This Unlikely Soil: Stories by Andrea Routley

Through five novellas, Andrea Routley explores relationships, politics, identity, and the relationships of queer women in her collection This Unlikely Soil. Each story is a beautifully contained world. I always hold all short stories, and in this case, short novellas, up to the master, Alice Munro. Munro wrote such complex worlds in her short stories, full of detail and layers that rivalled a full novel in each one. Perhaps this isn’t terribly fair of me, but we all compare things in order to judge them. Routley’s stories are complex little worlds, rich and full of detail, with enough emotion and depth to make you care about these characters and their brief slices of life that they share with us.

“Routley’s stories are complex little worlds, rich and full of detail, with enough emotion and depth to make you care about these characters.”

Two of the stories, “Damage,” and “Midden,” have overlapping characters, but they don’t need to be read in the order they appear in This Unlikely Soil. I did read this book in the order it was published in, but I think this is one you could pick up to read one of the pieces at any time you so chose. “Appropriate Behaviour” follows Freddie, a middle-aged woman who is recovering from the damage she caused her brain after jumping from her balcony at her old apartment. Out of the hospital and learning to live again, Freddie has moved to the west coast, and finds herself embroiled in a strange conflict with her neighbours, when all she was trying to do was to be friendly. “Damage” is the story of Rita, a trans woman who moves in with her girlfriend Naomi after her apartment floods, and tries to sort out her possibly problematic relationships. “Guided Walk” takes Miriam on a vacation with her cousin, who reveals she’s in a new relationship with a woman – while Miriam realizes that she’s not exactly straight herself.

The last two stories, “Midden,” and “This Unlikely Soil,” both deal with loneliness. “Midden” picks up with Rita’s ex-girlfriend, Naomi, after their split, and Naomi’s jump to online dating in the aftermath. “This Unlikely Soil” is about Elana, a dog groomer who’s recently started her own business, and her strange and tortured relationship with Jill, first a client and later a lover. The stories in The Unlikely Soil are all quiet but full stories of the lives of queer women, and a particular treat: middle-aged queer women, who are generally comfortable with who they are and are starting to experience the passage of time more keenly. While I really did appreciate the complexity and depth Routley gave the characters, I was most impressed with the way she treated aging and time, so matter-of-fact but also with great tenderness and welcome, even when it was perplexing. This Unlikely Soil may not catch your eye, but it should, for the execution of the stories, and the excellent subject matter.

Andrea Routley is a writer and editor. Her work has appeared in literary magazines, such as Geist and The Fiddlehead Review. In 2020, her novella, “This Unlikely Soil,” was shortlisted for the Malahat Review Novella Prize. Her debut collection, Jane and the Whales (Caitlin Press, 2013), was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She is an MFA candidate at UBC (Okanagan) where she is at work on her third book. Though a small-town queer at heart, she currently resides in Vancouver, BC.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dagger Editions (Sept. 23 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 216 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773860984
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773860985

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. 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. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.