Tuco: The Parrot, the Others and a Scattershot World
By Brian Brett, Greystone, 324 pages, $32.95
Born with Kallmann syndrome, Brian Brett was misdiagnosed as intersex until the age of 20. Bullied by kids, adults and doctors alike for not being "man enough," his formative years were a period of violent othering. This story will be familiar to readers of Brett's previous memoirs, Uproar's Your Only Music and Trauma Farm, so why this latest addition? Tuco is not a straight memoir – it's something much more wondrously weird. The account of Brett's affinity with his companion, Tuco – a person also othered by society, because he's a parrot – Tuco's true subject is the great danger othering poses to society and our species. It says much about Brett that his case for radical empathy takes us through such varied subjects as The Divine Comedy and iguana language and it all works toward a thoroughly perceptive end. A view of the human predicament that is hilarious, sobering and profound.
By Helen Humphreys, ECW, 205 pages, $24.95
"How can we know anyone or anything?" Helen Humphreys asks as she observes the river beside her home of a decade. How to describe a thing in constant flux on its own terms? Of Humphreys's previous work, The River is physically most like The Frozen Thames: squarish, its pages slightly taller than they are wide, which is significant here because of what it allows Humphreys to do. Open the book and the double page is horizontal – a landscape. Through it flows a stream of text and image: history, geography, fiction, memoir, photos, maps, illustrations, lists. An intentionally meandering piece of visual storytelling, page design is integral to this book's meaning – if you must read it electronically, read it on a tablet, though such a beautiful object deserves space on your shelf. By turns poetic and philosophical (a phenomenology of the river?), a deeply contemplative work best enjoyed over several sittings.
By Richard Van Camp, Enfield & Wizenty, 193 pages, $19.95
There's a strange nostalgia to Bob Seger's 1976 hit song Night Moves – strange because there's nothing particularly desirable about the tale of early-onset disillusionment other than having your whole life ahead of you. Night Moves, the latest collection by Dogrib First Nations writer Richard Van Camp, shares the song's rough sensibility about being "young and restless and bored," with none of the nostalgia. Van Camp's focus is growing up in Fort Smith, NWT, or his fictionalized version, Fort Simmer, "a place of survival and miracles." His characters face much higher stakes than Seger's, though. Throughout these stories are people teetering between tenderness and violence, healing and trauma, hope and despair. These are universal themes, but rarely are they presented in such stark contrast, close proximity, or as the results of a single choice. Gripping portraits of youth in their make-or-break moment hinting at an Aboriginal population on the brink of something great.