The Freedom in American Songs
By Kathleen Winter, Biblioasis 165 pages, $19.95
Though best known for her debut novel, Annabel, Kathleen Winter has long been a short-story writer. Her latest collection displays a kind of before and after: Part One consists of three stories, all centering on a woman named Marianne, that Winter originally wrote in her twenties. She revisited and revised them for publication here after her editor convinced her she should save something from this part of her writing life. What emerges in the Marianne stories is a strong sense of place as Marianne, an outsider from the city, moves to a Newfoundland coastal village in the hopes of writing. The 11 stories in Part Two are more recent. With the exception of the title story, readers of Annabel will find little in common, content-wise, between the novel and this collection. They do, however, share a theme: the individual in the community seeking some balance between freedom and belonging.
The Pull of the Moon
By Julie Paul, Brindle & Glass, 192 pages, $19.95
The through-line in Julie Paul's second collection of stories is a small yet powerful transformation in character: in each, a person feels the near-physical pull of something outside themselves. This is lunacy in its etymological sense: not mental illness necessarily – though for some, that does come to bear – but some older, vaguer belief that one could be moonstruck. And if so, why not struck by other nouns as well? These characters are compelled to act, but we should be careful of dismissing their actions as quirky "compulsions." If there is an underlying message, it's that we all at some point feel the pull of the moon. Paul is consistently quick off the mark in characterization and establishing scene: we fully inhabit the new, distinct world of each story by its second page. Collections can be hit-and-miss affairs. This one is thoroughly good.
The Search for Heinrich Schlögel
By Martha Baillie, Pedlar, 233 pages, $22
At the heart of Martha Baillie's fragmentary, highly original new novel is an inexplicable event. In 1980, at age 20, Heinrich Schlögel escapes his West German birthplace to hike Baffin Island's interior. The trip lasts two weeks, but when he returns the year is 2010 and he has not aged a day. His biography, the one we read, comes to us via an amateur archivist (also German, transplanted in Toronto) who has compiled "the Schlögel archive": letters, photographs, books read, and other bits of ephemera related to the young man. How much of the story is the archivist's invention? The use of an unreliable narrator has a point here: Baillie is turning the tables on the European, who has taken the place usually held by the "native" as specimen of study. The result is a philosophic, absorbing read on photography, the North, colonialism, ethnography, and the nature of time.