Category Archives: Short Stories

To See Out the Night by David Clerson

"Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men." — H. P. Lovecraft

That quote by the master of “weird fiction” nicely summarizes the contents of QC Fiction’s latest release, To See Out the Night by David Clerson, which was translated by Katia Grubisic. The twelve short stories by Mr. Clerson live in the dream world, as do many of his characters. If you read his previous QC Fiction release, Brothers, then you’ll know what I mean (“He woke ready to paint the world the shade of nightmares.”). For as in a dream (or nightmare) where anything can happen to familiar places, persons and situations, the same can be said of the writings of Mr. Clerson. Perhaps Mr. Clerson has found the secret to capturing dreams he has had. I know I wish I could do the same. I am always amazed at the detail in my dreams, not so much the people and events, but the fantastical, yet familiar settings that occur almost nightly, some more vivid than others.

The common denominator in these stories is death, decomposition, life arising out of death (think mushrooms) and even a tumour that lives on after being cut out from a man’s body. H.P. Lovecraft, who loved to dream, would have enjoyed these stories, I’m sure.

While I certainly liked all of the stories here, one of my favourite ones is “City Within” in which the narrator, after finishing his night shift, wanders the unreal world of Montreal’s underground city. It is composed of numerous subbasements, parallel corridors, trapdoors, and staircases that are few and unreliable to use to access other floors.

Staircases are pretty rare. I know there are some that span several floors, though it's impossible to actually access any of them, until a door might open five or six landings down. Obviously exploring floors that appear at first to be com pletely cloistered becomes a fixation. 
Over the course of several visits, I finally found a way to get to every floor except the third, which is still impenetrable: I couldn't find a door or a trapdoor to get in. When I climb up a staircase that crosses the third floor, and I bang against the wall, I can hear an echo behind it, though whether it's accessible or whether there is only an enclosed, unreachable space, I don't know. 
The fourth subbasement has particularly low ceilings. You have to get around on your hands and knees, sometimes even crawling. The rooms there, on the other hand, are vast, wide expanses through which I inch along, dragging myself across the floor with my elbows or on my stomach. In the sixth subbasement, the ceilings are surprisingly high-you'd have to be three times my height to touch them...

Upon exiting this underground maze, the narrator finds it is almost daylight, thus he has spent most of the night exploring. He then goes home, only to dream he is back in the underground world, but there is someone else there, a mysterious woman named Camille. He then goes to work tired from lack of sleep and arrives at the only solution: live and sleep down there permanently. This reminds us of those dreams we don’t wish to awake from, or if we do, we desire to get back to sleep to continue the adventure if possible (which it usually isn’t).

If you are looking for something a little different in a short story format, look no further than David Clerson’s To See Out the Night. Who knows, perhaps your dreams will be influenced by one of these weird dream stories.


About the Author

David Clerson was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 1978 and lives in Montreal. His first novel, Brothers, also translated by Katia Grubisic for QC Fiction, was a finalist for the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Translation and a National Post Book of the Year.

Katia Grubisic is a writer, editor, and translator. She has been a finalist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and her collection of poems What if red ran out won the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book. She has published translations of works by Marie-Claire Blais, Martine Delvaux, and Stéphane Martelly. Her translation of David Clerson’s first novel, Brothers, was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award for translation.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ QC Fiction; 1st edition (Sept. 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 150 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771862688
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771862684

This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Fear the Mirror by Cora Siré

Just as I enjoy works that have ambiguous endings, I also like works that have ambiguous genres. Fear the Mirror by Cora Siré has a simple “Stories,” on the front cover, but the contents of the stories are far more intriguing. Part essays, part memoirs, part short stories, Siré progressively mixes details of her own life with her fiction, blurring the lines between the facts of her life and the fictional portraits she creates. The first few stories of this collection, “Fear the Mirror,” “What Peaches & What Penumbras!,” and “Rusalka” start with Siré’s life, gradually stepping more and more into the world of fiction and poetry. While the titular “Fear the Mirror” reads as more of a true memoir, Rusalka begins the true departure of Siré’s book into fiction, essays, and other thoughts.

