Outside

David Woods, a first-year teacher, shares his grade-4 students' passion for nature and their reluctance to be hemmed in by classroom walls. He pushes the boundaries of risk and the constraints of school board policy, leading his class on outdoor adventures with hooting owls, curious stream creatures, and maple syrup making.

Then, during a seemingly innocuous field trip, a fateful decision leads to disastrous consequences, not just for himself but many around him. Consumed by guilt, and desperate to make sense of the seemingly random incident, David flees to Japan, going to ground with a group of Western ESL teachers in a Kyoto boarding house.

As the tragedy is recalled, a parallel narrative finds David drawn into the chaotic lives of his boarding-house companions. The group, including a food-connoisseur deejay, a crude karate student, and an Israeli draft dodger, drag David into experiences that offer hope, love, and the possibility of redemption. In a city cloaked in the ancient trappings of Buddhism and Shintoism, David Woods struggles to draw meaning from his surroundings and experiences before being called home to answer for his actions.

Soft Zipper

This engaging memoir relates stories about George Bowering's small-town BC upbringing and his parents — his father long dead and his mother more recently passed on at the age of 100 — while at the same time honouring the author's other “parents”: Gertrude Stein, Charles Olson, and Roland Barthes.

Borrowing a structure and some precepts about writing from Stein, Bowering remains true to his inimitable self, relating his recollections and observations, his ever-curious mind travelling across the decades as he recounts some of the objects, food, rooms, and people that have shaped his engagement with the world. Charles Olson's ideas about proprioception shape Bowering's approach to himself as “an object among objects” (and, with increasing age and frailty, even one containing numerous objects), while Roland Barthes's writing strategies also make themselves felt throughout.

But these stories wear their learning lightly — it's ridiculously easy to enjoy these wise and gentle reminiscences of an older writer who spent his childhood in sunny South Okanagan, without even noticing the carefully wrought structure.

Lisa Robertson (The Baudelaire Fractal, The Weather, Cinema of the Present, 3 Summers, &c.), herself a student of George Bowering, provides an introduction to this deceptively simple and richly rewarding work by an old master.

The Renter

The Renter, Michael Tregebov's fourth novel, is set in Winnipeg Beach, Manitoba's version of cottage country, ca. 1968. Once the preserve of the city's establishment, by the time the events of the novel take place, Winnipeg Beach has declined to the point that even the city's middle classes, including its prosperous Jewish citizens, could afford addresses there.

Michael Tregebov's would-be hero in The Renter is a young man sporting a summer tan, Keds and crisp short-sleeved white shirts, and toting a transistor radio. Bret Yeatman is out to recoup the social position his father lost through financial ruin, and is determined to realize his fantasy by marrying up and into the well-to-do family of his first perfect love, Sandra Sugarman, and renouncing his easy, promiscuous life in the drug trade. But his fantasy collides with Sandra's own — stars are crossed, and the fates will have their day.

The Renter is the latest installment in Michael Tregebov's comédie humaine Winnipeg-style, which also includes Shot Rock (2019), The Shiva (2012), and The Briss (2009). A literary translator, Michael Tregebov was born and raised in Winnipeg but now lives near Barcelona in Spain, his home since the 1980s.

The Wig-Maker

A powerful tale of violence, grief, resilience, and transformation, told in the voice of Janet Gallant, transcribed and lineated as a long poem by Sharon Thesen, The Wig-Maker gathers and weaves together themes and incidents that accumulate toward “the moan” of racism, sexual abuse, maternal abandonment, suicide, mental illness, and addiction.

Though the subject-matter ranges from a lengthy first-person account of sufferings both personal and cultural, historic and current, the pulse of the telling ultimately led to healing and reconciliation. Almost by magic — certainly with the assistance of the uncanny — the 18-month long process of Gallant's telling/Thesen's listening-writing resulted in Gallant's discovery of her true genetic, and social, identity. In the early part of her story Janet longs to know the reasons that her mother abandoned the family when Gallant was three years old, leaving four young children with their abusive father. She also wants to know what turned her father into “the monster” he had become. Her mother, Valerie Johnson, is Black and grew up in the Black community of Wildwood, Alberta; her Canadian serviceman father, Tom McCrate, grew up in Irish-Catholic poverty in Nova Scotia. As a biracial child, Janet was unaware until she was eleven years old that her mother was Black; nor did she know until very recently that Tom McCrate was not her biological father.

The twists and turns of the narrative gather a range of topics and incidents; the human hair industry, Black immigration to Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1900's, maternal abandonment, the stresses of military life, adoption search websites, the suicide of Gallant's teenage brother, the sudden death of her young husband, the stress-disorder of alopecia, and the loneliness of surviving all this but never finding answers. But some important answers have been given and received as a result of Gallant's research being inspired by the mysteriously healing process of the telling itself.

“The Wig-Maker” is Janet Gallant's song; her story comes to life in Sharon Thesen's poem.