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The Edges of Identity

Fawn Parker—whose most recent publication is the novel Set-Point, which “takes us to the very edge of identity, virtual and lived,” according to poet Kateri Lanthier—recommends eight books dealing with issues of identity, sexuality, and mental health. 

Heroine, by Gail Scott 

A Montreal woman masturbates in her bathtub, musing on her involvement with the '70s leftist movement, a polyamorous romance with a man always just out of reach, and her own personal identity cast against other women, other artists. Gail Scott blends poetic prose, stream of consciousness and “new narrative” (term coined by Soup magazine) to bring the reader right into the room with her protagonist. The line blurs between tense, story, character, and body. 

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Sodom Road Exit, by Amber Dawn

Starla Mia Martin moves back home to what feels like a ghost town (Crystal Beach, Ontario) to live with her mother in an attempt to pay back debt from school. Sodom Road Exit is a queer thriller, using the supernatural in new ways and featuring a protagonist who rather than shying away from the surreal, digs deeper.

Sludge Utopia, by Catherine Fatima

Catherine Fatima is an incredibly intelligent writer with an ability to blend the academic and theoretical with the highly emotional. Sludge Utopia is an auto-fictional novel exploring sexual and romantic desire, life under capitalism, and female identity. 

Life is About Losing Everything, by Lynn Crosbie

While introducing an excerpt from Life is About Losing Everything at Toronto’s Sneaky Dees, Lynn Crosbie said, “It is not a sexy book; it is a book about being sexually rejected by cruel fat men.” The novel poignantly details a woman’s experience with self dread, romantic rejection, and loneliness. There is a beauty in the small, everyday moments and the detail in which Crosbie describes objects of value, important relationships, her experience of friendship. Surely there is loss, but also there is letting go.

Book Cover Whore

Whore, by Nelly Arcan

Whore is a memoir/novel about sex work, religion, childhood, and womanhood. Nelly Arcan blends stream of consciousness, flashbacks, and monologues to create a narrative that at times feels like a fever dream. 

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Shut Up You're Pretty, by Téa Mutonji

The stories in Téa Mutonji’s debut collection are bold and disarming, exploring themes of race, class, sexuality, sex work, class, and identity. There is humour and playfulness in the prose, and the restraint shown by Mutonji is evidence of a very talented storyteller. 

Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, by Kai Cheng Thom

A coming of age story of a young Asian trans girl, leaving her abusive childhood home in a city called “Gloom” to find a new family and new identity in a place called the  “Street of Miracles.” Kai Cheng Thom is an incredibly engaging writer, injecting moments of lightheartedness into a very important story.

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Just Pervs, by Jess Taylor

Jess Taylor’s stories are a lot of fun, but more importantly they push up against misconceptions about what it means to be a sexual woman. The characters in Just Pervs explore the gross, uncomfortable, and complicated corners of sex and relationships. 

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About Set Point

Set-Point is a novel about personal, sexual, and physical identity. In a voice that is at once brutally honest and humorous, the story follows Lucy Frank, a mid-20s aspiring screenwriter living in Montreal who begins work as a digital sex worker, selling data recorded on interactive erotic consoles. She keeps her work separate from her artistic and personal life, until a user threatens to release her identity. Lucy struggles with body image, her mother's illness, and her feelings about her new line of work, while trying to sell a series of scripts parodying Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle series. Segments of the novel take place inside of U:3D, a massive multiplayer online world-building game in which Lucy's project is produced. Unfolding in Montreal's youth culture, this debut explores intellectual parody, mental and physical illness, and the relationship between technology and sex.

October 3, 2019

Books mentioned in this post

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Set-Point

by Fawn Parker
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: literary, contemporary women

Set-Point is humorously dry, insightful, and an understated portrait of a complex personal landscape.

Lucy is a 20-something old aspiring screenwriter who takes up digital sex-work to pay the bills. Circulating a confused social atmosphere of half-engagement with lovers, friends, and co-workers in present-day Montreal, Lucy struggles with her self i …

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Heroine

by Gail Scott
edition: Paperback
also available: Paperback eBook
tagged: gay, literary, political

In a bathtub in a rooming house in Montreal in 1980, a woman tries to imagine a new life for herself: a life after a passionate affair with a man while falling for a woman, a life that makes sense after her deep involvement in far left politics during the turbulent seventies of Quebec, a life whose form she knows can only be grasped as she speaks i …

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Sodom Road Exit

by Amber Dawn
edition: Paperback
also available: Audiobook (CD)
tagged: lesbian, contemporary women, occult & supernatural

Lambda Literary Award and Sunburst Award finalist; a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year

It's the summer of 1990, and Crystal Beach in Ontario has lost its beloved, long-running amusement park, leaving the lakeside village a virtual ghost town. It is back to this fallen community Starla Mia Martin must return to live with her overbearing mother aft …

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Sludge Utopia

by Catherine Fatima
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged: contemporary women, literary, biographical

In a kind of Catherine Millet meets Roland Barthes baring of life with hints of the work of Chris Kraus, Sludge Utopia by Catherine Fatima is an auto-fictional novel about sex, depression, family, shaky ethics, ideal forms of life, girlhood, and coaching oneself into adulthood under capitalism.

Using her compulsive reading as a lens through which t …

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Life Is About Losing Everything

by Lynn Crosbie
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: literary, biographical, contemporary women

From the author of the wildly controversial books Liar and Paul's Case comes one of the most anticipated — and perhaps, in some quarters, feared — books of the year. This is author Lynn Crosbie at her most honest, most cutting, most hilarious, and most heartbreaking. The stories told here are at once a cache, a repository, of a seven-year peri …

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Shut Up You're Pretty

by Tea Mutonji
edition: Paperback
tagged: contemporary women, short stories (single author), lesbian

Winner, Trillium Book Award and Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction; Finalist, Rogers Writers' Trust of Canada Fiction Prize; a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year

In Tea Mutonji's disarming debut story collection, a woman contemplates her Congolese traditions during a family wedding, a teenage girl looks for happiness inside a pack of cigarettes, …

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Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars

A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir

by Kai Cheng Thom
edition: Paperback
also available: Audiobook
  • age: 13 to 17
  • Grade: 8 to 12
tagged: coming of age, lgbt

At once a love letter and challenge to the traditional transgender memoir, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars is a playful, surrealist dance through queer coming of age.

A haunted young girl (who happens to be a kung-fu expert and pathological liar) runsaway from an oppressive city, where the sky is always grey, in search of love and sisterhood--and …

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Just Pervs

by Jess Taylor
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged: short stories (single author), contemporary women, bisexual

Finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards, Bisexual Fiction Category.

Two sex addicts meet and fall in love. A woman catches her husband cheating on her with their dog and escapes to her sister's horse farm. Four friends—fellow pervs—grow up and drift apart, pining for each other in silence until one of them is murdered.

In Jess Taylor's sopho …

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