You Are Not What We Expected by Sidura Ludwig

Contentious family dynamics are at the heart of Sidura Ludwig’s collection of linked stories, You Are Not What We Expected.

Set primarily in a Jewish community in suburban Thornhill, Ontario, Ludwig’s stories chronicle the domestic tribulations of the Levine family and other characters from the neighbourhood. These are tightly written stories of people at odds with one another and with their circumstances.

Chief among Sidura’s cast of characters is seventy-something Isaac and his sister Elaine Levine. Isaac has moved back to Ontario at Elaine’s behest to help take care of her grandchildren, Ava and Adam, after the death of Elaine’s husband Oscar. Elaine’s daughter Carly, the children’s mother, has skipped town and is no longer in the picture.

Elderly Isaac, cantankerous with strong opinions and eccentric fixations, is not shy about making demands and voicing objections. In “The Flag” he becomes enraged when he sees two flags flying on a single pole in front of a Jewish school, with the Israeli flag flying under the Canadian. He berates the principal over this insult to Israel but can only watch, exhausted and breathless, as his concerns are dismissed with platitudes. Later he returns to the school and commits an act of righteous thievery. In “The Elaine Levine Club,” Elaine asks Isaac to mind Ava and Adam while she meets with a group of women she encountered on Facebook, all of whom share the same name: Elaine Levine. And in “The Happiest Man on Sunset Strip,” Isaac, older now and living with the effects of a debilitating stroke in a long-term care facility, receives a visit from his grand-niece, Ava. Ava, home from Israel for a wedding and intending to stay with her uncle for only a few minutes, is nonplussed when Isaac asks her to take him to McDonald’s, and then grows resentful and increasingly desperate as things spiral out of control.

Ludwig’s simply constructed sentences are a pleasure to read. Her straightforward prose is lucid, precise and vividly alive with evocative detail. These gently humorous stories are not overly complex but gain emotional heft from the characters’ intricate backstories. You Are Not What We Expected is a thoroughly entertaining and notable short-fiction debut from a compassionate author whose great strength is depicting the subtle (and not-so-subtle) tensions that simmer within families.

SIDURA LUDWIG is the author of the widely successful novel Holding My Breath. Her short fiction has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. She works as a communications specialist and creative writing teacher, and her creative nonfiction has appeared in several newspapers and on CBC Radio. She is currently working on her M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults through the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, she now lives in Thornhill, Ontario, with her husband and three children.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (May 5 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 192 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487007345
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487007348

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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.