Aptly named, Wild Pieces (2015, Breakwater Books) is a collection of short stories by Catherine Hogan Safer, author of Bishop’s Road (2004, Killick Press), thus making it her first major release in over 10 years. For her fans, it certainly has been a long wait, and if (like me) you haven’t read Bishop’s road or any of her previous work, then this collection will serve as a good introduction to her writing style, particularly that of her peculiar characters.Like turning over a rock in the garden or an old piece of wood in the forest to see what interesting things live underneath (things which are never pretty), Ms. Hogan Safer does likewise with the characters that inhabit the dark places in her mind. Never pretty, and sometimes horrific, but all too real, Wild Pieces is not for those looking for a ‘feel-good’ type of read. As the publishing blurb says on the back cover:
At once very funny and very sad, here is the dignity of lives lived slightly slant.
The sixteen stories that comprise Wild Pieces run the gamut from a lazy handyman that won’t leave, to a woman who realizes that her address book is full of dead people to an unwanted son who is locked in the basement every night by his father to a woman her paints her house all blue (the inside, not the outside). As Alice said: “curiouser and curiouser!”
My two personal favourites were “Henry”, the boy who is locked in his basement bedroom every night by a father who doesn’t want him, and “Joe” the grandfather whose deceased son’s dysfunctional family moves in with him ‘temporarily’ and won’t leave. Both characters are placed in untenable positions by others, yet they manage to eventually overcome and leave us feeling that there is, after all, and above all, hope.
These are, without a doubt, some of the ‘roughest’ short stories I have read since encountering Danila Botha’s got.no.secrets (2010, Tightrope Books). While Ms. Botha’s stories lay open the raw, seamy side of big inner city life, Wild Pieces is more about the impoverished side of life in the smaller cities and neighbourhoods of Atlantic Canada (Ms. Hogan Safer is from Newfoundland), although the setting could be anywhere. This is the fascinating kind of short story collection that makes you want to immediately move on to the next story. As such, I will be putting it on the 2016 long list for “The Very Best Awards” for short stories (fiction).