Results of the Governor General's Literary Award in the year 2002.
As Sawai deftly turns over the stones of these people’s lives and reveals the squalor, the fear and the unhappiness that lie beneath, she also uncovers that most precious of human qualities—hope.
The Case of Lena S. follows the life, loves, and coming-of-age of sixteen-year-old Mason Crowe during a year in which he will learn what it truly means to be in the world. At the centre of the novel is Lena, a troubled girl who has “chosen” Mason and will teach him something of desire and despair. Impulsive, provocative, vulnerable, and sad, Lena becomes haunting for Mason in ways he does not always understand. We meet Mason’s first “love,” an older girl destined for an arranged marriage; his mother, who takes a lover; and a wise and erudite blind man with a voyeuristic streak, to whom Mason reads. Playful, and with deadpan humour, the novel brilliantly captures the yearnings of youth, as well as the tantalizing possibilities and the confounding absurdities that sometimes lie at the heart of our most intimate relationships.
If you think political refugees who seek asylum in Canada are romantic figures, you need to meet Carlos Romero Estevez, the feckless antihero of Ann Ireland’s third novel, Exile. Carlos hails from a fictional Latin American country named Santa Clara, where he was a journalist who fell afoul of the country’s most powerful general for purely personal, not political, reasons. After hiding out in a friend’s basement for four months, Carlos suddenly gets shipped to Vancouver where a group of earnest academic do-gooders have sponsored his asylum and landed him a cushy writer-in-exile gig at the university. The book plays back and forth between the expectations of the naive Canadians who are looking for a suitably grateful hero to worship and the selfish lifestyle of Carlos himself—he refuses to give up smoking, drinking, and steak dinners even as they break his benefactors’ budget; he’s used to having impoverished female servants around to do his cooking and laundry for him; and he hits on…[more]
The Navigator of New York is set against the background of the tumultuous rivalry between Lieutenant Peary and Dr. Cook to get to the North Pole at the beginning of the 20th century. It is also the story of a young man’s quest for his origins, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to the bustling streets of New York, and the remotest regions of the Arctic.
Devlin Stead’s father, an Arctic explorer, stops returning home at the end of his voyages and announces he is moving to New York, as “New York is to explorers what Paris is to artists”; eventually he is declared missing from an expedition. His mother meets an untimely death by drowning shortly after. Young Devlin, who barely remembers either of them, lives contently in the care of his affectionate aunt and indifferent uncle, until taunts from a bullying fellow schoolboy reveal dark truths underlying the bare facts he knows about his family. A rhyme circulated around St. John’s further isolates Devlin, always seen as an odd…[more]
I’m not interested, the way some people are, in being sad. I’ve had a look, and there’s nothing down that road. Well now! What about the ripping sound behind my eyes, the starchy tearing of fabric, end to end; what about the need I have to curl up my knees when I sleep?
For all of her life, 44 year old Reta Winters has enjoyed the useful monotony of happiness: a loving family, good friends, growing success as a writer of light ‘summertime’ fiction. But this placid existence is cracked wide open when her beloved eldest daughter, Norah, drops out to sit on a gritty street corner, silent but for the sign around her neck that reads ‘GOODNESS.’ Reta’s search for what drove her daughter to such a desperate statement turns into an unflinching and surprisingly funny meditation on where we find meaning and hope.
Warmth, passion and wisdom come together in Shields’ remarkably supple prose. Unless, a harrowing but ultimately consoling story of one family’s anguish and healing, proves her mastery of extraordinary fictions about ordinary life.