No One Knows About Us by Bridget Canning

As a fan of Bridget Canning’s previous work, The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes and Some People’s Children, I was excited to pick up No One Knows About Us. One of Canning’s greatest gifts as a writer is her ability to weave complex plotlines together throughout her narrative, offering readers little snippets that keep us wanting to know more as we get closer to the end. Of course, this approach necessarily changes with a collection of short fiction rather than a novel; segmented as a collection is into its separate stories, this weaving-together, if present, emerges in a different way. In Canning’s new collection, No One Knows About Us, threads of the mundane and the wild bring the stories together, and each piece offers a take on human relationships, personal development, the impacts of trauma, and varied kinds of love. 

“…each piece offers a take on human relationships, personal development, the impacts of trauma, and varied kinds of love. “

Throughout, there are clearly connected stories, such as the “Gutless Bravado” series. “Gutless Bravado: Part One” introduces the central figure of the series, who has had his stomach removed; after introductory pages in which the narrator speaks about the weather, a former coworker and their partner, and gestures to his surgery scar, he explains to readers that he’s had a “Full gastrectomy . . . when they took my stomach out and studied it, they found sixty-one precancerous lesions. A hidden ambush, right there.” As the story develops, the narrative moves from what seems to be a conversation between the narrator and a passenger into something more sinister and mischievous. This sense of something treacherous lurking beneath the surface, gestured to through the narrator’s diseased stomach, and that feeling of something (or someone) needing to be caught out and addressed in due kind, propels each of the four parts of “Gutless Bravado.” Though unique, each story harkens back to or builds on the previous parts in ways both unnerving and pleasurable for readers.  

Interestingly, rather than group the four parts together to form a sort of cycle within the collection, the sections of “Gutless Bravado” are peppered throughout. The stories are placed between other pieces in a way that cools down the intensity of each without losing momentum in the collection as a whole. For instance, an almost serendipitous opportunity for blackmail on the part of our stomachless friend is followed by a story that reflects on the ignorance of small-town social circles. Though different in focus, narrator, and tone, both stories create a sense of uneasiness and tension for readers in distinct and powerful ways.    

Several stories in the collection reflect on a sense of loneliness. Some suggest a desire to remedy this state via new relationships while others centre characters who are seemingly content with solitude or, at the very least, seem disinterested in the effort it takes to build connections in the current world. Other stories take aim at the complexity of family, and centre the burden of close connection. Rather than a longing for someone you may not yet know, “Losing Marsha Zane” asks: what happens when you love someone that you know you will lose? In the story, a son reflects on his mother’s illness, the family dynamic as that illness plays out, and changes that he sees in his mother and himself. In one poignant scene, he tells readers “It’s hardest to avoid crying during the more monotonous chores, like folding sweaters or unpacking merchandise. In the shop, I stretch to reach a box of neckties and Mom’s whimper exits my mouth, the one she makes when she lifts heavy things: end of the couch, bags of groceries, me as a child.” It is in these moments of vulnerability, simple and real as they are on the page, that Canning’s prose shines.  

The collection houses sixteen beautiful stories (or fifteen and one novella) that are tidy and effective in their construction and, to different degrees, charged with emotion. As in any collection, some pieces land more fully than others or stand out as more memorable. Ultimately, the collection offers another example of Canning’s talent as a writer who can pull narrative strings together via the smallest detail or a particular description. For instance, though it’s been awhile since I finished the collection, the image of a homemade set of brass knuckles on a small fist remains with me.  

Bridget Canning’s debut novel, The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes, was a finalist for the 2017 BMO Winterset Award, the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award, and the NL Fiction Award, and was longlisted for the Dublin International Literary Award. It is currently being adapted for film. Her second novel, Some People’s Children, was a finalist for the 2020 BMO Winterset Award and the Thomas Raddall Award. Bridget holds an MA in creative writing from Memorial University and a Masters of Literacy Education from Mount Saint Vincent University. In 2019, she received the CBC Emerging Artist Award with ArtsNL. She lives in St. John’s, where she writes and teaches.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Breakwater Books (Oct. 1 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 155081950X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550819502

Gemma Marr (she/her) was born and raised in rural New Brunswick. After over a decade away, she is excited to return to the province to teach in the Department of Humanities and Languages at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. Her research focuses on the intersections of place, gender, and sexuality in Atlantic Canadian literature and culture. She is an avid reader and writer who enjoys books from a range of genres and styles. 

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