Last year’s NL Reads panelist and winner Chad Pelley gives his opinions on what’s been happening this year. In 2012 he took the title for Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant.
Most of us know Pelley from his award winning novel Away from Everywhere. His second book is coming out in March and it’s already making lists as one of the most anticipated books of 2013. Pelley, no slouch, runs the tireless Salty Ink and recently joined the good people of Fierce Ink Press, and revisited his past, to release a “fierce short” about suicide and loss. Buy the story here.
Here’s what Chad had to say:
The first thing to say about 2013’s Newfoundland Reads is that it’s a fine batch a books: obvious choices, sure, but books I can get behind and would myself go to bat for. Al Pittman is arguably the quintessential Newfoundland author: he not only contributed greatly to our island’s body of work, but fostered and supported the local writing scene in big and lasting ways.
Michelle’s choice of Hynes’s Straight Razor Days was a good one too. I’m a big fan of Hynes for two reasons: he’s admirably active – not just writing fiction, but writing songs, acting, taking photos, dabbling heavily in theatre. I’ve got no time for slacker artists who talk more shit than they do, and in that regard, Joel sets the bar sky-high. As well, I think his body of work captures a truer picture of Newfoundland than most too-precious renderings of the place. We’re a bunch of hard Goddamn tickets, just as much as we’re good as gold, or whatever the rest of Canada wants to think. But Straight Razor Days gave Joel a chance to step away from that bad-ass fiction routine he’s known for, and to showcase a more thoughtful, introspective mind at work, in a way that let his writing shine more than a novel can. I consider Straight Razor Days something I want to see more of: not poetry so much as poetic fleeting thoughts. It’s basically a book of well-articulated journal entries. I used to blog about my reactions to life, and was surprised how shocked people were to see such honesty laid bare for the world to see: true, real time, drunkenly fueled reactions to break-ups, deaths, self-doubt, whatever. Because of that, I’ve always known there was a market for what I’ll call fleeting thoughts (or what Hynes calls poetic narratives), if there was a publisher with as much integrity as Pedlar Press to publish a book of the stuff, and I don’t know a soul who didn’t love Straight Razor Days.
And Kenneth J. Harvey’s Inside? It’s the only novel I’ve ever read in one sitting, and one of the most stylistically innovative novels I’ve read. It’s basically a novel in punchy sentence fragments. I dunno if that was to reflect a man’s state of mind after being release from prison, or to be punchy, direct, and distinct – but it worked on both fronts. There’s even an authentic, non-cliché romance in there, amidst the darkness. It’s a fantastic novel by a writer who’s influenced my own writing – by making me want a reader feeling my stories, not just reading them. And I also like a nice marketing story: the man is an internationally successful powerhouse, and Inside, arguably his most successful novel, was written, self-edited, and submitted in just 6 weeks. It’s a stylistic gem, and I’ve included it on a lists of The Top Ten Novels out of Newfoundland.
As for Michael Crummey’s Galore, it’s the man’s masterpiece, and a classic story of a writer going with their gut and having it pay off. To be honest, The Wreckage is my favourite book of Crummey’s, but where The Wreckage made a splash in CanLit, Galore was a freaking typhoon, and soaked the guy with constant, wide-spread applause in 2009. In fact, it was possibly the biggest Canadian novel of 2009, and certainly the best-received book out of Atlantic Canada that year. I admire Crummey’s going for it with this book: there was every chance a novel built largely from wild Newfoundland folklore would be a flop. And he knew it, over the course of working on it for years. In fact, I’m surprised Random House took a shot on it – they’re a conservative lot. But they did, and the country fell madly in love with it. I love that the guy – a tremendous writer and through-and-through Newfoundlander – stuck to his guns, wrote what was begging to get out of him, and that it paid off, big time. He gave CanLit the Newfoundland novel it always wanted, and CanLit gave him their undying love in return. Moral of the story: go with your gut, kids (and you too, publishers).
As for Kathleen’s Annabel, she nailed it. I was a mammothly big fan of her punchier, electric book of short stories, boYs, and was not expecting a novel like this from the author of boys – a funny statement, considering Wayne’s story was almost a short story in boYs, but her publisher didn’t think it gelled well with the collection. Instead, she used Wayne’s story to build a novel, that became, unquestionably, the best-received book of 2010. Her writing is a mesmerizing combination of crisp language, deep empathy for her well-wrought characters, and a world-savvy wisdom. Annabel is an unforgettable novel of struggles, personal and inter-personal, and Kathleen’s empathetic voice does them justice in a way that connects reader to story. I reviewed this for The Telegram the week it hit the shelves, and I said, “Destined to be the biggest novel out of Newfoundland this year, this is a story of isolation and a communication breakdown that breaks a family down, and breaks the reader down along with them.” About the first bit of the sentence: I’m not clairvoyant, it was merely a statement of the obvious and testament to her craft.
So who’s going to win NL Reads this year? I dunno. . . . I couldn’t pick a winner, because their qualities and appeal differ too greatly. More than anything: I love seeing readers care this much about books.