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Pickle Me This

December 9, 2009

Pickle Me This Top Books of 2009

  • The Believers by Zoe Heller. From my review: “In The Believers, Heller illuminates the faith necessary to try to live a life without faith. The way in which politics and even family can become a surrogate religion, filling up the void. And also the faith required to sustain a marriage, to raise a child, to save the world, and the strange nature of the kind of belief in that such things are even possible”
  • Delicate, Edible Birds by Lauren Groff. From my review: “I will say, however, that this is a book worth judging by its cover, for the reader will not be disappointed. The cover’s bird motif appearing throughout the collection, joining these stories otherwise so disparate by style, narration, location, characterization. But the birds are there, and so is water, bodies of big and small, and swimmers, and poolside loungers, and drownings and rain. So that to ponder all these stories together after the fact is to draw surprising connections, new conclusions. Here are nine stories that belong together, but not in ways that one might suspect.”
  • The Spare Room by Helen Garner. From my review: “This is a perfect novel. It’s also quite short, but… there is substance, layers and layers of. At its root about friendship, which Garner refers to here as a “long conversation”. As well as family, and belonging, and imposition, understanding, and proprietorship of each other and ourselves. Garner’s narrator fascinating to consider, her motivations, what her words and actions reveal. This novel is quiet in its force, and enormous for the space it gives to ponder.”
  • The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. From my review: “The Children’s Book is a big book in which time passes quickly, and the reading is gripping. Similarities to Byatt’s best-known work Possession have been made for good reason, though this doesn’t mean the author is simply replaying an old game. She has embarked upon something sprawling here– a story about the invention of childhood, about artistry and artfulness, about motherhood, and the status of women, all with an enormous cast of characters, most of whom are made to be tremendously alive. The novel also stands up as historical fiction, though I don’t like to use that term about books I like and I loved this one– there is nothing dusty, sepia-toned about it. The Children’s Book is decidedly vivid and surprising.”
  • February by Lisa Moore. From my review: “February is a novel about moving forward, about never letting go and doing the right thing. Its characters are vivid and wonderful, their thoughts positively “thought-like”– twisting, interrupted, irrational– as Moore’s style continues on in the same surprising vein, her technical innovation perfectly realized. The story is as funny as it is sad, and that sadness has meaning beyond itself. It’s a rare thing– a perfect book. I would call it one of the best books published in Canada this year, but I’m taking my chances on it being one of the best books from anywhere”
  • The Incident Report by Martha Baillie. From my review: “Miriam’s strait-laced recounting of library incidents is very often amusing, but also poignant, this underlined by Baillie’s exquisite prose. The every-day becomes captured for its singular moments, its eccentric characters, and the library as a marvelous backdrop. Baillie goes further, however, with excellent plotting, this potentially gimmicky book distinctly a novel, with romance, mystery, suspense, darkness, and tragedy (oh god, the gasp I uttered near the end, I could not believe it, I wanted to turn back the pages and have it happen a different way, but alas, there is only going forward).”
  • The Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. From my review: “Yesterday I went into the bookstore to check out Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America. Another shopper saw me reading the back and said, “That book is amazing. Buy it.” I said, “I’m going to. I’m reading her new book right now.” She said, “That’s just what I’m here to get,” and I pointed her towards its spot on the new hardcovers table. “It’s fantastic,” I said, because flawed or not, it is. And that is the story of how I came to join the legions of those in love with Lorrie Moore.”
  • The English Stories by Cynthia Flood. From my review: “With mere words (though there is nothing mere about her words), Flood has recreated a time and a place and an atmosphere so steeped, I could trace my finger along the patterns in the wallpaper (and she doesn’t even mention the wallpaper). These stories are challenging, tricky, ripe with allusionary gateways to the wider world of literature. And so rewarding, for the richness of character, the intricate detail, and careful plotting that holds just enough back, keeping us alert and anticipating what’s around every next turn.”
  • What Boys Like by Amy Jones. From my review: “And how engaging is that, I ask? To read so far into a story, that it wraps itself around me, and then I get all wrapped up in it too, and the whole thing is an untenable knot? What Boys Like is a lot like its cover. Though its tone is not upbeat, the colours are so vivid that you’d never find these stories bleak. And yes, the girls are often steeley-eyed, dangerous, tough as nails…”
  • Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peelle. From my review: “Where Peelle is like O’Connor, however, is in these moments in which she digs in her knife and twists it, and then you realize that the story you’ve been reading is darker, its people more awful, what has happened is even more tragic th
    an you’ve ever imagined. I mentioned the end of “Kidding Season” already, and can’t get explicit or I’ll ruin it, but Peelle manages to synchronize her readers’ awareness of dawning horror with that of her protagonist in a way that is absolutely masterful. “Phantom Pain” has a similar impact. Everything is loaded.”

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