The best Canadian fiction of 2020
Here are the picks by CBC Books for the top Canadian fiction of 2020.
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 Alberta. Little does he know, his father is coming for him.
- Why it took Gil Adamson 10 years to write a swashbuckling follow-up to her bestselling novel The Outlander
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.
The Night Piece is a collection of career-spanning stories by Scotiabank Giller Prize and Canada Reads winner André Alexis. Alexis draws from his previous publications, including Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa and Beauty & Sadness, as well as works that have not been previously published.
In Here the Dark, David Bergen delivers short stories that interweave across space, exploring faith, loss and complex moral ambiguities. From Danang, Vietnam, to Honduras and the Canadian Prairies, the book collects narratives about place and heart. Here the Dark includes the story that won the 1999 CBC Short Story Prize, How Can n Men Share a Bottle of Vodka?
Bergen is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. In 2005, his novel The Time in Between won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. His other books include The Matter with Morris, and Stranger in 2016. His novel The Age of Hope was defended by Ron MacLean on Canada Reads in 2013.
A Family Affair is a novel that follows a 40-year-old kitchen designer named Magalie, who maintains a mutually deceptive romance with her partner Mathieu. Unexpected circumstances lead her to Guillaume, a policeman and single father. It was translated into English by Russell Smith.
Nadine Bismuth is a writer from Montreal. She has published novels and short story collections. Her 2004 novel Scrapbook was translated into English in 2009. Her 2009 short story collection Êtes-vous mariée à un psychopathe was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction and was translated into English in 2010.
The Good German is a reimagined history in which, in 1939, Georg Elser succeeded in assassinating Hitler. But what unfolds is an alternate history where fascism reigns in Europe, and an atomic bomb is dropped on London, and Elser must reckon with the knowledge that his act of heroism changed the course of history — and for what end?
Dennis Bock is a writer, editor and teacher from Toronto. His novel Going Home Again was a finalist for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize. His other works include the novels The Ash Garden and The Communist's Daughter and the short story collection Olympia.
Cascade is a collection of short stories from award-winning writer Craig Davidson. The six stories are set in Davidson's hometown of Niagara Falls, known as Cataract City, and explore what it's like to try to make a life in a town that is struggling economically, where its residents feel left behind and where the glorious, touristy waterfalls distract from deep social, economic and political problems.
Davidson has published several books of literary fiction including Cataract City, which was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2013, Rust and Bone, which was made into an Oscar-nominated feature film of the same name, The Fighter, Sarah Court and The Saturday Night Ghost Club. His memoir Precious Cargo was defended by Greg Johnson on Canada Reads 2018.
In Seven, Sharifa accompanies her husband on a marriage-saving trip to India, and in order to research her great-great-grandfather — a business-owner and philanthropist. She is fascinated by his four wives, who are never mentioned in her family. At the same time, she tries to reach a middle ground in an ideologically-divided community.
The Pull of the Stars, set in a war and disease-ravaged Ireland during the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, tells the story of three women — a nurse, a doctor and a volunteer helper — working on the front lines of the pandemic in an understaffed maternity ward of a hospital, where expectant mothers infected with the virus are quarantined. The timely tale explores how these women change each other's lives in unexpected ways, while witnessing loss and delivering new life.
Butter Honey Pig Bread is a novel about twin sisters, Kehinde and Taiye, and their mother, Kambirinachi. Kambirinachi believes she was a spirit who was supposed to die as a small child. By staying alive, she is cursing her family — a fear that appears to come true when Kehinde experiences something that tears the family apart, and divides the twins for years. But when the three women connect years later, they must confront their past and find forgiveness.
Francesca Ekwuyasi is a writer, filmmaker and visual artist. Her writing has appeared in the Malahat Review, Guts and Brittle Paper, and she was longlisted for the 2019 Journey Prize. Butter Honey Pig Bread is her first book.
The Finder is an adventure novel about finding things that are lost in the world. The story takes readers to Japan, Australia and New Zealand as Interpol agent Gaddy Rhodes, photographer Tamsin Greene and travel writer Thomas Rafferty unexpectedly cross paths as they track "The Finder" — a mysterious figure who believes they can find history's lost objects, such as the missing Romanov Fabergé eggs and Muhammad Ali's Olympic gold medal
Will Ferguson has written humour, travel books and fiction. He won the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his thriller 419. He has won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour three times: for his novel Generica (now titled Happiness), his Canadian travel book Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw and his travel memoir Beyond Belfast. He currently lives in Calgary.
