Rosalind Gill is originally from Corner Brook and attended Memorial University of NL before going on to do graduate work at McGill University. She is now a Senior Scholar in French and Translation at Glendon College, York University. Her stories and translations from French and Spanish have appeared in various Canadian journals and magazines.
Newfoundland & Labrador’s Breakwater Books has just released what may be considered quintessential short stories of growing up in Newfoundland in the late 50’s to early 70’s. While Too Unspeakable for Words is a daring title for a book, the writing contained in the 150 pages of this book is nothing short of entertaining, amusing and at times wistful in the telling. As regular readers of my reviews will know, the short story genre is one of my favourites, and I’m glad to say this book does not disappoint. As I was reading the first few stories, I was thinking “Coronation Street” set in Newfoundland. Not that I have seen a lot of the popular British TV series, but it made me think of real people in real situations without the sheen of a Hollywood production. TUFW is full of characters (some reoccur in following stories) that are close to home, endearing and just plain likeable, such as the unnamed teller of the story “Learning to Tango” who says of her British professors in the French department:
“..if you ever saw them teaching, you knew they had a mission, to pass on knowledge about alexandrines, the division of literature into centuries, and the importance of nothingness – le néant. I sat in the front row, searching their faces, absorbing the British highlights of French culture with every fibre of my being. And in the evenings, I poured over the French centuries in my little bedroom at the back of my parent’s bungalow on Forest Road. Try as I would, I could never fathom nothingness. It didn’t make sense in a place like St. John’s, where life is curious and intense, full of eye contact and quirkish remarks from strangers. There might be despair all around you, but not nothingness – far from it.”
That last line contains a hint of what each story contains: a little thrust of realism (“There might be despair all around you..”) that takes the reader along on each adventure, like the nostalgic memories of coming of age in “The Sweetest Meadows”:
He was fixed on Millie, already doting on her every trait: the freckles in the hollow of her neck, her slightly lazy left eye that made you wonder if she was really looking at you, and even the faint smell of sour baby’s milk she had about her.
Or the charged interplay of various individuals lodging in a B & B in Cape Verde in “The Carpenter’s Secret”:
Carla takes a gulp of coffee.
Mary’s eyes meet George’s. She looks away quickly.
My God, I’m pulled by him.
These are not short stories with deep philosophical meanings: they are, rather, honest stories, albeit with some morsel of food for thought in each one. On the whole, Too Unspeakable for Words is a deeply satisfying read and will leave you wanting more of Ms. Gill’s enjoyable words.