Bruce Meyer’s latest book, The Hours, Stories from a Pandemic opens with an epigraph attributed to the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez; “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” This, it seems to me, captures perfectly the philosophical, sometimes mystical perspective found in this collection of six distinct stories.
Meyer uses the term “pandemic” generically and for the most part, forgoes references to specific illness or contagion. Instead, he pins our attention to broader considerations of mortality, separateness, and the margins of circumstance that frame a life. Being hangs in a metaphorical balance. Existence is a frail thing, poignant and by no means certain. For instance, in the story, The Island, Meyer calls out the mythology of invulnerability. Pandemic, like a dirge, is ever-present in the background. “My father,” Agnes says recalling an earlier scourge, “arrived home [from the war] and three days later he didn’t get out of bed for breakfast and by the afternoon he was gone. My mother, poor soul, tried to haul his body down to the road after sewing him in the sheet he died in, but she stopped, exhausted in the doorway of our house.” Resilience is possible only through a collective and self-denying response. “Grief makes a family of us all,” one character says, and then, in the final line, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, I am nothing if I do not have charity.”
In other stories, pestilence is a stand-in for death, sometimes patient but inevitably exacting. In the story, Yellow Jack, passengers and crew on a forsaken plague-ridden cruise ship, darkly named the Tarantella after an Italian death dance, play out their socially prescribed roles until all hope is gone. “The Yellow Jack was still flying from our stern, flapping madly in the wind. During the night it had begun to shred, so that its fingers of black and yellow seemed to grab at the sky, reaching to hold on to what it could not seize.”
In Zoom, the husband of an intensive-care nurse observes as his wife, donning her PPE, “like a Joan of Arc, being sealed in her armour for battle” becomes increasingly remote in the wake of losses associated with her work.
An ailing college student in The Dolphin swims out too far, only to encounter a magical creature, who, like a spirit companion, guides him to a beautiful death. “In an instant, he turned, in horror and then in wonder, as white wings stretched from his shoulders, their pinions dripping in rainbows of iridescent droplets and their span growing wider and wider until they began to paddle the air.”
Likewise, in The Hours, a sublime and yet humble presence observes and sanctifies a woman’s final passage. Here, life’s transitory nature is laid bare when the dream of creating a garden paradise melts away in a punishing heatwave. “Carefully, Angelo removed the thorns from the length of the stem. Even in its tinged and shrivelled state, the crisp petals held their perfume. And though they might have made a fine bowl of potpourri, Angelo realized that a beautiful vitality had left the world and that holding on to its remains would be a mockery of life.”
The people encountered in these stories often manifest their isolation in physical characteristics, as is the case in Our Love is Here To Stay, in which a man sustains a war wound that results in a lifetime of deafness. His wife, elderly and gravely ill with the virus, writes a note to the paramedics who come to assess her. “My husband is deaf and he tunes pianos.” The man’s story is close to miraculous, and although they must part, the couple’s love is transcendent.
Meyer is a storyteller of considerable power. The writing is highly symbolic, with an allegorical feel, and at times while reading I felt I was watching an Ingmar Bergman film. Characters are often representational, eliciting a curious mix of fascination and compassion. The author gives a bittersweet nod to the ferocity of human attachments – the stubbornness of love, the astonishing expansiveness of loyalty, but the narrative is ultimately fatalistic. While these stories may not be intimately relatable, they exert an undeniable pull and at times, are nothing short of revelatory.
Bruce Meyer is the author of more than sixty books of poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and non-fiction. His previous collections of fiction are A Chronicle of Magpies (Tightrope Books, 2014), A Feast of Brief Hopes (Guernica Editions, 2018) and Down in the Ground (Guernica Editions, 2020).
His stories have won or been shortlisted for numerous international and national prizes including the Anton Chekhov Prize for Very Short Fiction, the Retreat West Short Story Prize, the Bath Short Story Prize, the Fish Short Story Prize, the Tom Gallon Trust Prize for Fiction, the Thomas Morton Prize for Fiction, the Carter V. Cooper Prize for Fiction, and the Strands International Short Story Prize.
He lives in Barrie, Ontario with his wife, Kerry, and their daughter, Katie, and teaches at Georgian College and Victoria College in the University of Toronto.
- Publisher : AOS Publishing (April 8 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 105 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1777513901
- ISBN-13 : 978-1777513900
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Valerie Mills-Milde lives, works, and writes in London Ontario. She is the author of the novel After Drowning (2016), which won the IPPY Silver Medal for Contemporary Fiction and The Land's Long Reach,(2018) which was a finalist for The Miramichi Reader's 2019 "The Very Best!" Book Awards. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous Canadian literary magazines. When she is not writing, she is a clinical social worker in private practice. Valerie acknowledges that the land on which she lives is the traditional territory of the Attawandaron, Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, and Lunaapeewak peoples who have longstanding relationships to the land, water and region of southwestern Ontario.