Well it seems that 2016 came and went without a single blog post here on Fiction on Fiction. It has been a rather difficult here: all our writers have left, leaving only myself. And one woman does not a blog make! Or does it? Perhaps it does.

In any case dear readers, if any of you are left, let it be known that I have been reading voraciously all year, and so I can still present you with my three worst books I read this year, that were also published this year.

Le Chat André by Lou Legrand-DiBlasio

Lou Legrand-DiBlasio has always been a bit of an enigma as a writer. He has never granted an interview, and many believe he is just a nom de plume of the great Lisithea Grande-Dimastromonaco that allows her to write more experimental works than her usual stories of women facing adversity in the Canadian wilderness. In any case, while I’ve somewhat enjoyed the audacity of Legrand-DiBlasio’s works — especially 2010’s “The Words I Use For Tablecloth” — Le Chat André was just a thematic mess! Its dust jacket claims that it is a story of love and loss from the point of view of a chat’s chew toy, but that only covers the first chapter. One wonders if no one managed to get past that first chapter — I know I had a hard time! The prose is sloppy, even for a chew toy:

I am thrown across the room, sloppy and wet, like the kisses of the humans on the bed.

But after one gets used to this odd narrative, the second chapter throws you into long descriptions of ceiling fans from no one in particular’s point of view. This may be a metaphor for life:

It goes nowhere, but faster and faster; the blades cutting air that reassembles behind it in a grotesque aerial ballet of dust mites and dead skin.

Or perhaps not?

The heaviness of the blades are by design, ensuring that they do not fall apart under the pressure of the air.

I skipped ahead to the last chapter — no, I am not proud — and found that the last chapter was a repetion of the same six words reassembled in random order in what may be a nod to Joyce? One may never know.

Dying In Love All Alone by Sloane Dawn Langsley-Barret

Possibly the most disappointing book of the year! Everyone has been anticipating a follow-up to the brilliant “Uphill On A Lonely Street At Night” for ten years now, only to get a barely coherent story of drug use, crime, and redemption set in what is supposed to be Cleveland (I have my doubts that Langsley-Barret has ever been to Cleveland!). The protagonist, Marny, is in turns written as a tragic figure and as a clown. Marny’s experience in the hospital emergency room is written as comedy, but his attempt at assembling IKEA furniture in his first apartment after rehab is written as tragedy. While many have said that this is a brave twist in storytelling, I found it tedious.

Bottle Vase by Mauro Kowalczyk

I bought this on a whim, encouraged by the clerk at the bookstore who said she found it exciting and fresh. It was neither exciting nor fresh. It was ham-handed and stale. The dialogue is stunted:

“Is that you,” said Lynn.

“No,” answered Sean.

“Then who are you,” replied Lynn.

“It’s Sean.”

“Oh,” Lynn said, helplessly, staring at the floor.

The story is pointless. It centres around three friends, Sean, Lynn, and Spence, who share an apartment in Brooklyn and discover very boring secrets about each other during a power outage. Their friendship remains intact at the end. Nothing changes in their life. This was a waste of 300 pages.

 

2015 was such a great year for books! We here at Fiction on Fiction have been devouring so many books that we haven’t been able to keep up with the blog.

But we hope to make it up to you with our Best Books of 2015.

Les Mots|Talk to Me by Rina Altamont

Rina Altamont has been around for decades, but her novellas have been largely overlooked, and for a good reason: Altamont’s novellas are unholy manticores made up of two or more disjoint stories. They are disconcerting and disorienting, not even providing a hint of a common theme, almost as if Altamont were mocking the notion that we are all connected. Les Mots|Talk to Me is her first novel where there is almost a hint of a connection. Les Mots|Talk to Me follows the same format as all other Altamont books: alternating chapters of both stories. And while the stories begin at random points in the narrative at the start of each chapter, in this case each chapter pair starts with the same opening sentence. Chapter 1 and 2 both start with “Leather sofas, while pricey, will not absorb the smell of farts and feet that fabric sofas acquire over the course of their lives.” But while chapter 1 moves into the story of Ludo, a car mechanic who cannot abide dirt in his home, and, consequently has not had a visitor since 1994, chapter 2 is a heartwarming tale of pet adoption. Neither narrative ever overlaps, but the common opening lines make one feel that what we are experiencing is Altamont’s observation that while all our stories are different, we are at least connected by the commonality of words.

