End of the Decade

     We at Encore Literary Magazine have glanced at a few of these CanLit Best of the Decade lists floating around the “blogosphere” lately and while the appearance of certain titles causes us to roll our eyes, we choose for the moment to restrain our snarkier selves to instead offer up a pair of Canadian novels which, if there were any justice, should have found their way onto at least one or two of said lists but, as far as we can see, somehow, someway, have not.

     First, Rogues’ Wedding by the prodigiously talented and always inventive Terry Griggs. Published in 2002 and nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, Griggs’ second novel is a wild linguistic romp set in 19th century Ontario, a riotous ride affording her cunning and slightly demented imagination free rein. The story follows one Griffith Smolders who, having abandoned the eager Avice Smolders without so much as a kiss on their wedding night, finds himself running for his very life from a very angry young bride. The pursuit moves northward from London, Ontario to Manitoulin Island and culminates in one of the most bizarre and blistering climactic scenes in recent Canadian fiction. To quote from Shaun Smith’s starred review in Quill & Quire:

      “For Griggs, every strange world is a portal into another equally strange one. With astonishing talent and control, she smashes apart Victorian society (and modern society by extension) and rebuilds it as a Swiftian fantasy, as raucous as Huckleberry Finn and as bizarre as Alice in Wonderland. This is a rich mixture, intensely intoxicating and bestowing delicious feelings of hallucination. Farce and satire elevate to a kind of surrealism or Dadaism. Bugs mysteriously emerge from people’s mouths; pretty girls vanish through doorways never to be seen again; a crow dons a baby’s bonnet; a woman wears a trout on a ribbon around her neck.”

     Similarly bracing and original imagery is also on display in Griggs’ latest work, Thought You Were Dead, a gleeful send-up of both murder mystery novels and the Canadian literary scene which has been described as “Agatha Christie on crack.” 

     Second, Muriella Pent by Russell Smith, a brilliant satire of the Toronto arts scene that spares nothing and no one while at the same time offering readers two of the most successfully realized and believable characters in all of CanLit. The story concerns the City Arts Board Action Council’s decision to sponsor a visit to Canada by Marcus Royston, a world-weary West Indian poet. However, Royston proves to be less interested in the “real issues” on the Action Council’s agenda than in publicly offending as many people as possible with his opinions on art and culture, while openly pursuing every attractive woman he meets and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Muriella Pent, an affluent member of the Action Council, provides lodging to Royston in her Annex mansion and her time with him releases her from the restraints of upper-class, WASPish Canadian life, allowing her to become something altogether different from who she thought she was.

      Nominated for the 2004 Impac Dublin Fiction Prize, Muriella Pent was acclaimed by André Alexis as the best novel of that year. The Ottawa Citizen declared it rivalled the satires of  Mordecai Richler, while Books in Canada raved that it was “funny, poignant, ambitious … and the boldest work yet,” in Smith’s oeuvre. All of us here at Encore Literary Magazine eagerly look forward to Girl Crazy.

     Yes, The Life of Pi won the Booker Prize and is being made into an Ang Lee film. Yes, The Book of Negroes has sold a gazillion copies. Yes, Lullabies for Little Criminals somehow convinced tens of thousands of Canadian women in the plausibility of an amazingly articulate and unjaded 13-year-old prostitute. But Ten Best of the Decade? We respectfully disagree.  Our riposte? Rogues’ Wedding and Muriella Pent. For the time being at least, they will suffice.