Last Woman: Stories by Carleigh Baker

After finishing the clear, crisp prose that Baker deftly shares in her latest collection of short stories, Last Woman, I was left wanting more.

In some cases, the stories left me wanting more in that I wanted to keep diving into the deeper waters of the characters that she presented within such short stories as “Alphas”, “Burial Ground”, and “Catechism.” In these stories, I was fascinated by the characters — the girlfriend of a DJ and a former server in a bar; a mall custodian; a newly minted professor, respectively — and the premises in which their lives took twists that tripped from the delightfully absurd to the purely Twilight Zone fantastic.

Who hasn’t found themselves wrestling with girl group dynamics better suited to description on a nature show (“Alphas”)? Who hasn’t wondered about the possibility of wrathful poltergeists that may still inhabit the crumbling, Cinnabon-scented monoliths that so coloured our lives in the 80s and 90s (“Burial Ground”)? Or the tongue-in-cheek parallels of being accepted into academic life with the rituals required to pass muster in a cult (“Catechism”)? There’s also a series of stories in three parts (“Billionaires”) that continue a narrative of an alien planet reporting back to its citizens about its’ contacts with humans, the ones who got the point and the ones who desperately tried to make ham-fisted attempts at contact and paid the price.

Across all of these, the writing was most enjoyable when it fully embraced the fantastic and dipped into the absurd worlds, but more specifically gave the reader a clear view to the character’s motivations, thoughts, and desires. These stories had me wanting more but still wrapped up nicely (the hallmark of a good short story, for me), whereas the other stories were more plot-focused; they left me wanting a bit more insight into the characters (and thus, a few more pages to paint the entire picture). Because of this predilection for character-driven stories, I was left feeling that some of the pieces were stopped short, and thus were a little less enjoyable.

the writing was most enjoyable when it fully embraced the fantastic and dipped into the absurd worlds, but more specifically gave the reader a clear view to the character’s motivations, thoughts, and desires … sharp, irreverent writing.

This, I realize, is a personal preference that others may not share, and does not speak to the sharp, irreverent writing found in this topical volume. In fact, I enjoyed Baker’s writing style, enough that I think it’s worth folks checking this one out — and for myself to find more of her work.

CARLEIGH BAKER is an nêhiyaw âpihtawikosisân /Icelandic writer who lives as a guest on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Skwxwu7mesh, and səl̓ilwəta peoples. Her work has appeared in Best Canadian Essays, The Short Story Advent Calendar, and The Journey Prize Stories. She also writes reviews for the Globe and Mail and the Literary Review of Canada. Her debut story collection, Bad Endings (Anvil, 2017) won the City of Vancouver Book Award, and was also a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Award, the Emerging Indigenous Voices Award for fiction, and the BC Book Prize Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award.

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart (March 5, 2024)
Paperback 5″ x 7″ | 208 pages
ISBN: 9780771004148

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Bryn Robinson lives in Quispamsis, NB, although she still, and always will, consider herself a Saint Johner. She uses her BA in psychology and French, and her PhD in experimental psychology, from the University of New Brunswick, to help her support health research in the province. She prefers contemporary fiction, narrative non-fiction, graphic novels and poetry - and if they are humorous, all the better. When not reading, she's exploring the New Brunswick forests and seascapes, camera in hand.

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