It Was Here A Moment Ago by Maurizio Patel, translated by Laurie Dinicolantonio

Translated literature can be tricky. A lot can be lost in translation. Insightful novels can turn obvious, transcendent writing can turn leaden. But occasionally a flop of a book in one language can become a thing of beauty in another. The original Italian version of It Was Her A Moment Ago (“Era Proprio Qui!”) was a monumental failure. It was referred to as a lumbering, indulgent waste of publishing resources by the Italian press. But Laurie Dinicolantonio made it her life’s work to translate into English this train wreck of a novel. After 15 years, she completed her work. The result is an absolute wonder! The story of a man whose life is turned upside down by a roommate who keeps reorganizing their apartment is transformed from a heaping mess of nothing into a brilliant treatise on living with uncertainty. This is truly a book that should not be missed.

I Could Never Wiggle My Toes by Hypatia Daily

After her boyfriend breaks up with her at their PhD supervisor’s father’s funeral, Minnie decides to re-evaluate her life decisions. In vignettes that are both humourous and heartbreaking, Minnie revisits the reasons why she chose the path of least resistance over what she really desired. A short book (200 pages) that is long on insight and humanity.

Lou Says No by Shawneroo

The comic genius who brought us Chairs for Charity, Be The Wall, and Carl’s Laundromat is back with a vengeance with Lou Says No. Of course this is the same Lou as in the previous three books: lead singer of punk band Catsaloma; daytime worker at his pal Carl’s laundromat; nighttime worker at the local video store. But this time Lou, who never refuses to help out a friend, finally says no. The request? Driving Carl’s cousin Renee to the airport. The reason? Lou needs to be home to receive a parcel or else it will end up at the Fed Ex depot in the next town over. The entire novel is dedicated to the epic argument between Lou and Carl. Shawneroo (real name Sidney Lee) captures the guilt-tripping truth of long-term friendship in this absolutely fall-on-the-floor-laughing novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello Fiction on Fiction readers! It has been a long time! We here at Fiction on Fiction have been very busy this year reading books, so much so that we haven’t had any time to write reviews! But fear not! Here are the three worst books of 2015!

Quickening Sands by Shawn R. Morrissey-Coleman

What can one say about Quickening Sands that hasn’t already been said? The complex, epic, multigenerational novel about a family of exorcist nomads whose eternal patriarch is actually Nosferatu is layered and nuanced, but it is also tedious and overlong. At 1276 pages, the book can easily be used to kill tarantulas, stun chihuahuas, or bash in drywall, all activities that are more pleasant than reading it.

Beata’s Lost Left Isotoner Glove by Linnea Daria Devoreaux

Beata is leaving for work one morning when she can’t find her left glove. It is an Isotoner glove that she bought in the late 1980s, when she was a young intern at a marketing firm. The loss of the left glove sends Beata on a metaphorical and literal search, going over the events in her life while she goes over the rooms in her house. Devoreaux’s beautiful and elegant writing is a joy, but Beata’s quest feels forced. The surrealist aspects that seemed so fresh and organic in Singular Smells of a Seasonal Slalom, here feel old and  plastic, shoehorned in for effect, but without advancing the plot.

dot dot dot by shar

shar is well-known as a master of the experimental novel. His previous works, n, LOWERCASE, and Ink on Paper, were all interesting an innovative, highlighting how language can be used as a medium of sound, sight, and touch. But dot dot dot, rendered in a dotted font, is literally unreadable.

 

No one ever talks about the great disappointments when they do retrospectives, but the following three books were my least favourite books this year. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad, only that I didn’t enjoy them.

Mash It Up! by Ivo St-Leo

I was eager to read Mash It Up because I know little to nothing about the dancehall music culture, and this book promised to be a fly-on-the-wall telling of the rise and fall of a dancehall DJ. Ivo St-Leo himself was once a dancehall DJ (Deejay Riddim Lion), so this book promised to be informative if nothing else. Unfortunately, the novel is a slow, dull, tedious read. So many pages are spent describing the mechanics of dancehall deejaying that one starts to wonder whether this is actually a howto guide to dancehall deejaying. It has all the tension and suspense of an appliance user manual. In fact, I believe that the manual for my new self-cleaning oven is more exciting. All in all, not my cup of tea.

