by Brian Lynch, November 2023
Resonating with our troubled times and uncovering hidden sources of our humanity, this group of recent novels from Harbour Publishing crosses generations and widely different ways of life. Yet they all work to show how individuals cope with crises much larger than themselves, and with what it means to venture over the fluid, sometimes invisible lines dividing classes and cultures.
This fourth novel from the well-known BC author, journalist and environmental activist shifts back and forth in time to portray a small group of idealists who drop out of mainstream society in the 1970s to form a commune on an island in the Salish Sea. Decades of stories pass as our present-day narrator—the last of the commune’s original members—recounts his experiences to a younger woman who is herself trying to find an alternative to the deadening pressures and disappointments of the city. But friction is a constant in the commune’s history, despite the bucolic surroundings. Hippie eccentrics run afoul of staid, politically connected island elites. Back-to-nature principles struggle to resist the monied pull of development and industry. And the band of misfits is splintered by differences over ultimate aims, whether global revolution or merely a simpler, healthier existence. Because this is a Des Kennedy book, a gently questioning humour is part of even the most painful lessons of life among the trees, fields and animals.
Vancouver’s glossy tranquility is only skin-deep, as any cruise-ship tourist can tell you after a wrong turn downtown. But it takes a hardboiled heart to wade right into the city’s homegrown forms of corruption and violence. In this fourth installment of Sam Wiebe’s acclaimed series of Vancouver-noir thrillers, private investigator Dave Wakeland is swept into a war between economic classes when he sets out in search of a gun stolen during an assault on a transit officer. As in the book’s predecessor—2021’s Hell and Gone, where the disillusioned detective found himself working alongside both bikers and cops—Wakeland’s allegiances are torn as he crashes through one ethical guardrail after another while chasing the tarnished truth.
The twin title of this debut novel from the Richmond, BC–based Heiltsuk writer hints at the double realities inhabited by the twelve-year-old Indigenous boy at the heart of the story. During a trip to Bella Bella for a family funeral, young Derik Mormin first senses the contrasts between city and wilderness, and between a “western” lifestyle and a rich Indigenous ancestry scarred by trauma and lost connections. Derik’s struggles with these discoveries are deep, but the novel is far from solemn, narrated as it is by Redbird, Derik’s “babysitter” and a wise, irreverent voice “here to bring light to an otherwise grave subject.”
Set during the 1990s in a rural Southern Ontario town where the real and the fantastical mingle, this atmospheric debut runs on the wild griefs and longings of its small cast—particularly those of thirteen-year-old Jane, who is seeking both reconnection and escape. Wounded by the death of her father, she sets out for a séance in Toronto in the company of Ernest, a local eccentric also shaped by personal loss. Their disappearance is enough to wake Jane’s mother, Meredith, from her own grief, which has driven her into a nearby forest haunted by memories. And the town itself rises like a chorus to the scandal. Lockyer brings a compassionate humour to these elemental sufferings, so that—in the words of a Toronto Star review—the story often “resounds with comic mayhem.”
The past is chasing ex-lovers Jonah and Ruby, and it’s closing in. Not only are they the target of a member of the Hells Angels seeking revenge for an incident that took place years earlier, when the two still roamed the wider world—Jonah as a PTSD-afflicted marine, and Ruby as a rock star with a substance problem. But the remote, mountain-bound Doukhobor community where they grew up, and to which they’ve returned to restore themselves, is still in the grip of old rivalries and prejudices. Author Robert Chursinoff draws on his own Doukhobor roots as well as his years as a professional touring musician (with such acts as Tegan & Sara, Kinnie Starr and the Be Good Tanyas) to create a gritty story of love, fear and hope.
In childhood, Nabila and Matthew would play a game where they imagined themselves the last people on earth, besieged by rising oceans. Years later, in their twenties, Nabila loses track of her friend while pursuing her career as a climate-change researcher. And Matthew, always contending with limited options and instability at home, falls prey to some of the worst instincts of our era, joining an anti-women hate group that sends him on a suicide mission. When Nabila realizes that Matthew has vanished from his Toronto home, she tracks him to Berlin, only to discover the depth of his predicament. Toronto writer Menaka Raman-Wilms earned a place on the Giller Prize longlist for this enthralling, nuanced exploration of diverging paths formed by global pressures and differences in privilege.