Catharine Leggett lives in London, Ontario and In Progress was the winner of the Eludia Award, which is given yearly by Hidden River Publishing as a first-book award, for a book-length work of fiction (either a short story collection or a novel) by a woman writer, age 40 or above. Recognition like this from a publisher is not easy to come by, so even before I opened the cover, I knew that In Progress met with someone’s standards for what good stories should be. After reading all fourteen stories, I cannot disagree. In fact, I’m long listing it for “The Very Best!” Book Award for Best Short Fiction in 2020. Let’s look a little deeper at Ms. Leggett’s stories and her writing.Right off the bat, the opening story, “The 401” caught my attention for I have lived most of my life within a few kilometres of North America’s busiest highway. Another story, “The Expo Fever” felt familiar too, as I can recall some of the excitement surrounding Expo ’67 in Montreal, although I was very young at the time. (My older sister did go, however.) So already I felt a kindred connection to In Progress. However, personal feelings aside, what I truly enjoy about Ms. Leggett’s writing is its maturity and a particular sense of style. It reminds me very much of Carol Bruneau’s graceful prose. These are short stories that I think anyone would enjoy, even if they are not fans of the genre.
Ms. Leggett also incorporates into her stories of otherwise ordinary characters a singular life-changing event such as an attempted rape by a Holiday Inn co-worker on a darkened pathway (“The 401”), a husband that suddenly leaves his wife without a trace (“Space”), the impulse purchase of a red wig (“In the Hole”) and a violent snowstorm in (“Snowstorm”), which has a macabre twist to it. All very enjoyable. Several of her stories have another story going on concurrently with the present, as the main character reflects back on the past while living in the present (typically under more stressful circumstances). In the following excerpt from “All of Me”, a flustered Milly is running late (as usual) and is trying on dresses for a wedding that she’s attending in a few hours:
The red dress won’t do. Too clingy. Now there’s a laugh. Clingy? She can’t get it past her boobs. It might have fit a number of sizes ago. “l think I’m going to need a bigger size,” she calls to Brittany. She honestly thought she was a sixteen, but now probably an eighteen. Maybe bigger?
“I’ve got something in a blue floral,” Brittany calls from the other side of the door. “l think it would be lovely with your coloring. It’s a cute dress.”
Her coloring? What would that be? Tired blue, verging on grey? She’s no beauty, not anymore. She’s three times the person she was when she and Nick hooked up. Anyway, she isn’t one for florals— they could either be too matronly or too girly. When was the last time she wore anything that was cute?
“Okay, I’ll give it a try.”
As you can see, there are touches of humour as well, making this compilation one of the most well-balanced short story collections I’ve come across. The Eludia Award was well deserved and Ms. Leggett is an author to watch. In fact, she has just released a novel, The Way To Go Home (Urban Farmhouse Press). It would be interesting to read this full-length novel, for I definitely enjoyed every aspect of In Progress.
In Progress: Stories by Catharine Leggett
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