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Review: An Extraordinary Destiny by Shekhar Paleja, The Encyclopedia of Lies by Christopher Gugdeon and Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall by Suzette Mayr

An Extraordinary Destiny

By Shekhar Paleja

Brindle & Glass, 272 pages, $19.95

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In a moment awake to the spectres of fascism in America and Europe, one can only be struck by the scarcity of international attention to the well-established Hindu nationalism in India. Shekhar Paleja's debut novel charts this movement's rise by examining the currency of the kundali (or Hindu natal horoscope) on the personal and national level. One drawback: Sometimes, this book seems self-conscious of a reader unfamiliar with contemporary India. Filling in a reader without drawing attention to this act is one of those sleights of hand that make writing fiction so hard. Where Paleja stumbles in this, it momentarily breaks the illusion of psychological realism. Paleja's characters are complex people, not types; in Anush and Varoon especially, one has a sense of how history moves through a person and changes them. An Extraordinary Destiny has many strengths, but it's not entirely confident in them. A good start for a debut novelist; a worthy read for the arc of the story, with some infelicities.

The Encyclopedia of Lies

By Christopher Gudgeon

Anvil Press, 224 pages, $20

To give a feeling of Christopher Gudgeon's new collection, let's turn to the story that gives the book its name. In The Widow Soré, the title character finds among her deceased fiancé Guillermo's papers what appears to be a stack of letters. Titled The Encyclopedia of Lies, the letters recount the romantic, outsized exploits of another Guillermo, or one whom Isabel takes to be another Guillermo, because this must be a work of fiction, unless. Isabel travels to visit another woman who might hold the answer. "Any evidence regarding the true nature of Guillermo – whether he was one man or two, many or all – was not as important as the words each woman used to define their memories of him," Gudgeon writes. The implication runs through Gudgeon's motley crew: roughly half of these 16 stories contain a recurring cast glanced from multiple angles. We contain multitudes, but our many-or-allness is less important than the stories that define us, even if those stories turn out to be an encyclopedia of lies.

Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall

By Suzette Mayr

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Coach House Books, 224 pages, $18.95

It has its admirers, but who among us familiar with the modern Canadian university has not considered brutalist architecture's murderous qualities? The campus or academic novel has long been a satiric genre (albeit with notable exceptions) – Suzette Mayr's contribution to this tradition takes on the corporatized university: thick in cow manure, so rich soil for satire, but also a dehumanizing nightmare. Edith Vane, professor of English literature, perhaps naively got her PhD because she loved reading and her dissertation subject, Canadian pioneer housewife Beulah Crump-Withers. Edith is intent on starting the school year on the right foot, but in addition to the budget-slashing new dean – constantly threatening faculty with being refreshed, in the new argot – there is something very wrong with Crawley Hall, home to liberal arts at the University of Inivea in Alberta. The building itself seems malevolent, more dangerous than the asbestos in its walls. Mayr's gothic horror, if anything, only sharpens the parody, published just as school's out.

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