John O’Neill’s stories aren’t really all that gothic but they can be grisly as they turn a sardonic, clear-eyed focus on hazardous and occasionally fatal human encounters with the natural world. The stories are set in the Canadian Rockies and depict characters grappling with an array of problems, from thwarted desires to chronic pain to tricky family relationships to feelings of being at odds with where their lives are taking them.
The collection opens with a story of taut suspense in which a hitchhiker on the run is picked up by a family in a VW van—mother, father, two daughters. The narrator, beginning to feel a connection with the family, is wondering how much he can safely reveal about himself when tragedy strikes. In “Athabasca,” Karen, who suffers from migraines, has ventured west, leaving Toronto to visit her sister Sylvie on a trip that’s supposed to be therapeutic. Disappointed though to find that their relationship is just as combative and complicated as it’s always been, she begins to suspect that the difficulties are mostly her fault. “Rudy” is the story of a socially awkward, grossly overweight man with impulse control issues who is shocked and confused when people show him kindness. And in “The Book About the Bear” a veterinary surgeon whose days are spent performing necropsies is in for a surprise when he cuts open a bear that killed a man.
John O’Neill, primarily known as a poet, is also an artful writer of fiction whose stories gradually build tension and achieve sharp and startling focus as the action reaches its denouement. The western setting is lovingly evoked. These stories are thoroughly engaging, inventive and often wryly humorous. But there is violence in these pages too. In Goth Girls of Banff nature is freely available for anyone to enjoy, but only the naïve and reckless turn their back on it.
Shortlisted for a 2021 ReLit Award in the short fiction category.
John O’Neill is the author of the novel Fatal Light Awareness and four poetry collections, Animal Walk, Love in Alaska, The Photographer of Wolves, and Criminal Mountains. He was raised in Scarborough, Ontario, where his parents worked for many years as building superintendents, an aspect of his history explored in The Photographer of Wolves. He was a winner in the Prairie Fire Long Poem Contest and Sheldon Currie Fiction Prize, and the recipient of a ‘Maggie’ – a Manitoba Magazine Award – for Best Story for his “The Book About The Bear.” John was a finalist, with his manuscript Goth Girls of Banff (Newest Press 2020), for the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction. He taught high-school English and Dramatic Arts for 29 years, and now lives and writes in the Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto. He and his artist wife Ann make frequent trips to Canada’s Rocky Mountains, and this landscape continues to be a major influence on his writing.
- Publisher : NeWest Press (Nov. 15 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 208 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1988732956
- ISBN-13 : 978-1988732954
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