Judith McCormack is a Canadian author who writes literary fiction. Her first short story was shortlisted for the
Journey Prize and her next three were selected for the Coming Attractions Anthology. Her collection of stories,
The Rule of Last Clear Chance, was shortlisted for
the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust
Fiction Award, and was named one of the best books of the year by The Globe and Mail. Her work has been
published in the Harvard Review, Descant and The Fiddlehead, and one of her stories has been turned into a short
film by her twin sister, Naomi McCormack, an award-winning filmmaker. Another short story was translated into
Hebrew and included in an anthology of Jewish writing. Her most recent short story in the Harvard Review was
recorded as a spoken word version by The Drum, and was anthologized in Best Canadian Short Stories 2014.
Backspring, her first novel, was shortlisted for the 2016 Amazon First
Her most recent book is The Singing Forest,
available in Canada on September 21, 202, and in the U.S on November 9th, 2021.
In a quiet forest in Belarus, two boys make a gruesome
find that reveals a long-kept secret: the mass grave where
Stalin’s police buried thousands of murder victims in the
1930s. The results of the subsequent investigation—30,000
dead—has far-reaching effects, and across the Atlantic in
Toronto, young lawyer Leah Jarvis finds herself tasked with
an impossible case: the trial of elderly Stefan Drozd, a
former member of Stalin’s forces, who fled his crimes in
Kurapaty for a new identity in Canada. Lyrical and wrenching
by turns, The
Singing Forest is a profound investigation
of memory, truth, and the stories that tell us who we are.
Praise for The Singing Forest
A brilliant stroke … McCormack’s scope is impressive.
The Singing Forest is a crime drama, a historical novel, and a character-driven
work … This novel posits that time does not heal all wounds.
Recognition, reparation, and remembrance are urgent.
Quill & Quire
In this hypnotically layered novel, a young Jewish lawyer, Leah
Jarvis, is assigned the case of Stefan Drozd, a nonagenarian war
criminal facing deportation for acts he committed as a minor in
Belarus. McCormack treats her characters with unnerving fairness,
balancing terror with beauty, a brutal childhood with an odd and
loving one, and somehow squeezing out of the reader sympathy
for Drozd—until horror precludes it. Deeply intelligent and
deeply moral, The Singing Forest shows that, like glass, truth
is amorphous. It also makes the case that, though ‘there is no
general duty to rescue’ in law, a family might save a child, as it
did Leah. Or it may, like Drozd, make a monster of him.
Caroline Adderson, author of A History of Forgetting
and A Russian Sister
Sometimes, as a reader, you put down a book in wonder, because you
have been inside the mind of a deep and seeing writer, whose vision
of the world is captivating, original and illuminating. Such a
writer is Judith McCormack. In vibrant and nuanced language
McCormack spirals us into the heart of a war criminal, and the
brilliant lawyer who unravels the workings of his mind. Dark,
disturbing, dazzling—this is an unflinching look at evil—and yet,
and here is McCormack’s genius, we emerge more whole.
The Singing Forest is an absolute triumph!
Shaena Lambert, author of Petra and Oh, My Darling
The Kurapaty mass grave near Minsk, Belarus, was used to hide the
bodies of thousands murdered by Stalin’s secret police from 1937
to 1941 … searingly, as McCormack writes, there are the voices of
the dead who cry out, ‘We are here. We are waiting.’ Know this
history through your heart, through the empathetic imagination
of McCormack’s fiction.
Kim Echlin, author of The Disappeared
Stories that scintillate. … [an] exceptional collection … McCormack emerges as a skilled storyteller
unlike any I’ve encountered. The weightiness of themes — good luck and bad, happiness and misery, chance and
choice and responsibility — is filtered pleasingly through the wry voice of a character in one story;
another unfolds effortlessly, redolent with atmosphere and a detailed evoking of a period setting (19th
century Havana) and manners. Seemingly random plotting gathers itself to a gentle burst of catharsis that
beautifully integrates the whole. … [McCormack] is a rare bird.
