In Lulu Keating’s debut story collection Splinter and Shard, some of her characters’ big decisions revolve around either leaving or staying. Often, they realize they are in intolerable situations and resolve to escape, or else they find themselves in a strange new place and, in a counterintuitive moment, realize that this is where they are meant to be. These moments of self-knowledge, of recognizing where one is standing in the world, and sometimes rebelling against it or wholeheartedly accepting it, is a thematic throughline that runs through these stories of mundane lives undergoing extraordinary rites of passage.
The stories take place in Nova Scotia, where Keating was born, and in Dawson City, Yukon, where she lives. An award-winning filmmaker, Keating brings something of that medium’s sensibilities to her fiction in the way her stories unfold. They often start with an up-close quality that requires the reader’s full attention until slowly, the metaphorical camera pulls back to allow for a bigger picture to emerge, giving context, and in the process, drawing the reader in.
The effectiveness of such an approach calls for simple unadorned language, which is an apt description of Keating’s style. And while her prose is what one could call deceptively simple, in reality, it is extremely well-crafted and always holds the reader’s interest. She does what all great storytellers do, which is make you wonder what’s going to happen next. Even when the reader senses what is about to happen or what revelation is coming up, there is a need to continue reading. In my experience, this is usually due to an allegiance one feels for the characters, such as Keating’s gift for storytelling and the humanity of her depictions.
Ending a story, arguably, is one of the most challenging aspects of writing and I was struck by the matter-of-factness of Keatings’ endings. The stories just seem to stop without fanfare or any attempt at summing up. Given her unadorned style, this seems natural. A couple of her stories are quite short, postcard in length, and suitably seem to be observational slices of life. Keatings’ characters are often trying to maneuver within the narrow margins of their place in society, religion, history or their gender roles and, at times, their diminished sense of themselves.
The stories that stood out for me were the longer ones. The Makeup Man features a macho ex-truck driver who is studying an esthetician’s guidebook so he can explain it to his Russian mail-order bride who aspires to that career and is trying to take the exam. Promissory Note is about a wife who discovers an IOU note for oral sex in her deceased husband’s wallet and believes it was written by her best friend. Forgiveness in Four Acts has a woman eventually discovering a terrible dark secret about her children that implicates her. The title story deals with explosives, romantic attraction and the cruelty of fate.
Keating’s main strength as a writer is her description of small moments, seemingly unimportant, that hint at larger consequences to come. In the first story Motherlode, two RCMP officers arrive at the home of a housewife to deliver bad news about her husband, who has gone off to prospect for gold.
“Polly watched Officer MacKinnon twirl his wedding ring. The fingers of his right hand turned it around and around. It was as if he meant to twist it on so tight that his wife would stay put, would never leave, never die. She gazed down at her own wedding band, peeking out from behind the flashy diamond engagement ring. Maurice had romanced her with glittering promises. Who was the bigger fool, Maurice with his extravagant fantasies or Polly with her misplaced faith?”
Keating seems to be contrasting the need to exert control over our lives through our institutions with the larger uncertainties of what fate has in store for us. It is insightful moments such as this that make Splinter and Shard worthy of any reader’s attention.
About the Author
Lulu Keating is an award-winning TV and film director. Her stories have been published in Geist, the Globe and Mail, North of Ordinary, and What’s Up Yukon. Born in Nova Scotia, she now lives in Dawson City, Yukon.
- Publisher : ECW Press (May 21 2024)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 172 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1770417451
- ISBN-13 : 978-1770417458
Steven Mayoff (he/him) was born in Montreal and moved to Prince Edward Island, Canada in 2001. His books include the story collection Fatted Calf Blues (Turnstone Press, 2009), the novel Our Lady of Steerage (Bunim & Bannigan, 2015), the poetry chapbook Leonard’s Flat (Grey Borders Books, 2018) and the poetry collection Swinging Between Water and Stone (Guernica Editions, 2019) and the novel The Island Gospel According to Samson Grief (Radiant Press, 2023). As a lyricist, he has collaborated with composer Ted Dykstra on Dion a Rock Opera, which will receive its world premiere at the Coal Mine Theatre in Toronto in February 2024.