This Shelf Belongs To: Naben Ruthnum

Each month, Librairie Drawn & Quarterly invites an author or artist to curate a shelf in the store. This June, Toronto-based writer Naben Ruthnum helps you satisfy your appetite for crime fiction (and other dark reads).

Naben Ruthnum writes literary and crime fiction. He's the Crimewave review columnist at the National Post, and won the 2013 Journey Prize for his short fiction.

Here’s a sneak peek of what you’ll find on Naben’s shelf—all titles will be 15% off for the month :

The Friends of Eddie Coyle – George V. Higgins
Almost all dialogue, almost all criminals complaining about their home lives, the annoyances of criminal work, and burdensome friends and family. Higgins is a pulp Ivy Compton-Burnett, showing us how much plot and character weight that pure talk can have, and giving us a look at criminal Boston that's only been matched in his own later novels.

Miami Blues – Charles Willeford
Hoke Mosely is the best idiosyncratic detective since Sherlock, and that's because Willeford lets him be as weird as the 1980s Miami that he works in. Stolen dentures, dead Hare Krishnas, and a psycho with a stolen cop badge and gun. It's not quirky, though--this is about characters who are genuine outsiders, not affected fakers.

Queenpin – Megan Abbott
One of Abbott's early books, a real chilly noir that is in love with tough-guy language. It's about what two hard, beautiful women are willing to do to seize power in their world of crime, instead of accepting being exploited and used up. Great noir, and an indication of where she was going to go with contemporary-setting novels.

Satantango – László Krasznahorkai
A dense masterpiece, best read in concentrated one-chapter bursts. Challenging, but hilarious and a piece of unapologetic, great art. Krasznahorkai writes all of Béla Tarr's movies; if you've seen one of those, you'll have an idea of what happens here.

The Wine-Dark Sea – Robert Aickman
My pet obscure writer, now a little less obscure, thanks to these Faber reprints. Aickman called his fiction "strange stories," and he's right. He takes the English ghost story and runs it through the alienated high-art machine of great 20th century writers like Kafka and Borges. Whether he actually read these guys or not is irrelevant: his work may not quite be on their level, but it's powerful and bring a rare, everyday realness to weird fiction that is very unsettling. He's also a great titles man. "Your Tiny Hand is Frozen," one of the stories here, is disturbing before it even starts.

Shame – Salman Rushdie
I haven't read all of Rushdie, but so far, this is the big one for me. It's about Pakistan, but not quite, and I was surprised by how much it reminded me of Nabokov, in a South Asian landscape. Delicious prose and an angry, ruthless deployment of fairy tale logic in a world of filthy politics.

Spent – Joe Matt
Oof, Joe. I wish Matt wrote and drew more. He captures a concentrated male pathos on the comic page like no one else, and he doesn't allow you to look away from his debilitating porn addiction and incredible cheapness. Now that I've lived in the cities that Matt talks about in his work, the narrowness of the life he led in these places strikes me as even sadder than it did when I first read his books in Vancouver. I hope he's having a better time in LA. 

The Blue Flower – Penelope Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald's masterpiece, slim and written in her eighth decade. It's about the German writer Novalis, but there's so much more here. Awkward duels that result in a finger being shot off, massive estate-wide laundry days that fill lawns with linens, and an interrogation of the biggest ideas of love and worth in life and art. I can't overrate this.

Carrie – Stephen King
The first published novel by a broke Maine schoolteacher. He had an idea about telekinesis and a young woman growing up in an oppressive, religious home, going to a high school where she was hated by her peers. An offbeat narrative structure, suffused with small-town American fears of female power. Splatter, sadness, and great technique.

Ripley Under Ground – Patricia Highsmith
The second Ripley novel. Even if you haven't read the first Ripley book, you've probably seen the Minghella film. This sequel finds Tom Ripley in his new life in France, and a pleasant life it is. It threatens to be unraveled by a man who's onto the money-spinning art forgery scheme that Tom earns some of his income from, a con that involves making fake art and faking the artist himself. Complex and satisfying, a good balance of nastiness, cleverness, and glimpses at an enviable lifestyle facilitated by light evil.


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