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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize Finalists

The shortlist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (celebrating its 20th year) was announced today:

After James by Michael Helm
A neuroscientist retreats to a secluded cabin in the woods, intending to blow the whistle on a pharmaceutical company and its creativity drug gone wrong.  A failed poet is lured to Rome as a "literary detective" to decode the work of a mysterious Internet poet who seems to write about murders with precise knowledge of private details.  On the heels of a life crisis, a virologist discovers her identity has been stolen by a conceptual artist in whose work someone always goes missing.  After James is told in three connected parts, each gesturing toward a type of genre fiction -- the gothic horror, the detective novel, and the apocalyptic.  As the novel unfolds in great cities, remote regions, and deadly borderlands, it weaves connections both explicit and subtle.

The Parcel by Anosh Irani
The novel’s narrator is Madhu--born a boy, but a eunuch by choice--who has spent most of her life in a close-knit clan of transgender sex workers in Kamathipura, the notorious red-light district of Bombay.  Madhu identifies herself as a "hijra"--a person belonging to the third sex, neither here nor there, man nor woman.  Now, at 40, she has moved away from prostitution, her trade since her teens, and is forced to beg to support the charismatic head of the hijra clan, Gurumai.  One day Madhu receives a call from Padma Madam, the most feared brothel owner in the district: a "parcel" has arrived--a young girl from the provinces, betrayed and trafficked by her aunt--and Madhu must prepare it for its fate.  Despite Madhu's reluctance, she is forced to take the job by Gurumai.  As Madhu's emotions spiral out of control, her past comes back to haunt her, threatening to unravel a lifetime's work and identity.

Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush by Kerry Lee Powell  (This short story collection also appears on the longlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize)
These stories range from an island holiday gone wrong to a dive bar on the upswing to a yuppie mother in a pricey subdivision seeing her worst fears come true and are populated by barkeeps, good men down on their luck, rebellious teens, lonely immigrants, dreamers and realists, fools and quiet heroes.  Powell explores themes of belonging, the simmering potential for violence and the meaning of art no matter where it is found. 

Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains by Yasuko Thanh
Vietnam is a haunted country, and Dr. Nguyen Georges-Minh is a haunted man.  In 1908, the French rule Saigon, but uneasily; dissent whispers through the corridors of the city. Each day, more Vietnamese rebels are paraded through the streets towards the blade of the guillotine, now a permanent fixture in the main square and a gruesome warning to those who would attempt to challenge colonial rule.  It is a warning that Georges-Minh will not heed.  A Vietnamese national and Paris-educated physician, he is obsessed by guilt over his material wealth and nurses a secret loathing for the French connections that have made him rich, even as they have torn his beloved country apart.  With a close-knit group of his friends calling themselves the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, Georges-Minh plots revenge on the French for the savagery they have shown to the Vietnamese.  And it falls to Georges-Minh to create a poison to mix into the Christmas dinner of a garrison of French soldiers. It is an act that will send an unmistakable message to the French: Get out of Vietnam.  But the assassination attempt goes horribly wrong.  Forced to flee into the deep jungles of the outer provinces, Georges-Minh must care for his infant son, manage the growing madness of his wife, and elude capture by the hill tribes and the small--but lethal--pockets of French sympathizers.

The Break by Katherena Vermette
When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break ― a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house ― she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.  In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim ― police, family, and friends ― tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night.  Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend.  Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain.  Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner.  Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre.  Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.

The Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, sponsored by Rogers Communications Inc.,  recognizes Canadian writers for the year’s best novel or short-story collection as selected by a three-member, independent judging panel. The winner, who will be announced on Nov. 2, will receive $25,000.