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  • Emergent Fiction
  • Brandon McFarlane (bio)

This article provides the opportunity to celebrate achievements and reflect upon new trends in Canadian writing. It is odd to conceptualize dozens of books as a whole simply because they were released by Canadian publishers in the same year. It is equally odd to critically compare cohorts. Having now written three Emergent Fiction omnibus reviews for UTQ, I can say with confidence that 2015 was an exceptional year for Canadian fiction, 2016 was a disappointing year, and 2017 was a strong year. I'm uncertain what value these critical insights provide, beyond reassuring readers that there is much Canadian fiction to be appreciated and that, assuming the authors continue practicing their craft, there will be many fine works in the years to come. The omnibus reviews, then, are not only about acclaiming new works but also anticipating future literary delights.

Publishers submitted thirty-two novels and collections of short stories; fifteen texts were featured due to their noteworthy experimentation, aesthetic excellence, and contributions to broader shifts in Canadian literature. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the featured texts is that they are a lot of fun (with, perhaps, the exception of Michael Kaan's The Water Beetles, which is set in World War II Hong Kong; that novel was decidedly disturbing and not fun). This trend presented a critical problem because literary scholars lack a nuanced vocabulary that can explain how fun, joy, and playfulness inform a text's aesthetic. Until very recently, describing a work of literature [End Page 1] as "fun" might be misinterpreted as a condescending slander, a comment that dismissed a text as superficial, low-brow, or unliterary. The deficiency of literary scholarship may mark a crisis because a new aesthetic that defies existing rubrics and theories has spawned. In the sections that follow, I attempt to delineate new aesthetics and celebrate emerging voices. The first theorizes "meta-creativity" and proposes that it distinguishes contemporary Canadian fiction from earlier forms; the second unpacks noteworthy new novels; and the third reviews new collections of short fiction. This structure is intended to provide space to theorize broad shifts while also recognizing the achievements of authors who defy the critical narrative I'm imposing upon Canadian fiction.


Contemporary Canadian fiction continues to break from realist forms. Recent works bear little resemblance to the "classics" of days gone by, even relatively recent works from the 1990s. While scholars have theorized thematic shifts – particularly those pertaining to globalization, diversity, indigeneity, and social justice – we lack a corresponding terminology to make sense of the significant aesthetic shifts that have occurred since those three zeroes replaced the three nines. After reading just under 200 works of emergent fiction in a three-year period, I can speculate, with confidence, that something different has arrived.

In previous articles, I proposed that the volume of comedic and romance forms were noteworthy. Historically, Canadian fiction has been overwhelmingly tragic, with protagonist after protagonist defeated and isolated from society. Contemporary works are more optimistic in that people find belonging and tragedies are transformed into opportunities for growth, renewal, and reconciliation. To summon Northrop Frye, older texts were written in the tragic mode whereas younger texts are comedic (the protagonist integrates into society) and romantic (a revolution finds an idealized order). Fiction produced in 2017 complicates this trajectory: the texts are diverse in terms of mode but nevertheless share elusive aesthetic sensibilities.

The struggle to delineate the emerging aesthetic is, perhaps, evidenced by the critical tendency to use "throw away" terms to describe new fiction. Increasingly, critics note the imaginative, playful, or wonderful characteristics of texts. Such notes are tautological – for one would expect all fiction to be the product of imagination and wonder – but they are nevertheless onto something. To paraphrase Anne of Green Gables, newer works have a greater scope for the imagination: everything and anything is now possible in Canlit, and authors are penning styles that mirror this ethos of creativity. They exhibit a sensibility that can, perhaps, be conceptualized as meta-creative; the sense of imagination and wonderment may originate from styles that implicitly and explicitly mirror creativity. From a readerly perspective, the sheer variety of novel ideas...


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