“This is a small but impactful book.”

The daughter of Estonian immigrants, Siré was born in Canada, with ties to Brazil, while her partner is Argentinian. The stories in Fear the Mirror travel these countries, bringing us into the complex world of a person who is caught between many cultures, has travelled greatly, and is uncertain about the idea of home. This is a persistent theme throughout the stories and essays in this collection: what is home? A time? A place?

While each of the stories in Fear the Mirror are strong by themselves, with compelling characters and situations – one that shines particularly is Virgilia, the main character of “The Mark,” a fourth-year undergraduate student who plays backgammon to earn a little bit of extra money, eyeing down who she feels are easy targets to get a few dollars out of – what is most interesting about Fear the Mirror and Siré’s writing is her playing with form and language. The memoir pieces are lyrical, tiptoeing toward poetry, while in “Pueblo Chico, Infierno Grande,” Siré tells the story of her first visit to her partner’s family in Argentina in the third person, watching “Corita,” struggle through feeling out of place and uncomfortable with the tension between her partner’s family wanting him to return home to take over the family business.

This is a small but impactful book. I was drawn into the worlds, fictional and non-fictional, and their fuzzy boundaries. I wasn’t always clear if the story was about Siré’s life, or fiction but was quickly brought around to the idea that it didn’t matter. Siré gives equal weight to the memoir pieces and the fiction pieces, and they bleed seamlessly into one another. Unassuming but thoughtful, this was a pleasant read.


About the Author

Cora Siré is the author of two works of fiction and two poetry collections. Her novel Behold Things Beautiful was a finalist for the QWF’s Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Fiction Prize in 2017. Her stories, essays and poems have been published in many anthologies and magazines in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Based in Montréal, she often writes of elsewheres, drawing on encounters in faraway places and her family history of displacement.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Esplanade Books (Sept. 29 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550655779
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550655773

This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Nothing Could Be Further From the Truth by Christopher Evans

Christopher Evans’ collection of short fiction, Nothing Could Be Further from the Truth, is a tutorial in expecting the unexpected. These are unconventional, sometimes hilarious, sometimes disturbing tales from the frayed edge of the contemporary urban experience. Evans populates his fictional landscape with loners and misfits, mostly young men and women: disaffected, delusional, or well-meaning but misguided people adrift in an unfeeling world that seems to offer no direction and little purpose.  

“Evans populates his fictional landscape with loners and misfits, mostly young men and women: disaffected, delusional, or well-meaning but misguided people adrift in an unfeeling world that seems to offer no direction and little purpose.”

Typical of Evans’ self-effacing male protagonists is 20-year-old Richard in “Cakewalk,” who has returned to his old school. Charged with looking after his nephew, who has a project on display in the science fair, Richard wanders the familiar corridors, gazing impassively at class photos featuring his younger self, watching himself recede “a little deeper into the crowd each year,” until, in the photo from grade twelve, “He appeared not to be there at all.” When he encounters his grade-four teacher, her half-hearted attempt at faking familiarity when she obviously doesn’t remember him is a humiliating indicator of the negligible impression he’s left behind. The doormat narrator of “You Better Run” doesn’t mind watching his girlfriend Julie engage in physical intimacies with other men and women on the dancefloor because, as he explains, they have “something that Julie needs.” But everything changes one day when he arrives home from work unexpectedly at lunchtime, surprising Julie and discovering a strange pair of men’s Reeboks under the bed. Without acknowledging Julie’s betrayal, he immediately starts wearing the shoes and finds this act of rebellion endows him with unaccustomed strength and confidence.  

Other characters seem to operate at a slight distance from reality. Nora in “Nora, at the Cinema,” saunters through her entirely ordinary days as if the world is a movie set, her attitudes and behaviours driven by obsessive self-regard. The financially strapped narrator of “Soundtracker” is in for a shock after he advertises his creative services on Craigslist, offering to provide musical accompaniment for any activity, however mundane. And in “Always Hungry, Always Poor,” the narrator discovers brief respite from chronic loneliness in the company of a pack of coyotes.  

