Books Read in 2018: Four Star Horror, Non-Fiction and Fiction

Four Star Horror

Best Horror of the Year Volume 10 edited by Ellen Datlow - “Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year series is one of the best investments you can make in short fiction. The current volume is no exception.” ? Adventures Fantastic
For more than three decades, Ellen Datlow has been at the center of horror. Bringing you the most frightening and terrifying stories, Datlow always has her finger on the pulse of what horror readers crave. Now, with the tenth volume of the series, Datlow is back again to bring you the stories that will keep you up at night.
Encompassed in the pages of The Best Horror of the Year have been such illustrious writers as:
Neil Gaiman Kim Stanley Robinson Stephen King Linda Nagata Laird Barron Margo Lanagan And many others 
With each passing year, science, technology, and the march of time shine light into the craggy corners of the universe, making the fears of an earlier generation seem quaint. But this light creates its own shadows. The Best Horror of the Year chronicles these shifting shadows. It is a catalog of terror, fear, and unpleasantness as articulated by today’s most challenging and exciting writers.



Favourites - Dark Warm Heart by Rich Larson and Lost in the Dark by John Langan, both of whom I've read before and never been disappointed by (sorry for that tortured sentence, friends, it is the penultimate post and both I and my thesaurus grow weary). I'm going to link to this guy's review on Goodreads, because it aroused both amusement, admiration and envy when I read it. 

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2017 edited by Paula Guran - The darkness creeps upon us and we shudder, or it suddenly startles and we scream. There need be no monsters for us to be terrified in the dark, but if there are, they are just as often human and as supernatural. Join us in this outstanding annual exploration of the year's best dark fiction that includes stories of quiet fear, the utterly fantastic, the weirdly surreal, atmospheric noir, mysterious hauntings, seductive nightmares, and frighteningly plausible futures. Featuring tales from masterful authors and talented new writers sure to make you reconsider walking in the shadows alone...


My first impression upon reading this collection is that the editor did a fantastic job finding stories and a crap job putting them in effective order. The first three stories ("Seasons of Glass and Iron" by Amal El-Mohtar, "The Future is Blue" by Catherynne M. Valente, and "Grave Goods" by Gemma Files) are among the best I've ever read. Then there was a fairly long row of 'meh' and a few more good ones. But I had admittedly been in a weird reading frame of mind at the time, so it's possible that's an unfair assessment. Regardless, those two stories and a few more are easily worth reading. There seems to be a pretty clear feminist slant in several of the stories and consequently in the collection as a whole - not in a didactic, heavy-handed sense, it comes our very subtly and effectively - which is nice to see (not for anti-feminists, obviously).

Haunted Nights edited by Ellen Datlow - Sixteen never-before-published chilling tales that explore every aspect of our darkest holiday, Halloween, co-edited by Ellen Datlow, one of the most successful and respected genre editors, and Lisa Morton, a leading authority on Halloween. 
In addition to stories about scheming jack-o'-lanterns, vengeful ghosts, otherworldly changelings, disturbingly realistic haunted attractions, masks that cover terrifying faces, murderous urban legends, parties gone bad, cult Halloween movies, and trick or treating in the future, Haunted Nights also offers terrifying and mind-bending explorations of related holidays like All Souls' Day, Dia de los Muertos, and Devil's Night. 

Another anthology. I can tell you that I picked this up in Indigo, although I wasn't planning to buy anything, because it was small and smooth and grey and fit nicely in my hand, and because I will follow Ellen Datlow anywhere, and it was October and this was the Perfect Book for that time. I can't really tell you anything more, because I am really bad at making good notes on anthologies - I would have to stop between stories to make notes and, well, that's probably not ever going to happen, although it would make this little exercise a hell of a lot easier. 

The Magdalena Curse by F.G. Cottam - This title tells the story of a boy doomed by a prophecy and a father who will risk anything to save him. It is an epic confrontation between good and evil by the highly praised author of 'Dark Echo'.

