story of Nuur, a Somali teen who is bullied at school for his religious piety, while he tries to balance his academics and part time job. Searching for a sense of purpose, and longing for male guidance in the absence of a father who abandoned his family, Nuur looks to two opposing father figures. One, a compassionate teacher named Mr. Ilmi who sees Nuur's potential and the other, an Imam, who has more heinous intentions in mind.
Hassan Ghedi Santur is a journalist who has worked for CBC Radio. He is also the author of the novels Something Remains and the nonfiction book Maps of Exile.
Guestbook: Ghost Stories collects over two dozen short stories, vignettes and images from visual artist Leanne Shapton, who explores the uncanny experience of being haunted. Her characters include a tennis player who attributes his successes to an invisible entity, ghosts who visit their old beds and a woman who leaves Alcatraz with a peculiar feeling.
Shapton is an artist and author originally from Toronto, but now based in New York. Her previous books include the memoir Swimming Studies, the comic Was She Pretty? and the art project Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry.
26 Knots weaves a complicated love story: Araceli falls for a fellow journalist named Adrien, who is already in love with Pénélope, who can't decide between him and Gabriel, who is too traumatized by his father's abandonment to be a good partner.
- Why Bindu Suresh wanted to explore the meaning of real love, romance and heartbreak in her debut novel
Chasing Painted Horses follows four young friends from a reserve called Otter Lake, located north of Toronto. One day, Ralph and Shelley's mother installs a large chalkboard at home and challenges the four friends to a weekly art contest. The quietest of them, Danielle, draws a stunning horse and wins, an inconspicuous event that will reverberate throughout their lives.
Drew Hayden Taylor is an Ojibway playwright, author and journalist from Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario. His other books include the YA novel The Night Wanderer, the novel Motorcycle and Sweetgrass and the sci-fi short story collection Take Us to Your Chief.
In 1956, five evangelical Christian missionaries were killed when they ventured into the Ecuador rainforest to convert the Waorani, a group of Indigenous people who had no previous contact with the outside world. Five Wives fictionalizes the story of the women left to deal with the fall-out of their husbands' actions and deaths, which were widely covered by the media.
- Why Joan Thomas wrote a novel about wives of missionaries killed trying to convert Ecuador's Waorani people
Joan Thomas is the author of three previous novels. Her novel The Opening Sky was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 2014.
Moccasin Square Gardens is a collection of humorous short fiction set in Denendeh, the land of the people north of the 60th parallel. Richard Van Camp's stories involve extraterrestrials, illegal wrestling moves and the legendary Wheetago, human-eating monsters who have come to punish the greed of humanity.
For many years, Ruth has been best friends with Stef — a loud, confident woman who is her opposite in many ways. Now a protective mother, Ruth brings her four-year-old daughter Fern to Stef's family cottage. Fern runs off with Stef's older boisterous twins, while the two women are joined for a night of drinks and heightened emotion with the neighbour, Marvin.
Jessica Westhead is the author of the novel Pulpy & Midge and the short story collections And Also Sharks and Things Not to Do.
When Felicia and her teenage son Army move into a basement apartment, they bond with the house's owner and his two children. But strange gifts from Army's wealthy, absent father begin to arrive at their doorstep, inviting new tensions into the makeshift family's lives.
Reproduction is Ian Williams's debut novel, following his Griffin Poetry Prize-nominated poetry collection Personals and award-winning short fiction collection Not Anyone's Anything. It won the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was nominated for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award.