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.
In Agency, a gifted app tester meets her match when she is commissioned to beta test a highly social, and combat-savvy, "digital assistant." In an alternate timeline, in 2017 Hillary Clinton has won the presidential election over Donald Trump. Meanwhile, in London in the 22nd century disastrous events have led to 80 per cent of humanity being wiped out.
William Gibson is a legendary Vancouver science-fiction writer. His classic 1984 novel Neuromancer, a thriller about hacking and artificial intelligence, won sci-fi's three biggest prizes: the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award and the Hugo Award.
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.
Michelle 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.
Crosshairs is a dystopian novel about a near-future where a queer Black performer named Kay and his allies join forces against an oppressive Canadian regime that is rounding up those deemed "Other" in concentration camps. A near-future Toronto is ravaged by climate change. It is a situation that has led to massive floods, rampant homelessness, unemployment and starvation. In this chaos, a government-sanctioned regime called the Boots seizes the opportunity to force communities of colour, the disabled and the LGBTQ2S into labour camps called workhouses in the city.
Catherine Hernandez is a former theatre professional and daycare provider from Scarborough, Ont. She is also the author of the novel Scarborough, which is being adapted into a feature film. CBC Books named Hernandez a writer to watch in 2017.
The Jane Austen Society is a novel about an unexpected community, and the quiet triumph and tragedies of everyday life in post-Second World War Britain. In Chawton, an English village that was the last home of iconic novelist Jane Austen, a small group of locals decide to do what they can to preserve Austen's home and legacy, and hopefully revitalize the town in the process. The group comes together in surprising ways and, despite being very different, unite through their common goal.
Natalie Jenner is a novelist based in Oakville, Ont. The Jane Austen Society is her first book.
In this collection of stories, Dominoes at the Crossroads, Kaie Kellough navigates Canada's Caribbean diaspora, as they seek music and a connection to their past. Through a broad cast of characters — including jazz musicians, hitchhikers, suburbanites, student radicals, secret agents, historians and their fugitive slave ancestors — Kellough stretches the stories from Montreal's Old Port to as far as the South American rainforests.
Kellough is a writer based in Montreal. His novel Accordéon was a finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award in 2017. He is also the author of the poetry collection Magnetic Equator, which is currently a finalist for the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize.
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.
Thomas King is a Canadian-American writer of Cherokee and Greek ancestry. His books include Truth & Bright Water, The Inconvenient Indian, Green Grass, Running Water and The Back of the Turtle. He also writes the DreadfulWater mystery series.
Petra is a novel inspired by the life of German activist Petra Kelly. Kelly was a force in Germany in the 1980s, and was a founding member of the German Green Party, which was one of the first Green Parties to rise to prominence. It was through her work that she met her partner, a NATO general named Emil Gerhardt. It was Gerhardt who eventually murdered Kelly in 1992. Petra is the story of Kelly's rise to prominence, her influence on global politics and policy and how her relationship with Gerhardt helped her international influence but was ultimately what ended everything.
Shaena Lambert is a novelist currently living in Vancouver. Her novel Radiance was a finalist for the Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. She is also the author of the short story collection Oh My Darling.
In Consent, Sara becomes her intellectually disabled sister Mattie's caregiver after their mother dies. But when Sara returns home, she surprisingly finds Mattie married to her mother's handyman, Robert. Sara gets the marriage annulled, driving a wedge between herself and Mattie. When Robert re-enters their lives, Sara and Mattie get entangled with another set of sisters and their difficult relationship: twins Saskia and Jenny.
Annabel Lyon is a writer from Vancouver. Her novel The Golden Mean won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. Her other books include the short story collection Oxygen, the novella collection The Best Thing for You and the young adult novels All-Season Edie and Encore Edie.
Emily St. John Mandel's new book, The Glass Hotel, interweaves several complex narratives. Vincent is a bartender in a prestigious hotel on Vancouver Island. When the owner — Jonathan Alkaitis — passes Vincent his card, it becomes the beginning of their story together. Meanwhile, a hooded figure scrawls a cryptic note on a wall in the hotel, and a shipping executive for a company called Neptune-Avramidis — Leon Prevant — sees the note and is shaken. Thirteen years later, Vincent disappears from a Neptune-Avramidis ship.
