Half-Wild and Other Stories of Encounter, a remarkable collection of short stories by Emily Paskevics, invites us to examine our relationship to the natural environment in a fresh way – not as a wilderness to be managed by us, but as an encounter in which we are changed.
Often, we seek to alter nature, to make it clean, neat, and appealing. Or we aim to master it, deciding what species will dwell in our wilderness garden. Sylvia in “Half-Wild” imagines restoring her stepfather’s taxidermy trophies to their natural state, running free, no longer contorted out of their natural state of being. In Paskevics’ writing, people fully participate only when they, not nature, are changed. Some live in rhythm with the seasons, like Marika in “My Father’s Apiary”. Others have a natural bond with their environment, as does Anya in the selection “Daughters.” (Her husband, however, views her encounter in a much different light.) John Monkman in “Bird Sanctuary” is at peace in the marsh world but does not fit in elsewhere. Characters like Louisa in “Bear Bones” have an affinity with the natural world, and to survive, transform into a being of the environment. There are hints of similar transformations in “Wolff Island”, “The Best Little Hunter”, and “Predators”. Integration with nature invites an inner change.
The author presents the environment in its contemporary breakdown and identifies its innate potential for healing. When the riverbanks are extended in “Johnny Blue”, the river floods, redefining its place in the world. When an ecosystem becomes a dumping ground for chemicals in “Blue Coyotes”, the environment adapts, with a new story unfolding. It is not a story of restoration, but of something creative and new.
Nature does not intervene to protect us, yet sometimes nature’s actions are helpful to us. The bear in “Wild Girls” does not break a hole in the ice to help humans, yet when the bear breaks the ice to drink after a long hibernation, circumstances are altered. The fox does not make an appearance for Marie’s sake in “Brave Daughter”, yet the appearance of a fox changes the outcome.
There is a consistency in outlook, yet each story unfolds in its own special way. Some characters actively enter the natural world, others are left behind. For some, integration with environment is a natural part of their being; for others, it is not. Sometimes a physical transformation is hinted at, of characters taking on animal characteristics or being, but not always.
The author catches little details and subtle distinctions, like Mel’s swimsuit in “Daughters”. Mel is about to swim in an isolated wilderness pool, and her separation from her environment is revealed in that brief smell of chlorine. The prose flows; description is sharp and succinct. Characters stand before us, fully alive. Glimpses of action and movement in each selection reveal setting, character, and theme.
Often, we are left wondering at the conclusion, for more than one outcome is possible. This is not a garden, with roses neatly in place, with a ring of rocks highlighting the shrubbery. This is wilderness, in which each outcome is predicated on the moment before. Like Christie in “Daughters”, we truly do not know what lies around the next bend, but we can create many stories as we anticipate.
This is a very necessary collection, one to challenge our preconceptions and enrich us with stories well-told.
About the Author
Emily Paskevics is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her work has appeared in several publications, including Vallum Magazine, The Humber Literary Review, and Hart House Review. In 2022 she was a finalist for the Writers Trust of Canada’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award, for her short story “Wild Girls.” She was also longlisted for the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize for her story “Little Wild Creatures.” She divides her time between Toronto and Montreal.
- Publisher : Thistledown Press (Sept. 5 2023)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 156 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1771872489
- ISBN-13 : 978-1771872485