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The Winnipeg Review

Review of Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, by Suzette Mayr (Coach House Books), Issue 28, July 2017

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If one has spent any time working and teaching in a post-secondary institution, it’s nearly impossible to read Suzette Mayr’s new novel, set on the campus of the fictional University of Inivea somewhere in Alberta, without recognizing the crisis of self-confidence experienced by the hapless, anxiety-ridden Dr. Edith Vane.

Seven years into her unremarkable career at the U of I as a scholar of English literature, Edith is embarking on a new fall semester, determined that this year “will be her supernova year.” Her PhD dissertation-turned-bona-fide book is finally, after nineteen years, about to be published—a study of the lost work of Beulah Crump-Withers, “former sporting girl, then housewife, prairie poet, maven memoirist, and all-round African-Canadian literary genius.” With few publications to her name, Edith is convinced she has at last accomplished something that will truly legitimize her standing among her unforgiving fellow academics, and rescue her from the danger of eligibility for the university’s euphemistically named EnhanceUs Refreshment Strategy. Mayr (who teaches at the University of Calgary) successfully pokes marvelous fun at such corporate encroachments on post-secondary education and the administrators who execute their cunning strategic plans.

Read the full review here.

Review of So Much Love, by Rebecca Rosenblum (McClelland & Stewart), Issue 27, April 2017

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To read Toronto writer Rebecca Rosenblum’s first novel, recently nominated for the 2017 Amazon.ca First Novel Award, as mainly a thriller about the mysterious disappearance of two people from their small Ontario town, is to place too much emphasis on the surface of this quietly brilliant novel, overlooking its deeper, perhaps less conspicuous themes and implications.

It is true that the story of Catherine Reindeer’s abduction and captivity in the company of high school student Donny Zimmerman is critical to the framework of So Much Love. Without Catherine and her ordeal at the centre of the story providing a point of connection, the novel operates as essentially a collection of discrete vignettes of the lives of minor, though fascinating and well-drawn, characters. The “worst thing to ever happen to Catherine,” tragic and horrifying to be sure, serves as the novel’s through line. It keeps the story’s momentum going while allowing Rosenblum to digressively explore, through her peripheral characters and their ties to Catherine, the intricacies of intimate relationships, the ways in which love both saves and destroys, and the capacity of art to provide light in dark times.

Read the full review here.

Review of  Meadowlark, by Wendi Stewart (NeWest Press), Issue 21, November 2015

Meadowlark-coverIt is a very human tendency to look for reason and meaning in tragedy in order to cope with the terrifying randomness of life’s misfortunes. Wendi Stewart’s notable debut novel, Meadowlark, tells the story of a senseless family catastrophe: the drowning death in an icy lake of a mother and her toddler son. For six-year-old Rebecca Archer and her father, Robert, the loss of half of their family is a devastation that permanently alters the course and substance of their lives.

When the Archers’ car goes through the ice on Rainy Lake in northwestern Ontario in March of 1962, Robert can save only Rebecca from the sinking vehicle. Having made the fateful decision, to drive across the ice-covered lake to reach their cabin late in the winter season, despite being warned against it, Robert is consumed by guilt as he lays his wife and son to rest and returns with Rebecca to their farmhouse. Destroyed not only by the emotional torment of his grief, the formerly robust and able farmer is also reduced physically by the tragedy, having lost his toes and most of his fingers to frostbite. Rebecca heartbreakingly knows that in many ways she’s lost her father, too: “Instead of a family, my father is stuck with me, the teams are chosen and I am the only one left standing. If we were in the yard, he would lift his head, tip his chin as if to say come on, but he has already given up, certain he will never win.”

Read the full review here.

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Copyright © 2016, Dana Hansen. All rights reserved.