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1. SIEGE 13 Tamaz Dobozy (Thomas Allen)
Brilliantly conceived stories convey the devastating trauma of Hungarians caught between Nazi occupiers and Communist Russian invaders in 1944 Budapest. Some of Dobozy's finely drawn characters are desperate to survive; some want to find meaning in their history. All search to make sense of their choices, but as every story emphasizes, war is essentially a lose-lose proposition. Winner of the Writers' Trust fiction award and a must-read.
2. CARNIVAL Rawe Hage (Anansi)
Told from the perspective of book-loving cabbie Fly - who engages with everyone from anti-capitalist activists to ruthless drug dealers - Carnival's stream of consciousness has that rare combination of beauty and rage. In a year when many critically acclaimed books play it ridiculously safe, Hage heads straight for the riskiest terrain, with tons of voice. Fiction that roars.
3. WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK Nathan Englander (Knopf)
These superb stories probe the dilemmas facing Jews in North America in ways that will make you giddy. Sister Hills, an almost perfect nugget, is a powerful metaphor for the intractability of the Mideast conflict. Englander was almost incoherent during an appearance at the ROM this fall. But that doesn't mean this isn't the most important book about Jews in the diaspora since Harold Jacobson's The Finkler Question.
4. RU Kim Thúy (Random House)
Thúy's episodic account of An Tinh and her wealthy family's immigration from Saigon to Montreal is full of crystalline prose rich in devastating detail. Winding back and forth through An's life in Vietnam and Canada, Ru is a clear-eyed, unflinching work, relentless and yet, in its pristine poetic language, strangely tender.
5. ASTRAY Emma Donoghue (HarperCollins)
After the blockbuster success of Room, Donoghue returns to her signature strategy: inventing stories based on real life people she's discovered from scouring libraries in the UK and North America. Donoghue's characters grapple with gender constraints, the pain of slavery, the hustle of the gold rush and more in short, pleasurable tales.
6. STRAY LOVE Kyo Maclear (HarperCollins)
Maclear mines her experience as the child of a war correspondent but does much than that in this gem of a novel probing childhood fears, what inspires - and blocks - an artist and the devastation of war-shattered cities. All beautiful.
7. ONE GOOD HUSTLE Billie Livingston (Random House)
In this book about love and anxiety, it's clear that kids often adore their crappy parents. Sammie, brought up by expert con artists, still can't get enough of her AWOL dad and has a complicated relationship with her alcoholic mother, Marlene. Expertly drawn characters and superb storytelling by an underappreciated writer.
8. ARE YOU MY MOTHER? Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin)
Graphic novelist Bechdel, who started with the comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, caught mainstream attention in 2006 with Fun Home and then knocked it out of the park with this book that links her own neuroses to her need for her mother's attention. Engaging illustrations make big things out of small moments.
9. EVERYBODY HAS EVERYTHING Katrina Onstad (Emblem)
Onstad makes a significant leap into the deep end with this story of a woman who has trouble coming clean with her husband, James, about the fact that she doesn't want children. When she becomes the guardian of a friend's son after a car accident, her conflict with gung-ho new dad James surfaces. Brave work from a writer who gets better with every book.
10. OUT OF THE BLUE Jan Wong (self-published)
Wong's personal story of falling into a deep depression and then being fired by her employer, the Globe and Mail, is told with uncommon fury by a skilled journalist.
MAD HOPE by Heather Birrell
SWEET JESUS by Christine Pountney
THE BLONDES by Emily Schultz
GOLD by Chris Cleave
IN ONE PERSON by John Irving
THE WESTERN LIGHT by Susan Swan
419 by Will Ferguson
THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER by Junot Diaz
Some say the surest sign that American lit is in trouble is the fact that 50 SHADES OF GREY dominated the bestseller list this year. I look more to the unfathomable praise heaped on shallow works like AMERICAN DERVISH and THE ART OF FIELDING. Even the Pulitzer Prize panel couldn't find a book worthy of its fiction prize. Situation critical.
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