Fiction - in Print
Thistledown Press, 2012
The characters from Susan Musgrave’s Cargo of Orchids are back! Rainy, the Mexican-American woman, and Frenchy, the African-American, along with Musgrave’s narrator X have returned and insist their story is not done. Once inmates on death row, now reunited and hanging out at an old house in a BC outport, they create a grand new afterlife adventure.
Readers are shuttled along an energetic storyline in an old hearse, through gated communities in Vancouver to BC’s First Nations island outposts, to bear witness to the transformation of lives on the slopes of purgatory.
Musgrave’s trademark undercurrents of lurking peril and unexpected havoc play out against murder, drug encounters, and sexual tension, but Given is a novel with its own rules of engagement. Musgrave’s comic gifts and ability to transcend this earthly plane create a ghost story that becomes a masterful allegory for personal loss and the potency of love.
Cargo of Orchids
Knopf Canada, 2000 (first edition)
Vintage Canada Paperback, 2001
Cargo di Orchidee/ Italian edition Meridiano Zero, 2005
A brilliant mix of poignant humanity and black humour in the gripping story of a woman living on Death Row for the unimaginable crime of killing her own child.
Susan Musgrave’s novel Cargo of Orchids is an exploration of the poetics of despair and a warning about the futility of incarceration and execution. Musgrave, winner of the Tilden Award for Poetry and an established fiction writer, is the enfant terrible of Canadian literature. Among her transgressions against propriety was her prison wedding to Stephen Reid, a convicted bank robber and the author of Jackrabbit Parole. With Reid back behind bars after a return to armed robbery, Musgrave has been a vocal advocate for prisoners’ rights.
Cargo of Orchids is a plea against the death penalty and a meditation on motherhood and loss. Although the book is filled with poetic imagery, dark humour, and irony. The unnamed narrator, a former translator of Spanish, drifts into the company of Colombian drug lords known as “Las Blancas.” She becomes pregnant by one of them during a visit to a British Columbia prison, and then is kidnapped by her lover’s wife and held hostage in horrible conditions off the coast of South America. She returns to the North America only to be framed for the murder of her child and sent to death row in California. While advocacy groups clamour for her release, she makes friends with Rainy and Frenchy, two women on death row who don’t have the kind of background–Canadian, white, middle-class–that attracts attention outside the prison walls. In its passionate advocacy, Cargo of Orchids is a standout among recent Canadian novels, many of which are, for the most part, clever little books about nothing. This narrative is a breach in the wall of respectability that protects most of her readers from the nightmare lived by the rest of the world. –Robyn Gillam
Cargo of Orchids swings through comedy and tragedy to shed a gradual, eerie light on the questions of guilt and innocence and moral ambiguity that lie at its heart.
Praise for Cargo of Orchids:
“In the annals of death house literature it’s rare that a novel leans on stand-up comedy. Susan Musgrave’s Cargo of Orchids does so brilliantly. Set in the near future, when executions are broadcast on television, Cargo of Orchids is wonderful fun; terrifying, unforgettable and sui generis.” —BC Bookworld
“Musgrave shares with Tom Robbins a talent for redeeming mundanity by bringing in the lunatic fringe. Like Robbins, she is a verbal cartoonist, though her satire is more effervescent…” —Ottawa Citizen
“…a lyrical narrative sliced with dark graphic humour…Musgrave artfully turns up the tension as she twists the plot, humanizing the characters despite their ugly underbellies. It’s a disturbing but eloquent argument against incarceration and capital punishment.” —Chatelaine, November 2000
“…she inhabits her subjects like a second skin, injecting them with a sad wisdom and complex sympathy.” —Elm Street Magazine, September 2000
Fiction - Out of Print
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The Charcoal Burners
McClelland & Stewart, 1980, Hardcover
Totem, 1981, Paperback
ISBN 10: 0002221942
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)
Once in a while comes a first novel of such savage and powerful impact, its publication must be hailed as an important event.
“Her body was dripping: blue fluid, red worms. She was riding a cock horse to Banbury Cross. She was cradled in the bosom of the deep.. His presence filled her head. All sound became his breathing, and silence her heartbeat.”
Susan Musgrave, acclaimed as one of the most extraordinarily gifted poets this country has ever produced, has written such a novel.
“She only knew that she wanted to get away. She’d walk in circles, sleep in the cold, starve, eat roots, face bears — anything to be delivered form this madman”
Here is a story that transcends the traditional limitations of literature, a story that travels fearlessly to the darkest recesses of the human mind and soul. The Charcoal Burners is a work unlike any other, reflecting the astonishing and terrifying vision of a brilliant young author.”
Praise for The Charcoal Burners
A riskier novel than Atwood’s The Edible Woman, more ambitious and visionary. When there is humour, it is blacker than charcoal.” —The Globe and Mail
The Dancing Chicken
ISBN 10: 0458811807
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)
The Dancing Chicken represents yet another departure for this daring writer. It casts a satiric eye on the alliances and misalliances of small-town institutions and families, specifically the Holmes family. Cod Holmes, who considers himself unhappily married to Nora, is on the verge of falling in love with Ursula, who is slightly mad.
He is also spectacularly unfaithful with nurse Trout while visiting his daughter Brandy in the hospital. Brandy and her lover have been shot down by the leader of a rival motorcycle gang, who takes refuge in the woodshed of Cod’s mother Miriam. Miriam believes him to be the resurrection of her long-dead husband Dodder.
And so the family engages in the universal dance of sex and death in this mordantly funny new novel by one of our most imaginative writers.
Praise for The Dancing Chicken
A nasty, rambunctious little book — wickedly realistic. Read and laugh. Nervously.” —The Montreal Gazette