Novel Destinations: Coming Out Canuck

July 1, 2011

Happy Canada Day!

Our Canadian colleagues and customers are probably off celebrating somewhere, but whether or not our travels will take us past the Peace Arch this summer, it’s a great time for the rest of us to think about all the great popular culture and literature that originates north of the border.

To this brash American, Canada has always seemed like the paragon of a progressive, mannerly, orderly society: low government debt, low crime rates, conscientious bilingualism, metrication process almost complete, Thanksgiving all over with by Halloween, and so forth.  But in fact Canadian culture offers a variety of moods and attitudes also featuring, among others, post-apocalyptic and postmodern angst, biting hip satire, and likeable hamminess.

Let’s start with the postmodern. Douglas Coupland is practically local, a  Vancouver novelist whose books have such a strong grungey sensibility that we’d be happy to claim him as a Northwesterner if only he lived this side of the border.  His first novels’ very titles tell you where he’s coming from: Shampoo Planet, Microserfs, Girlfriend in a Coma, Life After God, All Families Are Psychotic, to name but a few.  A couple that Sno-Isle owns are Hey, Nostradamus (a multi-perspective narrative of characters affected by a Columbine-style shooting in a Vancouver suburban school), and jPOD (a novel about six young adults working for a Burnaby software company who are assigned the same cubicle accidentally).  NoveList mentions Coupland as a read-a-like for Chuck Palahniuk, so if you want to attempt to steer  Palahniuk readers to anything else that might satisfy them, you might mention him.

More classically political but still darkly post-apocalyptic is Margaret Atwood, who won’t need an introduction for most of you.  Her disturbing, anti-corporate but ultimately hopeful Oryx and Crake, about an ecological dystopia featuring a new species of genetically modified “people” whose main character may be the last human on Earth, is one of my speculative fiction favorites.  In 2009, Atwood wrote a prequel called Year of the Flood, which I never got around to reading. I think this summer is a good time to catch up with her.

Moving to biting satire, if you feel like a cross between The Daily Show and Amy Sedaris, you won’t want to miss Toronto native Samantha Bee, who besides contributing her own amusing angles in the sidebars of Jon Stewart’s books, has come out herself with You’re A Horrible Person But I Like You: The Believer Book of Advice and I Know I Am But What Are You?  I’d find Bee a bit on the cruel side if she wasn’t so hard on herself. 

 Finally, I just wanted to mention my very favorite Canadian, the unstoppable William Shatner.  This man deserves every bit of the limelight he takes up.  Productive and prolific, he’s contributed to multiple Star Trek books and penned a charming autobiography Up Till Now, as well as (of course) appeared in numerous popular TV shows over decades.  His singing career proves he will brave ridicule to be fondly remembered.  Here’s a behind the scenes of his patriotic rendering of O Canada.

posted by Darren

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