This was an inexpensive Kindle purchase that was then better than I expected. Too many writers think that if their plot is scary they can skimp on character, atmosphere and dialogue. Cottam doesn't do this. I admit I initially thought this took place in the past and had to adjust slightly when I realized it was present day, but the set-up was intriguing and the developing romance felt earned. Miss Hall was a truly chilling villain. Elizabeth Bancroft and her mother could almost have carried the story all on their own. 

The Faceless by Simon Bestwick - Chilling supernatural horror and the police procedural collide in this absorbing tale of contemporary characters sucked into a web of mystery and fear. As local townsfolk in a northern city disappear masked men with sinister links to the past haunt the streets. Unconnected events begin to align as Detective Chief Inspector Renwick realises these mysterious figures have chosen targets and an even bigger plan.
In the Lancashire town of Kempforth, people are vanishing. Mist hangs heavy in the streets, and in those mists move the masked figures the local kids call the Spindly Men. When two year old Roseanne Trevor disappears, Detective Chief Inspector Renwick vows to stop at nothing until she finds her. In Manchester, terrifying visions summon TV psychic Allen Cowell and his sister Vera back to the town they swore they’d left forever. And local historian Anna Mason pieces together a history of cruelty and exploitation almost beyond belief, born out of the horrors of war – while in the decaying corridors and lightless rooms of a long-abandoned hospital, something terrible is waiting for them all. 

Genuinely scary, and ended on a much darker note than I expected.

A God in the Shed by J.F. Dubeau - -Move over True Detective. A rich, gothic story of murder and mystery, A God in The Shed is quite possibly one of the most enthralling novels I've read in the last ten years. Dubeau is a force to be reckoned with.- --Jerry Smith, Fangoria Magazine and Blumhouse.com 
The village of Saint-Ferdinand has all the trappings of a quiet life: farmhouses stretching from one main street, a small police precinct, a few diners and cafes, and a grocery store. Though if an out-of-towner stopped in, they would notice one unusual thing--a cemetery far too large and much too full for such a small town, lined with the victims of the Saint-Ferdinand Killer, who has eluded police for nearly two decades. It's not until after Inspector Stephen Crowley finally catches the killer that the town discovers even darker forces are at play. 
When a dark spirit reveals itself to Venus McKenzie, one of Saint-Ferdinand's teenage residents, she learns that this creature's power has a long history with her town--and that the serial murders merely scratch the surface of a past burdened by evil secrets.


Well this was something strange and a little different. That said, there are some echoes of Stephen King here, especially in the credible writing of young characters. It's always interesting when horror writing takes on the premise of power or wish-fulfillment and how it can be a corrupting force. The small-town setting is well done, and the plucky heroine's ultimate solution is gratifying.


The Moor by Sam Haysom - 'There's a delightful bit of sleight-of-hand at the heart of the novel that I particularly enjoyed.' – Owen King, co-author of Sleeping Beauties

It begins with a ghost story around a campfire. Teenagers out on a walking trip, trying to act brave in front of each other.
But as the walk gets underway and the boys begin to fall out, odd things start to happen.
Noises in the night. A severed rabbit’s foot outside someone’s tent.
Soon, the boys begin to disappear.
As panic sets in and a storm approaches, the remaining boys must band together to face a darkness not even the local ghost stories could help them predict.
 



Pretty much a perfect tell-it-around-the-campfire scary story, with the bonus of actually containing a scene where scary stories are told around a campfire. I wasn't sure where it was going, and the gradual reveal was very satisfying. Has all the requisite elements - creepiness, melancholy, nostalgia and surprise.

The Outsider by Stephen King - An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.
An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.
As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.


The best King novel I've read in quite some time. I love that sensation of a deepening dark mystery where both the characters and the readers are utterly at sea, and then the slow, delicious sense of revelation, and this is a perfect example. I love Holly Gibney from the Bill Hodges Trilogy and it was delightful to add in her into the mix here, although once the mystery was all but solved and it was all over but the terrifyingly dangerous capture mission, some of the tension leaked out of the narrative. But this was a really great read.

