Like Any Other Monday
By Binnie Brennan, Gaspereau, 200 pages, $27.95
After "Boffo" Billy Pascoe breaks up the family vaudeville act in 1916, he plans on going solo. Ballerina and soprano Lucinda Hart, one half of the Hart Sisters, is herself forced to go it alone when her team's other half gets knocked up. While staying at an actors' colony near Gravenhurst, Ont., the two form an unlikely duo, with Lu the ingenuous straightman to Billy's pratfalls. Billy is based on young Buster Keaton, and, while fictional, the novel shows careful research on the world of vaudeville at the time. Perhaps fittingly for a novel about the stage, Brennan relies heavily on dramatic action: we're offered little of what characters feel beyond what they say and do. As with any boy-girl pairing with a bit of tension, we think we see this love story's conclusion from the start, but heartbreak is the flipside to comedy in Pascoe & Hart's act.
How You Were Born
By Kate Cayley, Pedlar, 152 pages, $22
In the two stories that bookend this otherwise unlinked collection, a female couple considers the birth of their daughter. In the first, Resemblance, they travel to visit the girl's biological grandmother – her father's mother. The last, the title story, takes place years before, when the two are en route to visit the friend who will help them conceive. How You Were Born is directed to the daughter, the "how" not conception so much as condition at birth. "You have allegiances," Robin explains. "You will discover that, when you are born." The intervening stories work with the power of resemblance and allegiance: A man knows he is about to die when his doppelganger moves next door; a preteen falls in love with an acrobat for his dragon tattoo. All are told with the unblinking watchfulness of the newborn with hints of the strangeness of the world when it is new.
By Cyrille Martinez, Coach House, 108 pages, $17.95
The Sleepworker is the story of lovers: Andy, an unemployed artist, and John, an unemployed poet, set in the present but based on Andy Warhol, John Giorno and their 1963 film Sleep. (Further knowledge of the backstory augments, but is not necessary to appreciate the novel.) Translated from the French by Joseph Patrick Stancil, Martinez employs a smart-aleck, deadpan humour from the first line: "The name New York New York comes from New which means new, newish, novel, from York which means York, and from New York which means New York." New York New York, without comma, is not quite New York, New York, but that's the point: like one of Warhol's paintings, The Sleepworker celebrates the simulated, the surface, its own not-quiteness. Like its young protagonists, it does so with reckless confidence. At 108 pages the style is not overdone – a light and captivating session of rumour.