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Three small press books worth a read Add to ...

Knife Fight and Other Struggles

By David Nickle, ChiZine, 236 pages, $19.99

Genre, unfairly, can be a ghetto. Scan the cover blurbs on David Nickle’s new collection of horror and dark fantasy – he has an armful of awards to his credit – and you might well wonder how you’ve missed him. Don’t make the mistake of overlooking the talent based on preconceptions of what horror might be – read one of these stories and see if you aren’t hooked. Knife Fight does serve dishes of monsters and the supernatural: The Summer Worms is a terrifying thriller involving an infestation of tent caterpillars in Ontario cottage country. But in the title story the horror is civic: A city much like Toronto falls into disarray as its mayor becomes engulfed in a personal struggle and the City Hall press gallery looks on. Meanwhile, Drakeela Must Die is a horror all too familiar: The monster, “Drakeela,” is a school-aged child. Believe the hype: David Nickle is very good.

What I Want to Tell Goes Like This

By Matt Rader, Nightwood, 256 pages, $21.95

Two-thirds of the stories in this debut collection from poet Matt Rader have appeared in one form or another elsewhere. All the more striking, then, that they seem so cohesive here. Part of it is shared setting – Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, where Rader grew up – and with setting, character and theme. Rader’s working-class cast is sometimes reminiscent of D.W. Wilson’s from Once You Break a Knuckle (Rader and Wilson share several influences, most notably Tim Winton). Rader’s other binding force is his juxtaposition of the historical and the contemporary, switching between the early 20th century and 100 years later. The result: History doesn’t necessarily repeat, but it sometimes rhymes. These characters’ struggles, if not literally a labour clash (as in the Vancouver Island Coal Strike of 1912-14), are nevertheless tied to work and class. A gritty portrait of people transitional or adrift, moved by forces outside their control.

Peacefield

By Philip David Alexander, Now Or Never, 179 pages, $19.95

Peacefield is a former blue-collar town in Central Ontario prettified for tourists and affluent newcomers. In his new novel, Philip David Alexander examines the damage beneath the fictional town’s wealthy veneer as a gunman takes hostages in an apartment block, resulting in a standoff with police. Peacefield could be called a crime novel insofar as it involves a shooting and focuses on two police officers, their families and the man who throws their lives into chaos. But make no mistake: This is no police procedural. Instead, Alexander examines the lines of tragedy that run through every family. The most notable tone is the pain of loss – missing fathers, missing brothers and sons, missing spouses, missing friends, missing high-school sweethearts – that results when one knows they have been well-loved. Mixing social and magical realism, Peacefield analyzes how relations between people can turn violent or redemptive, often the result of a single choice.

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