In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey - In this contemporary fantasy, the grieving biographer of a Victorian fantasist finds himself slipping inexorably into the supernatural world that consumed his subject.
American Charles Hayden came to England to forget the past.
Failed father, failed husband, and failed scholar, Charles hopes to put his life back together with a biography of Caedmon Hollow, the long-dead author of a legendary Victorian children's book, In the Night Wood. But soon after settling into Hollow's remote Yorkshire home, Charles learns that the past isn't dead
In the neighboring village, Charles meets a woman he might have loved, a child who could have been his own lost daughter, and the ghost of a self he thought he'd put behind him.
And in the primeval forest surrounding Caedmon Hollow's ancestral home, an ancient power is stirring. The horned figure of a long-forgotten king haunts Charles Hayden's dreams. And every morning the fringe of darkling trees presses closer.
Soon enough, Charles will venture into the night wood.
Soon enough he'll learn that the darkness under the trees is but a shadow of the darkness that waits inside us all.


I requested this from Netgalley because I have read and enjoyed Bailey's short fiction. I never know how it will go then venturing into novel-length fiction (often the answer is "quite badly"), but this was really good - atmospheric, tightly plotted, emotionally affecting and satisfying. I respect when an author creates a beautiful beginning for a love story and then is realistic enough to admit that, given enough time, the most devoted of lovers will become susceptible to boredom and unfaithfulness. The underpinnings of betrayal, tragedy and the hope of forgiveness give a solid emotional heft to the story, while the folkloric and fantastic elements are woven into a nicely-building, suspenseful story.

What the Hell Did I Just Read (John Dies at the End #3) by David Wong - NYT bestselling author Wong takes readers to a whole new level with his latest dark comic sci-fi thriller, set in the world of John Dies at the End and This Book is Full of Spiders
Dave, John and Amy recount what seems like a fairly straightforward tale of a shape-shifting creature from another dimension that is stealing children and brainwashing their parents, but it eventually becomes clear that someone is lying, and that someone is the narrators. 
The novel you're reading is a cover-up, and the "true" story reveals itself in the cracks of their hilariously convoluted, and sometimes contradictory, narrative.


I read John Dies at the End, the first book in this trilogy, in 2014 and wrote this review. I then discovered there was a sequel, which I called "Good, crazy, profane, hysterical fun with some thoughtful bits thrown in". I then wondered periodically if there would ever be a third book, and finally saw it this year. This is another Shaun of the Dead book, except I'm the one that loved it and doesn't know who to recommend it to. It's apparently a cult sensation, which I'm not usually that into. I kind of want to read the whole trilogy together now, and this March when I'm in Florida again I'm definitely going to watch the movie on American Netflix. It's weird. Really weird, but unlike Marilyn (HI MARILYN) for me it was in a good way. There is inventive swearing, and supernatural shenanigans, and a beautiful friendship. And maybe aliens. 

Four Star Non-Fiction


Not Done Yet: Living Through Breast Cancer by Laurie Kingston - Not Done Yet opens a window on one woman's journey through breast cancer treatment, recovery, recurrence, and beyond. When she found a lump in her breast in December 2005, Laurie Kingston was thirty-eight, with an active life, a family, and a demanding job. A diagnosis of breast cancer was nowhere on her radar screen. But when that diagnosis was confirmed months later, Laurie began writing a blog. She wanted to process her reactions and express what she was feeling. Above all, she wanted to write about her experience in her own way. Spanning a two-year period, the entries are written matter-of-factly, in clear and engaging language. They take the reader on a compelling journey--from first diagnosis and what that meant personally and professionally, to preparing for treatments, learning how to ask questions of hospital caregivers, and coping with the physical hardships of undergoing chemotherapy. When Laurie learned in November 2006 that the cancer had spread to her liver, she was devastated. But she kept on writing--and went from a prognosis of "years not decades" and innumerable tumours, to "spectacular" results and (at last count) six clean scans under her belt. Laurie writes with both humour and compassion about her ups and downs as she comes to grips with this new reality. Not Done Yet will speak to those who are going through the same experience, those who know someone who is, or anyone who has wondered about living joyfully when life has been turned upside down.

