High Fives 2016 – Rod Picott
We reviewed Rod Picott as part of a great bill at Green Note this year and he was superb. We were mightily chuffed when he agreed to chip in to the 2016 High Fives with his five favourite novels from 2016.
“Barkskins” – Annie Proulx
“Barkskins” is a roaring firestorm of a novel that tears through decades over its 700-plus pages. There are so many characters the book contains two family trees in order for the reader to stay on course. Proulx’s writing is poetic, expansive and intimate simultaneously. Essentially the story of the North American lumber trade from pre-colonial America through to the industrial revolution, “Barkskins” stands as an allegory to the destructive nature of man. The characters enter the novel, wildly tear across the pages and give way to the next generation in this amazing piece of work.
“Ella Minnow Pea” – Mark Dunn
“Ella Minnow Pea” is a curiously odd political satire written in the form of letters between characters in the fictional island town of Nollop. This strange novel is short, punchy and darkly funny as the letters trace the totalitarian nature of the local government and its banned use of particular letters as they fall from a revered local memorial statue. This short novel is a marvel of invention and imagination.
Farmer – Jim Harrison
“Farmer” is a quiet marvel of a novel. Its protagonist is a rural Michigan teacher caught between two lovers – one, a far too young nubile beauty and the other his lifelong friend and confidant. This description doesn’t come close to capturing the tortured beauty of the protagonist’s journey. Harrison is a poet of a novelist, both literally and figuratively, and “Farmer” is an eloquent telling of the complications inherent in life itself – no matter how simple it appears at its surface.
“Angela’s Ashes” – Frank McCourt
I’m always suspicious of a read that receives as much praise as McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes”. It’s the iconoclast in me. This novel, however, is stunning. Written in the voice of McCourt’s own poverty-riven childhood, the novel crawls slowly forward across his youth from pain to pain. The mainstays are familiar; the drunken father, driving poverty, the unforgiving judgement of the church and the mother trying against odds to hold the entire mess together as a home. “Angela’s Ashes” is a stunning work worthy of its Pulitzer.
“The Ancient Minstrel”– Jim Harrison
Three compact novellas make “The Ancient Minstrel”. I can’t think of anyone aside from Hemingway who writes about the human condition in contrast to nature as effortlessly and effectively as Jim Harrison. That comparison sounds trite and easy but Jim Harrison has the force of a hurricane in his language. These three novellas are brilliant, ruthless, compassionate and brimming with both melancholy and life. Harrison was a master. The best 45 minutes I spent in 2016 was watching Harrison reading his poetry on a YouTube video from a few years back. What a brilliant, funny, unique writer we lost this year in Jim Harrison.