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Review: New books from Sky Gilbert, Drew Hayden Taylor and others

Sad Old Faggot

By Sky Gilbert

ECW, 176 pages, $19.95

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"So, I'm going to tell the truth about Sky Gilbert. The whole truth and nothing but the truth." This is not, in the most literal sense, true. Sky Gilbert writes about his 2000 memoir vy, "it's the facts about me but none of the inner truth." Sad Old Faggot, a work of autofiction, is (maybe!) the opposite. Here is the truth of the Sky Gilbert of this book: At 62 years of age, he is having a crisis of faggotry. As the opening chapter title asks (a reference to Sheila Heti's autobiographical fiction), "How should a faggot be" when he's still a "hopeless" slut but has got bad knees? Readers of Heti's work may remember it featured an "ugly painting competition." Gilbert, best known as a playwright and long-time artistic director of Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, shies away from neither ugliness nor degradation. He's not that sad though. Between the lines, there's a cute love story.

The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth: Personal Stories by Canadian Muslim Women

Edited by Saima S. Hussain

Mawenzi House, 184 pages, $24.95

You might not know that the woman at the heart of the niqab "debate" in the 2015 federal election chose to wear the face covering despite the concerns of her family. You also might not know that Zunera Ishaq has a master's degree in English literature. As this collection of 21 autobiographical stories from Canadian Muslim women attests, many Muslim women (Muslimah) disagree with the politics of covering the face, but it is a personal question that requires a personal answer. Diversity is this book's MO: immigrant and Canadian-born, converted and Islam-raised, those at times fervent or indifferent in their faith – The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth presents a kaleidoscopic view of Koranic interpretation, marriage and family, the role of women, and experiences of Islamophobia and tolerance, including perspectives from gay Muslimahs and Muslimahs with disabilities. Such an assortment allows for few broad generalizations other than a desire for more of these stories, hopefully in full-length works.

Take Us to Your Chief: And Other Stories

By Drew Hayden Taylor

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Douglas & McIntyre, 160 pages, $18.95

Drew Hayden Taylor admits the words "First Nation" and "science fiction" don't usually go together. This is not purely a technological issue. How is a person supposed to honour the Four Directions when in space there is no morning or evening, no earth or sky, and burning anything on board a spacecraft is strictly verboten? One of the nine First Nations science fiction stories in Take Us to Your Chief poses this question (it also gives you a sense of Taylor's humour). All the hallmarks of the genre are here – superheroes, dystopian societies, space and time travel, robots and artificial intelligence, alien encounters both peaceful and violent – but from a First Nations' perspective. In many of these stories, Taylor returns to Otter Lake reserve, fictional setting of previous books (Taylor is of the Curve Lake First Nation in Central Ontario). This writing is not a subgenre unto itself yet, but it should be. A critical engagement with the present and a promise of futurity.

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