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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Canadian Book Advent Calendar (Day 13) - "M" is for MacDonald, MacLeod, McKay, Mitchell, Mistry, Montgomery, Morrissey, and Munro

For this year’s advent calendar, I am recommending Canadian authors/books found on Schatje’s Shelves.  Again, to make things more interesting/challenging, I will use the alphabet, skipping “X” and “Z”.  In total, I propose to focus on 50 Canadian writers, an early nod to Canada's 150th birthday next year.

“M” is for Ann-Marie MacDonald
MacDonald is also a playwright whose play Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) won several awards.

Novels (which I recommend):

Fall on Your Knees (winner of 1997 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and nominated for 1996 Giller Prize)
The Way the Crow Flies (nominated for 2003 Giller Prize)
Adult Onset  

Review of Adult Onset   (3 Stars)

Mary Rose MacKinnon is a 48-year-old YA novelist, now a stay-at-home mother looking after two young children while her partner Hilary is away; she describes herself as “the middle-aged lesbian single-mother housewife” (73). The duration is one week during which time Mary Rose must cope with the loneliness, stress, and tedium of day-to-day single parenting. Her anxiety about her mothering skills, especially when caring for a stubborn two-year-old, lead her to examining her own mother’s parenting style. And recurring pain in an arm causes her to reflect on events from her childhood when she also experienced pain in that arm because of bone cysts.

Though the novel covers a short period of time, virtually all of it in Mary Rose’s Toronto home, it explores a huge emotional landscape. Within that week, the protagonist experiences what could be described as an emotional unravelling. She is a very anxious person prone to panic attacks and always worrying about possible tragedies that could befall the children and her partner. She is especially concerned about whether she is a good parent; she knows she has moments of uncontrollable rage in which she fears harming herself or the children. In her tendency to anger, she sees her mother Dolly whom she remembers as often being depressed and unpredictable in her outbursts; Mary Rose agrees with her brother who says, “’We were raised with a lot of rage’” (68).

One of Mary Rose’s difficulties as she starts sifting through childhood memories is that she isn’t always certain of what she actually remembers and what she remembers being told. A pivotal event she remembers, one in which her sister played a major role, is not part of her sister’s memories. As it becomes obvious that there is something unpleasant about her past, she turns away in fear though Hilary encourages her to take a direct look and face what is there.

One of the themes is the influence of the past on the present. MacDonald examines what happens when people don’t confront the pain of the past. It manifests itself in unexpected ways: Hilary tells Mary Rose, “’You have your scars, you have your chronic pain, you have your broken heart’” (333) and “’I live with some of the results of how your mother dealt with her suffering’” (335). Rather than face a harsh truth, people tend to lie to themselves and make excuses; again, Hilary tells her partner, “’you’d justify [a cruel act] with how she suffered’” (335). And what if a harsh truth about the past can be known only partially; does one have to forgive what one does not remember (333)?

Though not as memorable as Fall on Your Knees, this book is definitely worth a read. It conveys the frustrations and ennui of parenting in a very realistic way, and its focus on the importance of not suppressing the past should certainly give every reader pause to think.


“M” is for Alistair MacLeod
MacLeod’s writing evokes the beauty of Cape Breton Island and the resilient character of its inhabitants.
He wrote two books of short stories and one novel.


No Great Mischief (nominated for 1999 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and winner of 2001 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award)


“M” is for Ami McKay
Though born in the U.S., McKay has become known as a Nova Scotian writer.

Novels (which I recommend):

The Birth House (longlisted for 2007 Dublin IMPAC Award)
The Virgin Cure   See my review at
The Witches of New York   See my review at

 "M” is for W. O. Mitchell
Mitchell has often been called the Mark Twain of Canada for his vivid tales of young boys' adventures.

Novels (which I recommend):

Who Has Seen the Wind
How I Spent my Summer Holidays

“M” is for Rohinton Mistry
Mistry is an Indian-Canadian writer whose three novels have each been nominated for major awards.

Novels (which I recommend):
Such a Long Journey (shortlisted for the 1991 Man Booker Prize and winner of the Governor-General’s Award and a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize)
A Fine Balance (winner of 1995 Giller Prize and 1996 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize)
Family Matters (shortlisted for 2002 Man Booker Prize and 2004 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award)


“M” is for Lucy Maud Montgomery
Many people have read her Anne of Green Gables but not everyone realizes that there are 8 books in that series.

Novels (which I recommend):
    Anne of Green Gables
    Anne of Avonlea
    Anne of the Island
    Anne of Windy Poplars
    Anne's House of Dreams
    Anne of Ingleside
    Rainbow Valley
    Rilla of Ingleside
Emily trilogy
    Emily of New Moon
    Emily Climbs
    Emily's Quest


“M” is for Donna Morrissey
Morrissey is another Newfoundland writer whose books I have loved.

Novels (which I recommend):
Kit's Law
Downhill Chance
Sylvanus Now
What They Wanted


“M” is for Alice Munro
No list of noteworthy Canadian writers would be complete without a reference to our Nobel Prize winning short story writer.

Short-story Collections:
Dance of the Happy Shades (winner of the 1968 Governor General's Award)
Lives of Girls and Women
Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You
Who Do You Think You Are? (winner of 1978 Governor General's Award and short-listed for 1980 Booker Prize)
The Moons of Jupiter (nominated for 1982 Governor General's Award)
The Progress of Love (winner of 1986 Governor General's Award)
    Friend of My Youth
    Open Secrets (nominated for 1994 Governor General's Award)
    The Love of a Good Woman (winner of the 1998 Giller Prize)
    Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
    Runaway (winner of the 2004 Giller Prize and Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize)
    The View from Castle Rock
    Too Much Happiness
    Dear Life