By R.H. Slansky, Anvil, 72 pages, $16
Ever wonder if the mad-dash products of speed-writing contests can be any good? With Moss-Haired Girl, winner of the 2013 Three-Day Novel Contest, R.H. Slanksy answers in the affirmative and offers some guidance by example to would-be contestants: Start with a great premise and bite off only so much as you can chew. The novella's subtitle – The confessions of a circus performer, by Zara Zalinzi, annotated by Joshua Chapman Green – gives a taste of what's in store. After Chapman Green, a published expert in the weird, rediscovers Zalinzi's short memoir, which fascinated him as a child, he sets out to discover the real story behind the eponymous moss-haired girl. Such a premise is narrative alchemy. We get both Zalinzi's larger-than-life story (undercut by Chapman Green's research) and Chapman Green's quest narrative all in one. At 72 pages, it's a slight but extremely fun read. Let's see what Slansky can do with a few more days.
Cease: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Desire
By Lynette Loeppky, Oolichan, 390 pages, $22.95
Lyn and Cec tacitly understood that if anyone were to exit the relationship, it would be Lyn, and after 81/2 years with the dedicated but domineering Cec, Lyn is quietly but seriously considering exactly that. Then Cec falls seriously ill and suddenly Lyn becomes caregiver to the woman she was soon to leave. Many threads of interest run through this thoughtful and carefully woven memoir: Lyn and Cec's discovery of their desire – Cec's in midlife and Lyn's in the midst of a Mennonite upbringing; their somewhat closeted relationship in "family-values" Alberta; the familiar story of how an illness can both change a person and make her more like herself. What sets this apart from other illness or caregiver memoirs, however, is the temporal coincidence – a relationship's end and an individual's demise – and the questions that arise from it: Chiefly, why do we stay?
When the Bottom Falls Out
By H. Nigel Thomas, Mawenzi House, 160 pages, $20.95
In his latest story collection, H. Nigel Thomas returns to his previous settings of Montreal (his long-time home) and the fictional Caribbean island of Isabella, which featured in his novels Behind the Face of Winter and Return to Arcadia. Thomas's Isabellans are hounded by their pasts, whether they have remained on the island or travelled abroad. The protagonist of the title story considers the forces that have brought him back to the island after he completed his studies at Concordia, and from there have led him to the jail cell where he now sits. Another story traces a complex family tree, which, along with a long-held family secret, leads to a dramatic turn of fortune. In Isabella Island and its diaspora, Thomas (who was born and raised in St. Vincent) has produced a complex and specific portrait of a Caribbean nation and particularly of race within the continued effects of colonialism.