Chemical Valley by David Huebert

The world of David Huebert’s second collection of short fiction, Chemical Valley, is a poisonous, inhospitable place. In some respects, as we turn these pages, it’s easy to imagine we’re visiting a future world: the one that awaits our elder selves and our descendants should humans continue to obliterate CO2-absorbing flora and allow toxic effluents and emissions to pour unchecked into the land, sea and air. One might assume that the author intends these tales of struggle and longing in a tarnished landscape to be cautionary: prognostications of environmental cataclysm, annihilation at our own hands. But as we read, what David Huebert is really telling us becomes clear: this is the world in which we currently reside, and the confusion and desperation his characters experience as contaminants seep unseen into the earth and the biological slowly succumbs to the chemical is everyone’s here and now. 

This is serious business. 

But though the messaging is palpable, there is nothing heavy-handed in his approach: no doomsday declaration, no portentous drumbeat. In Chemical Valley, as in his previous volume of stories, Peninsula Sinking, David Huebert’s knack for creating engaging characters and finding interesting things for them to say, do and think is on abundant, boisterous display. 

“Huebert’s characters are Every-man and -woman, people whose daily rituals, quandaries and tribulations mirror our own.”

Huebert’s characters are Every-man and -woman, people whose daily rituals, quandaries and tribulations mirror our own. The narrator of the title story, set in Sarnia—hub of Canada’s petrochemical industry and nicknamed “Chemical Valley”—works at a processing plant. His partner, Eileen, is off work, suffering from a mysterious, debilitating malady. With the indifference of his employer as a backdrop, we witness him floundering under domestic and professional pressures while grappling with manifestations of community contamination so widespread they have infiltrated his home. “Swamp Thing,” tells the story of teenage Sapphire. Bouncing between her separated parents, embroiled in a clandestine affair with her female English teacher, Sapphire and her friends Dee Dee and Jenna are members of the ultra-climate-change-conscious generation meeting the disastrous consequences of the previous generation’s environmental profligacy head-on. The story, set during a punishing heatwave, chronicles Sapphire’s emotional awakening through a series of catastrophic climate/environmental incidents, culminating in “a super-flare, a major melt-down, and a death at the plant.” 

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Elsewhere in the book, we encounter Deepa, a young mother barely coping with a recalcitrant newborn, a complacent husband and a rodent infestation (“Cruelty”), a reluctant hockey enforcer whose personal life is a mess (“Six Six Two Fifty”), Zane, whose partner Geoff is obsessively preparing for the coming environmental apocalypse (“SHTF”), and fifty-year-old socially-challenged Edward, bullied all his life, afflicted with a maddening fungal skin infection, whose man-made companion (the GenuFlesh XS-4000, “a fully customizable” “anthropomorphic robobride”), named Lily, is just about done for, worn out by his constant need (“The Pit”). 

Throughout the book, Huebert’s prose shines, frequently catching the reader off guard with startling but memorable turns of phrase and delirious imaginative leaps. And while the manic energy, eccentric humour and wry observations on life and love keep us entertained, the book’s rich emotional core draws us in, touching us at the most profound level.  

David Huebert writes in a pulsating, kinetic contemporary voice. Still, at an early point in his career, he has complete command of his craft. These quirky, artfully composed stories are a gift worth savouring.

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!

David Huebert’s writing has won the CBC Short Story Prize, The Walrus Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for the 2020 Journey Prize. David’s fiction debut, Peninsula Sinking, won a Dartmouth Book Award, was shortlisted for the Alistair MacLeod Short Fiction Prize, and was runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. David’s work has been published in magazines such as The WalrusMaisonneuveenRoute, and Canadian Notes & Queries, and anthologized in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Stories

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Biblioasis (Oct. 19 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771964472
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771964470

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