One of the things that people say in reviews to indicate that a book is special, or singular, or you should read it because it holds up a mirror to our current cultural moment, or the author is speaking for a generation, or something like that. And while I personally try to avoid such broad brushes when I talk about books, I finished the first story of The Running Trees by Amber McMillan, and went, “This is so very clearly about now,” and I loved it. I think, in many ways, both conscious and not, a lot of people have been searching for narratives that describe the world they’re sitting in right now – COVID-19 has given a lot of us a lot more time to think, and it’s hard to find work which is so clearly of this particular moment but doesn’t also dwell on COVID-19 when we’re still in the middle of it. This is a strange recommendation, but the reason why I liked The Running Trees so much is that it was so spot on with its depictions of contemporary situations. None of the stories in the collection are trying to do anything grand, they simply provide a slice of average life in a Western country in the twenty-first century. And each of them sucked me in completely.
McMillan labelled each of the stories as “Conversation #X”, followed by more descriptive titles. Each story is a scrap of something we’re invited to eavesdrop on, written as monologues, stories, and scripts, bringing us into the small day-to-day happenings. Each story is truly short and immensely digestible, from “The Dinner Party,” where the narrator feels out of place in her older boyfriend’s life, to the three scripts following a book club that meets to discuss a memoir set in their town, to another script in which a cat tells his life story. They’re all markedly different, but what makes this collection work so well and remain so cohesive is the framing of each of them, which is consistent throughout: conversations we, the readers, are overhearing.
This is such a masterful, tightly written short story collection, and unique in its voice and formatting. McMillan turns the mundane into wry, lovable tales, with images that stick with you long after you’ve finished the stories. I’ve been thinking about each of these stories over and over again since I finished them a week ago (at the time of writing this), and to me, that’s the mark of a true favourite: the stories that stick. The Running Trees, with people, cats, and imagine conversations, was a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Amber McMillan is the author of the memoir The Woods: A Year on Protection Island and the poetry collection We Can’t Ever Do This Again. Her work has also appeared in PRISM international, Arc Poetry Magazine, and the Walrus. She lives in Fredericton.
- Publisher : Goose Lane Editions (Sept. 7 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1773101692
- ISBN-13 : 978-1773101699
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Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.