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book review

The Bad Mother

By Marguerite Andersen, translated by Donald Winkler

Second Story Press, 216 pages, $19.95

In 1971, Marguerite Andersen began teaching an interdisciplinary course, Women in Modern Society, which resulted in a book called Mother Was Not a Person. The title references the Persons Case of 1929, in which the British Empire's court of last resort judged that Canadian women are indeed persons. For someone such as Andersen, who was born in Germany in 1924, that title rang true. The Bad Mother, Andersen's latest in a career spanning more than 20 books, is a work of autobiographical fiction exploring similar themes. In it we follow the life of Marguerite as she worries about the ways in which she might be deemed a bad mother – still one of the worst accusations that can be thrown at a woman – because at times she refused to sacrifice selfhood at the altar of motherhood. Though decades past the era Andersen mostly writes about, the bravery of this poetic work still resonates.

The Goddess of Fireflies

By Geneviève Pettersen, translated by Neil Smith

Esplanade Books, 200 pages, $19.95

Early in Geneviève Pettersen's debut our narrator receives a book, Christiane F., for her 14th birthday. Catherine will read this real-life book for much of Pettersen's novel, a point that might seem insignificant because Pettersen provides few details about Christiane, "about a 13-year-old junkie hooker," but really it's a kind of homage. Take West Berlin, heroin, Bowie and the depredation of 1970s Zoo Station out of Christiane F., replace that with PCP, Bad Religion, ex-bikers and skater-punks, put it in a cabin outside mid-nineties Chicoutimi, and you have something resembling The Goddess of Fireflies. Nothing's romantic about addiction, but everything's romantic about being a teenager, and in Goddess as in Christiane, the immediate lure isn't drugs, but youthful exuberance, a boy, a crowd. Christiane shocked because it was a true story about children. In Goddess, adult readers might at times grow frustrated with a drug-addled adolescent narrator, but that's realism.

Middle-Aged Boys & Girls

By Diane Bracuk

Guernica Editions, 212 pages, $20

I once had a professor who on a field trip chided my class for, in her view, our particularly Canadian habit (she an American) of referring to full-grown adults, people whom I suppose one would formally call men and women, as boys and girls. I enjoy imagining what that professor would make of this title, a collection loosely about men and women who may have grown up in some ways but at middle age have recently lost some status – loss of job, marriage, looks, even something as small as the tourist's false importance – and with that loss, reveal the inner child. Though this book is mostly fiction, it's capped by the final story, Doughnut Eaters, which won Prism International's 2015 non-fiction award. Lurid and suspenseful in a way you can't quite put your finger on till the end, Middle-Aged Boys & Girls marks a surprising and entertaining debut.