Chockful of the uncanny, the ghostly, and the heartbroken, Francine Cunningham’s short story collection God Isn’t Here Today is a journey through the inexplicable, the absurd, and tiptoes on the very edge of horror, existing in the often far spookier grey area just before something tips into horror. Cunningham twists form in these stories, using formatting to build more creative narratives and scenes. This is a great collection of stories, with fragments between each longer short story. The fragments were self-contained short stories in their own right, often closer to poetry than prose, as well as very sparse in detail and setup. It’s difficult to write such short, compelling pieces, and Cunningham’s shorter pieces are as compelling as the longer stories in the collection.
The titular story from the collection, and the lead from the collection, “God Isn’t Here Today,” sets the expectations for the volume perfectly. Darkly funny, and a bit unsettling, the narrator goes downtown to look for God in their office, and only finds a note saying God isn’t there. Through a misunderstanding, the narrator ends up comforting a woman who is also looking for God. And then we launch into a series of ever darker, sometimes funny, sometimes crushing set of stories about people who have to live (or not, as the case may be; some of the characters are ghosts) with their choices and the burdens they carry. These characters weave in and out of each other’s stories: Crimson, a retail worker in a sex shop, crosses paths with Michelle, an aging stripper, before Crimson takes off to try a new life. Michelle steals to form her exit plan from stripping.
“Mickey’s Bar,” is the story which sold me on the collection. The experiences and emotions in it were truly master-level. Mickey falls and hits his head in his bar, and isn’t found until it’s too late for him – but not for others. Through four separate people, Mickey is still tethered to earth from the tissue and organ donations his body provided them, and Mickey is a ghostly presence in their lives as they move forward from the transplants. This ends up being a wonderfully touching, heartbreaking, and even sweet story.
Sometimes the stories cross over much harder into the dystopian. “Last,” is the shattering story of everyone simply disappearing, and there being no explanation for it. Everyone except Stephanie, who suffers from agoraphobia and was watching a movie when the power went out. Thinking it was just an outage, she starts to notice how still and quiet the world is, eventually summoning the will and the hunger to go out and find more food. It made my skin crawl in the best way.
Cunningham has a great, mind-bending collection of stories here. If you’re looking for something darker for your upcoming summer reading, this is the one!
Francine Cunningham is an award-winning Indigenous writer, artist and educator. God Isn’t Here Today is her debut collection of short fiction, and her debut book of poems On/Me (Caitlin Press) was nominated for the BC and Yukon Book Prize, the Indigenous Voices Awards, and the Vancouver Book Award. She is a winner of the Indigenous Voices Award in the 2019 Unpublished Prose Category and of The Hnatyshyn Foundation’s REVEAL Indigenous Art Award. Her fiction has appeared in The Best Canadian Short Stories 2021, in Grain Magazine as the 2018 Short Prose Award winner, on The Malahat Review‘s Far Horizons Prose shortlist, and in Joyland Magazine, The Puritan and elsewhere. Francine is a graduate of the Creative Writing MFA program at the University of British Columbia, and currently resides in Alberta. Learn more at www.francinecunningham.ca.
- Publisher : Invisible Publishing (May 10 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 248 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1988784905
- ISBN-13 : 978-1988784908
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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.