At Least The Rye by Corry Deslauriers

So much praise was heaped on At Least The Rye that it’s a real shame that it did not live up to the hype. At Least The Rye was described as a whirlwind love story taking place in a 24hour period, but even though the novel only spans 150 pages, the pacing is so slow that one feels that it goes on for at least 600. On top of it all, the story of Dom and Dimitri, two guys who meet at a mutual friend’s photography exhibit can hardly be called a love story. It is more the story of two strangers who hate each other, but who are so bored that they sleep with each other regardless. Dom, from New York, and Dimitri, from Montreal, meet at a friend’s photography exhibit in Toronto. Dom laments that he can’t find a decent corned beef sandwich anywhere in Toronto, and Dimitri laments that he can’t find a decent smoked meat. The two inexplicably argue about which hot meat sandwich has the most merit, and it is established that they thoroughly hate each other. In any normal universe, their story should end there. But Corry Deslauriers manages to contrive enough improbable scenarios to keep these two annoying characters together for the duration of the novel. A thoroughly pointless read.

Picks by H.L. Day

H.L. Day is the bestselling author of incredibly imaginative novels. Snickerdoodle is one of my favourite books of all time. But Picks was so over-the-top, so fussy, and so persnickety that it took me three months to complete. Not even the most strident H.L Day fan should read this book.

It’s that time of year again: time to list our favourite books of  2014. I didn’t get as much reading done as I would have liked this year, which is why this is a Top Five list and not a Top Ten list. Anyways, on with the show!

La Vie Jade by Helen Tenent Morrissey

Helen Tenent Morrissey’s novella was like a diamond in a coal mine. The prose is cummings-esque: the structure of each paragraph and page expressing almost more than each word. The subject matter is fresh and novel: the story of a Dutch governess coming to grips with her transsexuality in the month before Y2K. It’s a story as much about personal awakenings as it is about the correct application of glitter, and the appropriateness of computer-powered toasters.

Pulse Previous by Tyco Slaw

Tyco Slaw is best known for his slam poetry about race, culture, and Pantone (“How Mad is Madder Brown? How Chocolate is my Bronze?”), but he has published two novels: 2007’s Like When and 2014’s Pulse Previous. Like When was lacklustre, but Pulse Previous is like a kick to the solar plexus! It delivers biting satire, witty observations, and self-effacing humour, packaged in tight, compact sentences where all excess has been trimmed, leaving the reader wondering how they ever lived without a book about a vegetarian’s quest for a mythical lentil plantation in the Himalayas.

Lacy, Shawn, Smith, and Stacey by Panagiota Dinardi

Who would have thought baby names could tear a family apart? But Panagiota Dinardi imagines just such a scenario in her debut novel about a young expectant couple. A tale about unmet expectations and secret histories that leaves the reader wondering whether an entire past can be wiped away with a strategically-crafted name.

Where Did You Take Her? by Omar Dell-Openheim

Everyone likes a road trip book, but Where Did You Take Her? twists the genre into a pretzel by telling the story of a hilarious road trip through the Canadian Prairie provinces in reverse chronological order, from different points-of-view, including that of a 1992 Camaro. A surprising novel about an overdone subject.

Nickels for a Rodeo Clown by Susan Cohen-Capotosto

Set in the 1982 Calgary stampede, Nickels for a Rodeo Clown tells the bittersweet tale of Arthur, an aging rodeo clown who attempts to redeem himself to his estranged wife and son by becoming a vigilante crime-fighter. Cohen-Capotosto approaches the subject matter with subtlety, grace, and beauty, and her prose flows beautifully, making even pratfalls seem as poetic and picturesque as a sunset.

What do you do on a Sunday night when all your friends have moved to California and you’re left alone in Minneapolis to take care of your family’s Schnitzelhaus? You start a dinner club, of course!

That is the premise of Soleil Dobransky’s first full-length novel. Dobransky’s short stories have already won her praise, and her 2011 collection, Mashable Monsoon, won her a Sevigny Notable Book Award, putting pressure on her to write a knock-out debut novel.