This was written by a woman who belongs to the same community of friends - bloggers, Ottawa-dwellers, snarkers - that I do, but I never got to meet her in person. I joined the Book Bingo Facebook group she started two years ago, so I communicated with her online as well as meeting yet more wonderful women, and I will always feel loving and grateful to her for that. This book both gladdened and broke my heart, since she did write so beautifully about living joyfully in spite of devastating odds, and because I so wish the spectacular results had continued indefinitely, and they did not. 

There's a Mystery There: The Primal Vision of Maurice Sendak by Jonathan Cott - An extraordinary, path-breaking, and penetrating book on the life and work and creative inspirations of the great children's book genius Maurice Sendak, who since his death in 2012 has only grown in his stature and recognition as a major American artist, period. 
Polymath and master interviewer Jonathan Cott first interviewed Maurice Sendak in 1976 for Rolling Stone, just at the time when Outside Over There, the concluding and by far the strangest volume of a trilogy that began with Where The Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, was gestating. Over the course of their wide-ranging and revelatory conversation about his life, work, and the fantasies and obsessions that drove his creative process, they focused on many of the themes and images that would appear in the new book five years later. Drawing on that interview,There's a Mystery There is a profound examination of the inner workings of a complicated genius's torments and inspirations that ranges over the entirety of his work and his formative life experiences, and uses Outside Over There, brilliantly and originally, as the key to understanding just what made this extravagantly talented man tick. To gain multiple perspectives on that intricate and multifaceted book, Cott also turns to four "companion guides": a Freudian analyst, a Jungian analyst, an art historian, and Sendak's great friend and admirer, the playwright Tony Kushner. The book is richly illustrated with examples from Sendak's work and other related images.

I loved the biographical information about Sendak and the interviewer's meetings with him. I wish they had made up more of the book. I often think too little close study is devoted to children's literature, and Sendak's work richly deserved this exhaustive study. I just felt like the interviewer inserted himself too much into the narrative, which among other things led to the increasingly infuriating noticing of the verbs - "I noticed", "I commented", "I observed", "I objected", "I asserted" - his thesaurus must have been a smoldering ruin by the end. I was willing to choke it down for the good stuff, though. 

Four Star Fiction


Something for Everyone by Lisa MooreInternationally celebrated as one of literature’s most gifted stylists, Lisa Moore returns with her third story collection, a soaring chorus of voices, dreams, loves, and lives. Taking us from the Fjord of Eternity to the streets of St. John’s and the swamps of Orlando, these stories show us the timeless, the tragic, and the miraculous hidden in the underbelly of our everyday lives. A missing rock god may have jumped a cruise ship — in the Arctic. A grieving young woman may live next to a serial rapist. A man’s last day on earth replays in the minds of others in a furiously sensual, heartrending fugue. Something for Everyone is Moore at the peak of her prowess — she seems bent on nothing less than rewiring the circuitry of the short story itself.

Okay, "rewiring the circuitry of the short story itself" is laying it on a little thick - if I had to pick someone for that accolade it would probably be Karin Tidbeck - but this was still a delight. I think it was the first story, about a married couple separating, is still with me. It's such a fine line, when a short story is about daily minutiae and collections of details and modern living, between "so what?" and "oh, yes, of course". I can't articulate why these are the latter for me, I can just say that they are. 

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson - After a long and eventful life, Allan Karlsson ends up in a nursing home, believing it to be his last stop. The only problem is that he’s still in good health. A big celebration is in the works for his 100th birthday, but Allan really isn’t interested (and he’d like a bit more control over his alcohol consumption), so he decides to escape. He climbs out the window in his slippers and embarks on a hilarious and entirely unexpected journey. It would be the adventure of a lifetime for anyone else, but Allan has a larger-than-life backstory: he has not only witnessed some of the most important events of the 20th century, but actually played a key role in them. Quirky and utterly unique, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared has charmed readers across the world.

I can't remember exactly what I was expecting, only that I was a bit thrown when I started reading. Once I figured out that it was basically Swedish Forrest Gump, I relaxed and enjoyed the ride. I didn't read it quickly, but I was always happy to pick it up again. I enjoyed the present parts slightly more than the past. While preparing this post, I came across books with titles like "100 Facts about the 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared that even the CIA doesn't know", which I found intriguing. 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste NgLydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.
So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. 
A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.


