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book review

Cabalcor: An Extracted History

By Sun Belt, Anvil, 168 pages, $24

In this genre-bending work, interdisciplinary arts group Sun Belt brings together pieces of an invented history (photos, oil paintings, journal entries, film transcripts, interviews) to chronicle the boom and bust of fictional oil-sands company town Cabalcor. The authors carefully keep Cabalcor's whereabouts vague, all the while rooting the town in its geography and ecology and the original, native inhabitants' relation to the place. Is it in the United States or Canada? Even this is uncertain. (One fragment measures time in "Half a dozen presidents and at least that many prime ministers.") The result of this locational vagueness: Cabalcor is not, as far as this reviewer can tell, intended as a thinly veiled commentary on a real-life town or even on the oil sands. Rather, it ruminates on the larger issues of extraction, migration, labour and "desertification" in all its senses. True to Sun Belt's interdisciplinary practice, a downloadable 10-track album accompanies the book.


By Alexandra Grigorescu, ECW, 314 pages, $18.95

When 20-year-old Hannah's long-time guardian dies of mysterious causes, she leaves Hannah with more than her childhood home by the Louisiana swamp. Without Mae to protect her, Hannah finds herself suddenly visited by nightmares, monsters seen out of the corner of her eye and house invaders – not to mention her birth mother, reviled in the nearby town for her claim to communicate with the dead. From Mae's death on, we have the sense that Hannah is no longer safe. Giving away much more would be spoiling it, but Alexandra Grigorescu soon ratchets up the sense of danger and Hannah must reluctantly confront her relationship to the paranormal. Unease haunts this southern gothic: Between the longer sections concerning the present, Grigorescu builds suspense by doling out in precise increments Hannah's backstory (it involves a boy believed to be possessed who died in a fire). An intense debut bolstered by a powerful sense of place.

To Dance the Beginning of the World

By Steven Hayward, Exile, 232 pages, $19.95

Steven Hayward's latest set of stories is in itself strong, but there's a catch. Fans of his previous work might find To Dance the Beginning of the World a bit of a letdown, though it has nothing to do with the quality of the work. Recognize that title? Only five of the 12 stories here are new; the other seven, including the title story, appeared in Hayward's previous collection, Buddha Stevens, published to acclaim in 2000. Readers who enjoyed Buddha Stevens will find similar fare in the new stories. One of them, Aunt Daisy's Secret Sauce for Hamburgers, employs the same Wallacian love of footnotes as The Obituary of Philomena Beviso and To Dance the Beginning of the World. If you're new to Hayward's short stories (he has also authored two novels), don't let the foregoing deter you: He clearly takes pleasure in the form. One only wishes he had produced more in the past 15 years.

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