Jim Bartley, The Globe and Mail
[McCormack’s] own language is sharply honed without being studied or precious … She also possesses
another valuable tool of the writer, an analogical imagination — she sees the relations between unlike
things. … Finally, she captures the details of daily routine in a way that gives immense life to her
narratives — whether it’s the banging of a venetian blind, caught in a breeze, against a window frame, or a
man “trying to put a glove on with one hand by trapping it against his side.”
Phillip Marchand, The Toronto Star
Judith McCormack writes with the fluidity and confidence of a natural, and her stories are a joy to read.
The stories are rich with bang-on physical description, unforced, natural dialogue and the telling
particulars of daily life. There is also a wonderful sensuality to many of their settings. … The Rule of
Last Clear Chance is a collection of substance, physicality, and insight — a debut to be savoured.
Quill & Quire
The Rule of Last Clear Chance is an anthology of deftly written and somewhat askew short stories by
McCormack who offers the reader an engaging, entertaining, and rather different take on life. Among the many
colorful characters are a lawyer who navigates by smell, a grocer who sells lobsters, and a hapless thief
who should have (perhaps) chosen a life of white-collar crime instead. Double entendres, language slanted
with a dash of the bizarre, and an abiding insight into the drives of human nature colour these
unforgettable tales. The Rule of Last Clear Chance documents Judith McCormack as a wonderfully and
Midwest Book Review (U.S.)
Judith McCormack captures small details of the ordinary in [an] extraordinary new collection. … Judging by
her first collection, she’s the kind of writer who starts out very well and only gets better.
The Ottawa Citizen
… sparkling debut collection of short stories … McCormack’s prose resembles high realism in the way it
adjusts reality into hyper-sharp focus. … Her dialogue is so natural and effortless that readers feel like
they are eavesdropping on actual conversations. … It’s impossible to read a McCormack story without being
stopped in your tracks by the vividness of language. Her use of words is often shockingly delightful.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Record
The characters in Judith McCormack’s short story collection The Rule of Last Clear Chance are human
rich in spirit … laced with humour and wit, and even in darker moments the interior thoughts and
dialogues of her characters are frequently very funny. McCormack commands the English language the way
Pascal Roget handles the piano keys — with an apparent effortlessness in which technique is so solid as to
be a given. In these stories, optimistic individuals may become fearful and intelligent ones do stupid
things, but the author presents them always with unpatronizing tenderness.
Books in Canada
Another award-winning writer is Judith McCormack, whose first collection of short stories,
The Rule ofLast Clear Chance, has a wider reach and is ultimately accessible to more readers. Her
characters are drawn from
all over the social landscape, and so you never know whom you will encounter from one tale to the next. …
The Rule of Last Clear Chance is almost wholly satisfying, introducing us to characters about whom
bound to be curious.
University of Toronto Quarterly
There are no clichés in her stories. When she has an idea to explore, she forges new trails across the
landscapes of language and metaphors to territories where it seems that no other writer has ever set foot.
… McCormack sets a new standard for short-story writing in this debut collections, and perhaps more
importantly, for seeing life in all of its dimensions. We need more writers like her.
Canadian Book Review Annual
This is her debut collection, and I have to say I was pretty amazed by it. Her writing is just so — it’s
witty and it’s funny and it’s very readable. She’s got these wonderful little observations that just strike
you as very humorous. She reminded me a lot of Carol Shields, actually. … I just want her to write a lot
more books really soon. I’d love to see a long book by her. … the wit, the pathos, the aptness of images
is just wonderful … I would love to see a novel.
McCormack commands the English language the way Pascal Rogé handles the piano keys — with an apparent
effortlessness in which technique is so solid as to be a given.
Books in Canada
Though it starts with a fire, the appeal of this book is its style of depicting aftermath, which is
understated despite high emotional tension. It’s akin to the scent of smoke that bothers Eduardo during
anxious moments in the months following the blast. A novel of precariousness — in love and life — set in a
Montreal mosaic of French, English and les autres.