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book review

Low By Anna Quon, Invisible Publishing, 287 pages, $19.95

Is there anyone so mysterious as the self? In Anna Quon's novel of mental illness, 19-year-old Adriana Song's slide into depression is so slow, it's hard to say when it begins. In fact, she is feeling merely low until well-meaning people push her to a crisis – or so it seems. Quon tells the story in third person but keeps the reader so close to Song that it's hard to tell whether the character's stay at the Nova Scotia Hospital is driving her crazy or if that's just her mindset colouring our view. The result is an empathetic coming-of-age story about the redemptive power of love. (Sadly, though, the book is marred by sloppy proofreading.)

Jack Chambers' Red and Green: An Artist's Inquiry into the Nature of Meaning Decrypted by Tom Smart The Porcupine's Quill, 173 pages, $22.95

In Canadian art circles Jack Chambers's Red and Green is the stuff of legend. Begun in 1969 when Chambers was diagnosed with leukemia, it's the original literary mash-up: hundreds of quotations selected and arranged to present the painter and filmmaker's theory of perception. Due to copyright restrictions, Chambers's manuscript remains unpublishable, but we now have the next best thing. Former McMichael gallery head Tom Smart provides a detailed analysis even while retaining authorial distance from his subject, acknowledging, for instance, where Chambers's mysticism may test readers' credulity. This dense, theoretical book is not for everyone, but it remains a fascinating portrait of an artist's quest for transcendence in the face of mortality.

Keeping the Peace By Colette Maitland, Biblioasis, 238 pages, $19.95

Someone must pay the price to keep the peace. In this debut collection of stories, only one character bears the formal title of "peacekeeper" – and he's dead – but each story has its person who will pay a personal toll, voluntarily or not, to avoid conflict. Set in small-town Eastern Ontario, the threat of social censure is a prominent force running through the collection. Greater linking of stories would have bolstered the sense, to which several characters attest, that in a small community everyone knows your business. Individually these stories are well rendered, with a wide array of lifelike characters facing moments of personal compromise.

Are You Ready to Be Lucky? By Rosemary Nixon, Freehand Books, 228 pages, $21.95

"God abhors divorce." So says a minister in Rosemary Nixon's comedy of middle-aged divorcees ready to find true love for the second, third, maybe even the fourth time. Unlucky for the minister, his charges don't take things so seriously. In this book, "Till death do us part" is given as much reverence as the bouquet – composed of vegetables – carried down the aisle by a happy-go-lucky bride. Nixon's characters reveal foibles rich with farce and this is where the author is at her best. The stories unravel at the end, making for a realistic if not entirely satisfying conclusion, yet the characters remain hopeful of their chances, even after rolling a seven.