Two Local Authors Up for CBC Bookie Awards. And You Can Vote. Or Just Read These Reviews.

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There are eleven categories in this year’s vote-based Bookie Awards,
and Lisa Moore’s Caught is up for Best Canadian Fiction. Voting takes place here.

Prison escapes, high-sea adventures, corrupt military men: Caught is unquestionably a cinematic story, readymade for the big screen, and most reviews of Moore’s new novel speak to Lisa’s departure from character-driven fiction to a more plot-driven book. But that’s an oversimplified take. David Slaney is as richly rendered a character as Helen O’Mara of February, and to overlook that is to slight Moore’s first-rate characterization in Caught. As always, she’s as good as anyone in getting to the core of a character and showing us what makes them tick and tock. She does a tremendous job of that in Caught. In a nutshell, the book is split into two narratives, focusing primarily on David Slaney, a man who has escaped prison, years into a sentence for spearheading one of the biggest pot-smuggling cases in Canadian history. Slaney’s out, and he’s trying to do it all over again. The second narrative, with less air time, is that of a law man whose career hinges on capturing Slaney. As always in Moore’s work, her biggest strength is her ability to make us feel what her characters are feeling. What adds to her criminal-on-the-run novel, is Moore’s decision to have both Slaney and Patterson (the detective) be legitimately great guys. The effect is you’ll be rooting for both.

The novel certainly also feels like commentary on where has our sense of adventure gone? Slaney risks everything for this adventure, from his freedom to his profound love for a woman named Jenifer. As for Patterson, he needs the promotion to earn the respect of his authorities, sure, but mostly to help fund his half-brother’s place in an expensive facility. They’re both good guys — and Patterson even witnesses Slaney risk his life for a perfect stranger. The fact that Moore has us rooting for them both forces an interesting pull on readers: we can’t truly root for one without feeling bad for the other. This is also a book about trust and loyalties, and what better a way to put them to the test than a drug operation, where motivation to be loyal and disloyal are heightened. Fear and greed are cranked high in this novel, and one’s own best interests can be a complicated thing: looking out for yourself can blur moral and selfish lines.

If Lisa Moore has been the Canadian writer to raise the bar for quality sentence-level writing in Canadian fiction (which she has been), then Caught will be the novel to expand the bounds of what literary fiction is allowed to be. That’s not to say she’s pioneered the idea of “literary genre fiction,” but rather to acknowledge she’s published what’s arguably 2013′s best-received book so far, and it’s a book being extolled for having fused the two fundamental genres of fiction.  This novel is full of pace, punch, questions of morality and humanity, flawless characters, and passages that shine like literary gold.

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There are eleven categories in this year’s vote-based Bookie Awards, 
and Mary Dalton’s Hooking is up for Best Canadian Poetry. Voting takes place here.

Mary Dalton is most certainly one of the great Newfoundland poets. She’s also among Canada’s great literary scholars — a true walking encyclopedia of Canadian and Irish literature in particular. It is fitting then, that her aptly titled book of poetry, Hooking, is something of an homage to other great poets, and makes use of her impressive mental vault of great poetry. Hooking is a book of centos, and a cento, traditionally, is a poem in which one weaves together passages from a variety of one poet’s work, to create a new poem. Dalton both expanded on and honed this form in Hooking. She created her poems by hooking together the lines of other peoples’ poems: every line in every poem in Hooking is a line from a poem by, say, Sylvia Plath or Anne Simpson stitched into a line from, say, Al Purdy or T.S. Eliot, and so on. In her own spin of the cento form, she decided that the lines would all have to come from the same line in every poem they were lifted from. For example, her poem “A Line of Blue” is composed exclusively from the sixth lines in poems by poets like Atwood, Ondaatje, P.K Page, and Alden Nowlan.

There’s a good chance CanLit throws around the term “unique concept” too liberally, because to call Dalton’s daunting task here a “unique concept” hardly does it justice. This is truly an unprecedented work of poetry, and a great one at that. Interestingly enough, Mary was drawn to the idea before she knew of the form. When asked to contribute to ARC’s 30th anniversary issue, she thought to create a collage poem, and found she liked the notion of mash-up poetry. “I thought of these pieces as collage poems,” she says, “and was making them before I discovered the existence of the ancient cento form. I enjoyed making them in part because they were a challenge, just as Christian Bok’s adaptation of constraints in Eunoia was a challenge, or the making of a sonnet or sestina is a challenge.” One clear challenge in writing modified centos like Dalton’s, is achieving a clear and coherent flow from line to line, given that her lines are lifted from the minds of many different poets, ruminating on many different subjects, from many different decades and countries.  The fact Dalton achieves not only coherent flow, but sharply rendered, striking poetry is a testament to her skills as a poet. As well, creating a collage of poetic thought may create a whole more nuanced than, perhaps, one voice is capable of? Pick up a copy, support this innovative new leap for poetry. maybe even vote for it?

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