Unfortunately, Stan’s Late Night Dinner Club is does not compare at all to her short stories. Dobransky’s short stories are tightly-woven, claustrophobic suspenses that burst with energy at their climaxes, and unwind to a mellow resolution. But Stan’s Late Night Dinner Club plods from chapter to chapter like a mediocre seven course tasting menu.

The premise is interesting enough. Stan, the eldest son of a restauranteur couple, quits his software development job to take over his parents’ Schnitzelhaus. His father has Alzheimer’s disease and cannot cope any longer with day to day operations, instead sitting in a corner and telling old war stories about a war he never fought in.  Stan’s mother, twenty years his father’s junior, uses his father’s illness to finally explore her own interest in the arts: joining an artist’s collective, renting a loft in an industrial part of town, and making found-item art. Stan’s three brothers are unreliable as business partners, even managing to be incompetent as hosts in the restaurant, a job Stan tells them, “requires all the know-how and brain power of a Walmart greeter”. In the midst of all this, Stan finds out that the tech company he was working for was bought out by a large California-based company and all his friends and coworkers are relocated to the San Francisco Bay area, all expenses paid.

Stan is not a happy camper. To alleviate his feelings of depression, he starts a late night supper club in the Schnitzlehaus. It begins as a sort of secret society for the local restauranteurs where they meet to discuss business, complain about staff, and eat piles of MacDonald’s food. However, it all gets complicated when the owner of Maison Mesclun accuses the owner of Sid’s Salads of industrial espionage. A rift develops in the supper club, with sides taken, and old grievances brought to the surface.

Dobransky keeps the reader guessing about whether there is more to the feud between the two greenery eatery owners, but the tension never builds, and the resolution is anticlimactic – or it would be if there had been a satisfying climax.

In an interview recently with the online literary magazine, LitLit, Dobransky said that she wanted to create a space where people are allowed to be and explore themselves, and she wanted to mirror the conflict in Stan’s family in the conflict in the supper club. However, the conflict in Stan’s family is never really explored in much detail. For example, it’s never revealed why Stan’s youngest brother refuses to use the word “restaurant”, and always instead uses “eatery”, “food house”, and “grub dispensary”. Meanwhile, the supper club is discussed in such meticulous detail, with even recipes for Green Goddess dressing compared side-by-side, that all the humanity in it is removed.

In the end, nothing happens. This is the worst part of Stan’s Late Night Supper Club. One is left at the end of the book feeling that nothing happened. As if one has had a meal consisting only of flavoured foams.

 

One wouldn’t think there would be long to say about men’s underwear, but Marshall Undin has found 625 pages of anecdotes, manufacturing methods, and fabric qualities about the subject.

So Schlong brings the reader backward and forward in time, through the various ups and downs of men’s underthings. Undin discusses the codpiece, the jock strap, the tighty-whitey, the silken boxer, and the long john in excruciating detail to the point where one wishes all men would just start going commando.

But alas, no scrotum is left twisting in the wind. Marshall Undin goes through great lengths in the introduction to explain that he will not be discussing the free willy.

Undin’s explanations are precise to the point of tedium. His explanation of the construction of a modern jock strap takes 100 pages, going from the productions differences between various types of elastics, to the construction of the protective cup. A full fifty pages is devoted to Calvin Klein’s revival of the tighty-whitey in the early 1990s. Undin does not include any of the Calvin Klein ads featuring the then-twenty-year old Antonio Sabato Jr, but does include photos of the Calvin Klein factory floor, as well as several diagrams of the dissected underwear

The most interesting part of So Schlong is the chapter devoted to myths of male underwear and the novelties they spawned, such as the underwear with cooling packs for increasing sperm count. This chapter also has the most interesting illustrations: patent diagrams for the anti-erection brief filled with corn flake powder; deodorizing briefs with “perfume pockets”; long johns that let the scrotum “breathe”. Unfortunately, this chapter is also the shortest in the book.

Undin writes with complete seriousness and without an ounce of wit or mirth, leaving the reader to make comments to themselves Mystery-Science-Theatre-3000-style.

Unlike Calvin Klein, Marshall Undin is unable to make men’s underwear interesting.