Here are ten works of Canadian fiction which have, over the years, particularly moved me. This list is by no means authoritative or complete, just ten books. There are way too many Canadian fiction writers and works for any one person to be familiar with all of them. Many major works do not appear on my list. This is only my subjective list of ten Canadian novels or story collections which have meant a lot to me. I live a few hundred miles south of Canada but often look north to find good fiction.
‘Fifth Business’ by Robertson Davies (1970) – This is the novel which more than any other got me started, for better or worse, down the road of reading literature. I wound up devouring the entire Deptford Trilogy and thus realized that there were writers I never heard of out there writing great stuff. Davies was a magician with words.
‘Autobiography of Red – A Novel in Verse’ by Anne Carson (1998) – Carson brings the Greek tale of Geryon into modern life as only she can do. This is poetry for people who generally don’t read poetry. There is a place reserved on Mount Olympus for Anne Carson.
‘The Wars’ by Timothy Findley (1977) – This novel, more than any other, depicts trench warfare and the other nightmares of World War I as we follow a Canadian enlisted man to France. ‘The Wars’ was one of the first war novels to bring Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to our attention.
‘The Beggar Maid – Stories of Rose and Flo’ by Alice Munro (1978) – In Canada, this collection was called ‘Who Do You Think You Are’. This is the story collection that got me started reading Alice Munro, and I have never stopped since. She has been called a modern-day Chekhov.
‘The Loved and the Lost’ by Morley Callaghan (1951) – This is a novel about a white woman who becomes fascinated with black music and culture and men in Montreal jazz nightclubs of the 1950s. Morley Callaghan was probably most famous during his lifetime for knocking down Ernest Hemingway in a boxing match refereed by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood (1985) – This is science fiction, but not too far-fetched, of a totalitarian Christian fundamentalist takeover of the United States government. The Christians are able to quickly take away all women’s rights.
“I like to think that I am telling a story rather than writing it.” – Alastair MacLeod
‘A Fairly Good Time’ by Mavis Gallant (1970) – Mavis Gallant published 116 stories in the New Yorker, and her stories are excellent. Here is one of her two novels which are now available at NYBR Classics. She is a pleasurable writer you read for the well-crafted sentences. I want to read another of her short story collections very soon. Here is the best sentence I found regarding Mavis Gallant.
“We feel that if a story doesn’t illuminate a whole life, Gallant’s not interested in writing it.” – Francine Prose
‘The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz’ by Mordecai Richler (1959) – This is an hilarious satire of juvenile delinquents in a Jewish slum district in Montreal. This you read with a perpetual smile on your face.
Do you have Canadian favorites? I would like to hear from you as to your favorite Canadian writers. Surely there are many I have missed.