Here are 20 recently published or upcoming novels and non-fiction works to enliven time spent at the park, at the cottage—or on a comfy chair in the backyard
Likeness by David Macfarlane
A gifted and admired writer across genres—his novel Summer Gone was nominated for the Giller prize, while The Danger Tree, a memoir of his mother’s Newfoundland family, brought him a chorus of praise—Macfarlane’s works have always focused on memory and family. That long-standing theme is understandably far more sorrowful in Likeness. Born out of the fatal illness of Macfarlane’s 29-year-old son, Blake, in 2018, it conveys grief in heartbreaking, often quietly stunning, prose. “When the worst that can happen, happens, the only useful lesson is the knowledge that it can,” he writes mid-book. “That’s the take-away: a world can actually end, time can actually run out.”
A gigantic John Hartman portrait of Macfarlane, with a background depicting an aerial view of his hometown of Hamilton, hangs in Macfarlane’s living room. Contemplating it, especially during Blake’s illness, brought Macfarlane, 68, a sense of his personal chain of being, of the essential likeness of grandfather, son and grandson. Thoughts of Macfarlane’s father, a taciturn doctor also named Blake, run from intense golf matches to drives through Hamilton when the older man would recount ancient gossip about the local elite. Newly vivid memories of his own youth and worries over Blake meant facing the painful contrast between the days of their youths, a time when the father felt limitless possibilities and the son lay in a sickbed.
The painting never leaves the story. The light it portrays and the light it reflects, the overall—aerial, in fact—view it provides of what was naturally no more and what may be cruelly cut short, evoke so much. Between asides that amuse and sadden equally—“And if I may, if your son or daughter asks if you want to grab a bite, say yes”—Macfarlane writes of the pleasure of walking with Blake when he’s in remission and of the days when “he was in such pain I thought my heart would break with helplessness. I would hold him, my 29-year-old son, sometimes for as long as half an hour.” There is an ache in Likeness that cuts as deeply as it does because of the beauty of its expression. Brian Bethune