St. John Mandel is a New York-based Canadian writer. Her fourth novel, Station Eleven, was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award and won the 2015 Toronto Book Award.
Mexican Gothic is a gothic horror novel set in 1950s Mexico. It tells the story of a young woman named Noemi who is called by her cousin to save her from doom in her countryside home, the mysterious and alluring High Place. Noemi doesn't know much about the house, the region or her cousin's mysterious new husband, but she's determined to solve this mystery and save her cousin — whatever it takes.
Mexican Gothic is in development to become a TV series for Hulu.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a Canadian author, who was born and raised in Mexico. She is also the author of the novels Signal to Noise, which won the 2016 Copper Cylinder Award, Gods of Jade and Shadow and The Beautiful Ones. She is also a critic and has edited science fiction anthologies.
As Beatrice makes her debut at "bargaining season" — an annual event where wealthy young men and women gather from all over the world to make advantageous marriages — she harbours secret plans that will upend society. Rather than get married, Beatrice plans to bind a greater spirit and become a full magician. Performing the secret ritual goes against the rules of her world, which prohibits women from practicing magic while they can still bear children. With the help of the wealthy Lavan siblings, fiery Ysbeta and her handsome brother Ianthe, Beatrice searches for a way to change old patriarchal traditions.
C.L. Polk concocts a page-turning fantasy with love, magic and rebellion swirling at the centre. The Calgary writer's previous books include the award-winning novel Witchmark and it's sequel Stormsong.
In Vanishing Monuments, Alani Baum has not seen their mother since they were 17 years old — almost 30 years ago. The non-binary photographer ran away from home with their girlfriend, but when their mother's dementia worsens Alani is forced to run back to her. In the face of a debilitating illness, Alani has to contend with painful memories from the past.
John Elizabeth Stinzi is a novelist, poet, teacher and visual artist. They won the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for emerging writers for their work Selections From Junebat. The complete poetry collection, Junebat, was published in spring 2020.
In Misconduct of the Heart, Stevie is a recovering alcoholic and kitchen manager who is trying hard to stop her world around her from collapsing. Her son, who is a veteran, might be succumbing to PTSD, while she tries to manage the eccentrics who work in her kitchen and acclimatize to the idea that she might have a granddaughter she never knew she had.
Cordelia Strube is a Toronto-based writer. She has been nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award, the Trillium Book Award and longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. She has written numerous books, including On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light.
How to Pronounce Knife is a collection of idiosyncratic and diverse stories. Capturing the daily lives of immigrants, Souvankham Thammavongsa captures their hopes, disappointments, trauma and acts of defiance. From a young man painting nails in a salon, to a housewife learning English from soap-operas, How to Pronounce Knife navigates tragedy and humour.
Thammavongsa is a writer and poet. Her stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Paris Review and NOON. She has published four books of poetry, including 2019's Cluster.
Hench is the story of a woman who pays the bills by doing administrative work for villains. But then an incident involving the world's most popular superhero leaves her injured and gets her fired. She ends up realizing what happened to her isn't unique — and she might have the means to take down the so-called hero who hurt her. How? With every office workers's secret weapon: data.
Natalie Zina Walschots is a writer and journalist from Toronto. She is also the author of the poetry collections DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains and Thumbscrews.
Set over a century and spanning five continents, We Two Alone traces the evolution of the Chinese immigrant experience. Tracing various people, families and professionals across the globe, Jack Wang creates a tapestry of experience that encompasses the trials and tribulations of a diaspora trying to find its place in the world.
Wang's short stories have been published in Joyland Magazine, The Humber Literary Review and The New Quarterly. We Two Alone is his first book.
Love after the End is an anthology of speculative fiction that imagines a utopian future for LGBTQ and Two-Spirit people, curated and edited by poet and novelist Joshua Whitehead.
Contributors include Nathan Adler, Darcie Little Badger, Gabriel Castilloux Calderon, Adam Garnet Jones, Mari Kurisato, Kai Minosh Pyle, David Alexander Robertson, jaye simpson and Nazbah Tom.
Whitehead is an Oji-Cree, Two-Spirit writer, poet and Indigiqueer scholar from Peguis First Nation. His book, full-metal indigiqueer, is a collection of experimental poems that aim to provoke discussion and debate. Jonny Appleseed, his debut novel, is about a Two-Spirit person trying to put his life back together following the death of his stepfather.