I reviewed this on the blog, which I seldom do unless a book really, really strikes me. Ng is a wonderful writer and, from following her on Twitter it appears that she's quite a stellar person as well, which is always nice to find. I haven't read Little Fires Everywhere yet, only because I'm afraid it will eat my heart up too, and I have to be ready for that.  

What My Body Remembers by Agnete FriisFrom New York Times bestselling author Agnete Friis comes the chilling story of a young mother who will do whatever it takes to protect her son. 
Ella Nygaard, 27, has been a ward of the state since she was seven years old, the night her father murdered her mother. She doesn't remember anything about that night or her childhood before it but her body remembers. The PTSD-induced panic attacks she now suffers incapacitate her for hours sometimes days at a time and leave her physically and psychically drained. 
After one particularly bad episode lands Ella in a psych ward, she discovers her son, Alex, has been taken from her by the state and placed with a foster family. Driven by desperation, Ella kidnaps Alex and flees to the seaside town in northern Denmark where she was born. Her grandmother's abandoned house is in grave disrepair, but she can live there for free until she can figure out how to convince social services that despite everything, she is the best parent for her child. 
But being back in the small town forces Ella to confront the demons of her childhood the monsters her memory has tried so hard to obscure. What really happened that night her mother died? Was her grandmother right was Ella's father unjustly convicted? What other secrets were her parents hiding from each other? If Ella can start to remember, maybe her scars will begin to heal or maybe the truth will put her in even greater danger.


I came across this ebook while looking for What The Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin, and it piqued my interest. It wasn't a traditional mystery - there wasn't any 'shocking final twist', and the protagonist is unlikable and hard to sympathize with. I don't say this as a criticism. There was a lot of really good stuff here, about living in poverty, living with addiction, addiction as self-medication, religion as a tool of abuse, and messed-up family dynamics. Ella isn't likable, but all of her negative traits are completely understandable. Really sad, but really well done.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien“In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old.”
Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming’s father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China’s political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.
With maturity and sophistication, humor and beauty, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of life inside China yet transcendent in its universality.

This was a long, dense fiction read when I hadn't tackled one in a while. There was a lot going on, which some of the people in my book club thought detracted from the story, but I didn't feel that way. It was very slow going but ultimately very rewarding, although very, very sad. I loved the passages dealing painstakingly with the intricacies of music and Chinese language characters. the story unfolded vividly in my mind. It was a really good example of Aristotle's catharsis - experiencing viscerally the emotions of pity and fear through drama. 

The Child Finder (Naomi Cottle #1) by Rene DenfeldThree years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as The Child Finder, Naomi is their last hope.
Naomi’s methodical search takes her deep into the icy, mysterious forest in the Pacific Northwest, and into her own fragmented past. She understands children like Madison because once upon a time, she was a lost girl too. 
As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?

Denfeld's second novel - I really liked the last one too. Apparently she's also an advocacy worker for sex trafficking victims and death row inmates, which makes her one monumental triple threat, because she's a kick-ass writer. She plumbs topics which are often written about sensationally and in a formulaic manner - in her hands they are dealt with more subtly and in greater depth. The writing is beautiful and poetic but not so much that it obscures the story (always a delicate balance). There were two or three times where I cringed when she veered into traditional thriller-heroine descriptions of Naomi's appearance, but the portrayal of the kidnapper is incredibly nuanced and sensitive. 

