Click on the title of each book to read Jim Bartley's full review.
SUB ROSA By Amber Dawn (Arsenal Pulp)
A teenage runaway gyrates on a bar table, ripe for recruitment to the economy of lust. Amber Dawn's shadowed dream world shrewdly subverts received notions about hookers' lives. She neither jerks tears nor courts outrage. Her household of three whores and a pimp echoes patterns of control and submission found in many a "normal" family. Each is vulnerable in ways that defy easy judgment. Cops are the villains here, vaulting imagination the saving grace.
CHERRY ELECTRA By Matt Duggan (Key Porter)
When did you last find a Buick compelling? Avaricious patricide, viewed through the dissembling jailhouse confession of an accomplice, is the open-throttle engine driving Cherry Electra. Duggan's telegraphic cop dialogue is just this side of parody: funny, fresh, genre-busting. Compressed irony, sensory verve and sardonic bite sum up the novel's voice - except where it raises lovely twinges of the heartbreaking.
LIGHT LIFTING By Alexander MacLeod (Biblioasis)
This Giller short-listed collection fully inhabits diverse inner worlds, from the rivalrous sensuality of male bonding to the gruelling yet comical learning curve of parenting. MacLeod's straight-up themes of endurance and frailty, boyish transgression or gnawing mid-life regret, unfold without a trace of cliché or sentiment. Muscular and uniquely voiced, these stories swim entirely in their own waters.
IN A PALE BLUE LIGHT By Lily Poritz Miller (Sumach)
It's best when a book sneaks up on you. Held by skilled storytelling, you feel things gathering to an essence you can't yet identify, hidden in the totality of lives you've been privileged to enter. Lily Poritz Miller's tale of a Jewish girlhood in 1940s Cape Town is a wonder of sleight-of-hand synthesis and catharsis, seething with the intolerance of the times, yet subtly and powerfully redemptive.
THE KNIFE SHARPENER'S BELL By Rhea Tregebov (Coteau)
The imminence of disaster - sensing it will come, not knowing how - infuses this tale of a Winnipeg family resettling in ancestral Ukraine. From callow childhood to belated understanding, snapshot scenes slowly coalesce into the arc of decades. Tregebov's sorrows are admirably unlyricized, her nostalgia tart rather than sweet. The emerging Holocaust lurks like a slumbering monster, determinedly denied until it begins to claim victims.