The Crooked Thing: Stories by Mary MacDonald

In The Crooked Thing, her debut collection of short fiction, Mary MacDonald writes confidently and sensitively about love, loss and memory. The stories strike a variety of moods—regret, levity, confusion—and range far and wide geographically—convincingly so—from the Canadian west, to France, The Netherlands and Norway. 

The book is divided into two sections. In the first, “Love’s Long Contour,” we encounter characters who are in emotional disarray and seeking stability and direction. Often, MacDonald’s characters have reached the end of something and are searching for a new beginning. In the enigmatic “You Can’t Drive to Kaua‘a” Chester, regretting the loss of his partner Tanya, plans to take his Vancouver ferry off route and pilot it all the way to Hawaii. He sets out after dropping off the last of his evening passengers, but to his shock discovers that he is not alone: with him is a mysterious French-speaking man dressed in monk’s garb who ends up sharing the piloting duties when Chester takes a rest but vanishes when the ill-planned voyage comes to an abrupt end with the arrival of a police boat. “The Same River Twice” speculates on the possibility of rekindled love after unfaithfulness. Following his dalliance with her best friend, the narrator has broken up with her husband David, reinventing herself and even assuming a new name. She believes she is happy, but David persists as a presence in her life, reappearing periodically and most meaningfully at an outdoor dinner where she and David both lose their dates to other guests. 

The second section, “Bend to Love,” examines lapsed and missing connections between family members. The narrator of “No Ordinary Light” struggles with guilt over the family rift that thirty years ago separated him from his twin sister Martha, who is now dying in Amsterdam. And in “Simple Gifts,” Alexandra, a cellist, finds her music silenced after her parents are killed in a house fire. 

A few of MacDonald’s unconventional, experimental efforts—“Almost Like Life,” “Lost Lake”—while competent and interesting, leave a muddled final impression. Considered overall, however, The Crooked Thing, largely centred around themes of loss and missed opportunities, lingers in the reader’s mind as a mature and ambitious debut collection that succeeds in evoking love’s diverse manifestations.

Mary MacDonald is a poet and writer and holds a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia. She has written poetry for ballet, public art, and libretto. Her fiction has appeared in ROOM MAGAZINE and nonfiction in PIQUE newsmagazine. Her chapbook, GOING IN NOW, was published in 2014 by NIB Publishing. She is a member of the Whistler, BC writing group, The Vicious Circle, sits on the board of the Whistler Writers Festival, and serves as curator and moderator for the poetry division of the festival.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Caitlin Press (Oct. 2 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 200 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773860313
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773860312

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Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in Grain, The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead and other literary publications. His books are Evidence, The Crimes of Hector Tomás, Perfect World and A Dark House and Other Stories. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Journey Prize, and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. A new collection of linked stories, Witness, will be published by Porcupine's Quill in spring 2023.