Unsheltered by Barbara KingsolverThe New York Times bestselling author of Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, and The Poisonwood Bible and recipient of numerous literary awards—including the National Humanities Medal, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Orange Prize—returns with a timely novel that interweaves past and present to explore the human capacity for resiliency and compassion in times of great upheaval.
How could two hardworking people do everything right in life, a woman asks, and end up destitute? Willa Knox and her husband followed all the rules as responsible parents and professionals, and have nothing to show for it but debts and an inherited brick house that is falling apart. The magazine where Willa worked has folded; the college where her husband had tenure has closed. Their dubious shelter is also the only option for a disabled father-in-law and an exasperating, free-spirited daughter. When the family’s one success story, an Ivy-educated son, is uprooted by tragedy he seems likely to join them, with dark complications of his own.
In another time, a troubled husband and public servant asks, How can a man tell the truth, and be reviled for it? A science teacher with a passion for honest investigation, Thatcher Greenwood finds himself under siege: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting work just published by Charles Darwin. His young bride and social-climbing mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his worries that their elegant house is unsound. In a village ostensibly founded as a benevolent Utopia, Thatcher wants only to honor his duties, but his friendships with a woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor threaten to draw him into a vendetta with the town’s powerful men.
Unsheltered is the compulsively readable story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey, navigating what seems to be the end of the world as they know it. With history as their tantalizing canvas, these characters paint a startlingly relevant portrait of life in precarious times when the foundations of the past have failed to prepare us for the future.

This is another one where I feel like I should defend how much I liked it. I can't, really. Barbara Kingsolver writes these long, sprawling stories that I can't help liking even when they do absolutely veer into the didactic and heavy-handed. This work dovetails with a lot of very timely concerns, often not subtly. I just really loved the story - both stories, actually. I loved the contrasts and likenesses between the two families living years apart in the same house. I loved the exploration of what home and shelter actually means. I loved that the daughter was named Antigone and called Tig. And then there's the science teacher from the past and an early example of people who cling to fake news to the point of violence. It really worked for me. I can't promise it will for you.

Black Dance by Nancy HustonA rowdy reel of a novel that spans a hundred years and one family’s far flung roots by the internationally acclaimed author of Fault Lines.
Screenwriter Milo Noirlac is dying. As he lies in his hospital bed, voices from his past and present—real and imagined—come to him in the dark, each taking on the rhythm of his favorite Brazilian fight-dance, the capoeira. Seated next to him, Milo’s partner, bumptious director Paul Schwartz, coaxes Milo through his life story; from the abuse he suffered as a foster child, to his lost heritage, his beloved grandfather’s priceless library. As Milo narrates, his story becomes the pair’s final screenplay, the movie that will be their masterpiece.
With Milo’s imagination in full flight, several generations of Noirlac ancestors —voices in French and English, German and Dutch, Cree and Gaelic—come to life. There’s Neil Kerrigan his Irish grandfather, classmate of “Jimmy” Joyce, would-be poet and aspiring activist in the fight against British occupation, crushed by his exile in Quebec; Awinita, Milo’s biological mother, an Indian teen prostitute; Eugénio, a Brazilian street child whom Milo finds and fosters; and Marie-Thérèse, Milo’s tough-as-nails aunt. As each voice cascades through Milo’s memory, a fragment of family, and world, history falls into place.
Already a critically-acclaimed bestseller in France, Nancy Huston’s Black Dance is a rich portrait of one man’s life and death; a swirling, sensual dance of a novel, from an exceptional and rare literary voice.

Reading other reviews of this book, it strikes me as a particularly good example of how the same book comes across so differently to different readers. As I find myself saying quite often, it's not that I disagree with any of the criticisms I see - too many viewpoints, elements that reoccur sporadically, skipping across cultures at a breakneck pace - it's just that they rather delighted me. Nancy Huston was born in western Canada but lived most of her adult life in Europe, and I always find that this sensibility comes across vividly in her books. I felt like she captured and rendered Ireland, Quebec and Brazil admirably in this story, as well as a variety of viewpoints both male and female, young and old, privileged and very much not (Awanita's story is profoundly disturbing). I also loved the conceit of the proposed screenplay as dictated by Milo's lover by his bedside - I felt like I could visualize much of it as I was reading. I played capoeira music on my phone beside me as I was reading, and the beat of the story very much echoes the beat of the music. I really agree that Nancy Huston is a writer quite unlike any other. 

Comments

I almost forgot all about John Dies at the End! In fact I went back and reread my review but I can’t quite recall what my problem was with it specificall. This third one seems interesting, so I wonder if I would like it now...
I loved the Celeste Ng and the 100 year old man. LOVED. I'm putting a BUNCH of those on my reading list, but maybe not the horror. I tend to not like horror as a genre BUT I'm trying to read new and different things so maybe?

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