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book review

All That Sang

By Lydia Perovic, Esplanade Books, 107 pages, $19.95

I finished All That Sang in one sitting and picked up Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. They're different books: Perovic's novella is more fragmentary and while the prose has poetic moments, on some counts is maybe even more experimental, Smart's is a rush of poetry you have to let wash over you. And they're different stories – Perovic's about a Toronto opera critic who falls in love with her interview subject, France's leading (only?) female conductor – but they're both erotically charged stories of obsessive love, similarly permeated with the fatalism that arises when only one person in a relationship is so enamoured to become dispossessed of their self. Grand Central is of course a classic, but All That Sang holds its own in this comparison – not an update or a retelling, but a variation on a theme, on white-hot desire that ends in tears.

Rich and Poor

By Jacob Wren, BookThug, 181 pages, $20

Thirty pages into Rich and Poor I had yet to make a single marginal note – surprising. It's not that the novel was bad, but so solid. Where was the wild, anarchic energy that electrified Polyamorous Love Song? It's there, I learned, but I had to wait. Rich and Poor alternates narration between a rich man and a poor man, both nameless. Initially it reads as a parable about a magnanimous jerk and a representative of the Global South, but then there's a crisis, and it's once things fall apart that they get interesting. "All that is solid melts into air" – that's how Marx and Engels described the experience of capitalism; it could also apply to reading this book – a compliment. As with Wren's previous work, Rich and Poor is art in resistance, a work that dares to remind us of our capacity for revolutionary love despite the prevailing economic system's structural violence.

Straight to the Head

By Fraser Nixon, Arsenal Pulp Press, 304 pages, $17.95

Crime fiction has a way of drawing together all elements of society, from the upper crust at the yacht club to the morning drinkers at the past-prime bar livening their Blue with salt. In Straight to the Head it's not about the individuals – not the hired muscle, the dirty cops, the Soviet stripper wife, the husband descended from British royalty or the too-good child of immigrants – and it's not about the coke. It's not really even about the crime – a hundred pages from the end, that story sputters and stalls. Really this is about Vancouver in the lead up to Expo 86, on the cusp of its transformation from sleepy, Anglophilic town to Pacific Rim city of glass. One problem: The text is peppered with slurs, as well as a few caricatures. An author can plead authenticity to historical characters, but the question I left with in 2016 was: to what end?