In his third collection of very short fiction, Giller Prize finalist (in 2003 for Kilter) John Gould turns his laser focus on death in its infinite variety. A whole book about death might seem intimidating, or, to some, simply depressing. But by approaching the subject from every conceivable angle and constructing his stories using a profusion of refreshing and startling perspectives, Gould keeps his reader guessing and slightly off-balance throughout the volume. After a while, seduced by these moving, ironic, insightful, and cleverly subversive snapshot dramas, it’s easy to forget that you’re reading about death and dying at all.
Indeed, in much the same way that the nature of the eventual demise that awaits all of us is impossible to predict, we never know quite what to expect from Gould’s stories. In “Sunday Morning” Theresa sends a birthday greeting on Facebook to her friend Simon only to discover by scrolling through posts further down on his page that he’s been dead for two years. In “Dreams of Love,” two sisters console each other in the wake of their brother’s death by invoking his mischievous spirit in the office of the funeral director. In “Stage,” a gay man mourning his husband’s death ruminates on the stages of grief, though he’s been assured by his psychologist that such stages don’t actually exist and that everyone grieves in their own way. And in “Skeletal,” a couple is bemused when their school-age daughter decides to do her science project on the “five stages of decomposition.”
It is true that the shadow of death—what death means, the physical mechanism by which death occurs, what comes after—hovers over every page. But just as you can’t have order without chaos, or light without darkness, it turns out that you can’t contemplate death for very long without also giving some consideration to life. As strange as it might seem, The End of Me is a lively, humane, uplifting book, filled with compassion and written with deep affection for its characters. It’s also a book that rewards repeated readings: you will find yourself dipping back in, trying to decide which of these 56 artfully crafted vignettes is your favourite.
And, finally, it poses something of a conundrum: how is it possible for a book about death to have so much to say about being alive?
John Gould is the author of two previous collections of very short stories — including Kilter, a finalist for the Giller Prize and a Globe and Mail Best Book — and the novel Seven Good Reasons Not to Be Good. His fiction has been published in periodicals across Canada and abroad, and adapted for film. A teacher, editor, and arts administrator, he served on the editorial board of the Malahat Review and taught creative writing at the University of Victoria.
- Paperback: 280 pages
- Publisher: Freehand Books (May 2 2020)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1988298563
- ISBN-13: 978-1988298566
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