Authors constantly wonder how they can get their books reviewed in newspapers, magazines, and websites. As someone who has reviewed books for decades for various outfits, I can tell the authors they should stop trying to figure out the system. There is no system. It’s all haphazard.
Which brings us to the recently released shortlist for the annual Ottawa Book Awards. The English non-fiction titles were all familiar, most having been written by prominent journalists who usually manage to snag some publicity — at least in the publications where they are employed.
The surprises came with the English fiction titles. I had only heard of one of the five books, Dorothy Speak’s Reconciliation, a collection of short stories I had reviewed for The Ottawa Citizen. Speak’s book, by the way, was self-published, which meant she handled her own publicity. I had reviewed one of her previous novels, so she looked me up, sent me a copy of Reconciliation and I was impressed enough to convince the Citizen to run a review. (Note: Lobbying journalists is not always a guarantee of a review.)
Most of the other fiction nominees were books from small publishers whose publicity budgets are often near zero, which means they don’t buy ads and distribute only very limited copies of books to potential reviewers.
An exception was Scott Fotheringham’s novel The Rest is Silence from the medium-sized publisher Goose Lane in Fredericton. Goose Lane is very active in drumming up publicity. The firm contacts me frequently to sing the praises of their authors. So, I am sure they must have contacted me in 2012 when Fotheringham’s novel first appeared and was nominated for the annual Amazon First Novel Award.
Alas, I simply must have been busy with other stories, possibly about authors who were not new to the scene but, like Speak, very experienced. Had it been a slow news day, I probably would have expressed some interest in this new novelist. (See, I told you there was no system.)
Goose Lane says The Rest is Silence was “reviewed widely” although an online search by me found only two surviving reviews: The Globe and Mail and Quill and Quire. I was unable to find any reviews in Ottawa print or online media. So, after a brief flurry of activity last year, Fotheringham’s book quickly disappeared from view but was resurrected this fall thanks to the Ottawa Book Awards.
So, with apologies to Scott Fotheringham, here is a short review I should have written a year ago.
At first, it appears The Rest is Silence is just another earnest novel about a young man who has decided to drop out of society and go back to the land, in this case, a tent, a garden and a small acreage in Nova Scotia.
But suddenly, out of nowhere, there is an offhand reference to the fact most computers have disappeared from the world. What? This is obviously taking place in some near-future dystopia where things are going awry. That sentiment is reinforced as we learn that plastics are also disappearing.
The scene shifts to the recent past in New York, where a young woman named Benny is trying to create a bacteria that eats plastic so landfills around the world can rid themselves of empty pop bottles and other plastic garbage.
Benny is about to become an eco-terrorist. Simultaneously, her personal life is a jumble. She has problems deciding whether she wants to bed Leroy, her male co-worker, or Rachel, a woman with whom she jogs. She tries both but remains dissatisfied.
Meanwhile, the unnamed man in Nova Scotia has his own love-life problems. A woman named Lisa has moved in with him, helped him to build a snug, little cabin and then, rather mysteriously, leaves.
The action constantly moves from Nova Scotia to New York and back again. Suddenly, amid a huge shocker guaranteed to blow your socks off, the two worlds collide and all the growing mysteries, environmental, scientific and interpersonal, are explained.
The prose in this novel is incredibly rich. Fotheringham’s descriptions of the Nova Scotia countryside are sheer poetry. Flashback scenes of a young Benny and her father are heart-breaking. Even minor characters are well-crafted and credible despite mounds of eccentricities.
Two themes emerge: Man’s relationship to the environment and to his own body. The pairing of these two themes has some awkward moments. But generally, Fotheringham has crafted an excellent novel that deserves much more attention.
The winner of the English fiction Ottawa Book Award, worth $7,500, will be announced Oct. 22. The other nominees are: Missy Marston for The Love Monster, Nadine McInnis for Blood Secrets, Christine McNair for Conflict, and Dorothy Speak for Reconciliation.