Family discord is a recurring theme, and children in these stories find themselves in the uncomfortable position of reversing roles with the adults who are supposed to care for them. “Of This, We Were Certain” is narrated by one of nine siblings who become bizarrely self-sufficient after their mother runs off and their father withdraws into his shed. And in “Aunts and Uncles,” youthful Carter is forced to accompany his alcoholic Aunt Cindy on a variety of pointless errands, aware that his burden of responsibility includes keeping her from lurching off the deep end.  

Absurdity blows through these pages like a refreshing breeze, and a couple of stories take it to a higher level, veering gleefully into the realm of the surreal (“I Don’t Think So,” “Over the Coffee Table and Down the Hall”). But even as he indulges his more arcane narrative impulses Evans never loses his connection with the reader’s heart. These are stories of quotidian struggle in which the author always gives us someone to root for, something to care about. Despite a bit of nuttiness and the occasional whimsical flourish, he maintains a firm grip on his material.  

In his relentlessly entertaining debut collection, Christopher Evans presents a series of arch depictions of what it means to be imperfectly human and vulnerable in a troubling and troublesome modern world. And despite the title, this is an author who forges a path to life’s painful truths more often than he might care to admit.  


About the Author

CHRISTOPHER EVANS is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing Program and a former Prose Editor for PRISM international. His work has appeared in Best Canadian PoetryNew QuarterlyLifted BrowEVENTMaisonneuve, and elsewhere and has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. He currently teaches creative writing to children in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Astoria (Feb. 1 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 248 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487010338
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487010331

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
Some Rights Reserved  

Best Canadian Stories 2021, edited by Diane Schomperlen

I was excited to receive a copy of Best Canadian Stories 2021 from Biblioasis for several reasons. First, I love the short story format. Secondly, I was happy to see that Diane Schomperlen was editor, as she is someone who writes a good short story herself. Thirdly, this is the fiftieth edition of Best Canadian Stories! Yes, it has been around that long, and Ms. Schomperlen has had her stories in several issues over the years, as she informs us in her introduction. As for the introduction itself, I recommend reading it, because if you skip it, you’ll miss why she chose some entries that you may come to question.

“I wanted stories that took risks—in voice, language, time, character, subject matter, point of view, form and structure, plot or the lack thereof.” — Diane Schoemperlen, Editor

And there are risky choices here, such as Elise Levine’s “Arnhem”, Joshua Wales’ “Lightness” and Joy Waller’s “Shinjuku for Stray Angels”, just to name a few I thought were beyond the pale of mainstream short stories. At any rate, there are fifteen stories in this slim (under 190 pages) volume which make it just a little larger than a regular edition of The Fiddlehead literary journal.

There are some gems here, notable “Downsizing” by Colette Maitland, which also was awarded the Metcalf-Rooke Award for 2021.

“Downsizing” was the inevitable choice because of the deep pleasure her pyrotechnic handling of language gave us. She delivered to us intensely realized characters and events through a dazzling verbal performance of great sophistication.
Language was the winner as we hope it will always be.
“— John Metcalf and Leon Rooke

“Downsizing” is the perfect Boomer story about a couple that has been together for ages and who have stayed together for financial reasons only it would appear. Babe, unable to work cuts and pastes obituaries from the newspaper into a scrapbook. Curt, has just gotten over cardiac surgery and begrudgingly puts up with Babe’s passive-aggressive (and oftentimes just plain aggressive) attitude fueled by Curt’s past peccadilloes.

One other story I will highlight is Don Gillmor’s “Dead Birds” the story of Liz who works in the rare books section of the Reference Library. Liz is married to Bennett and they have a child. Bennett appears satisfied to bring home a paycheque and do little else around the house. The baby is totally Liz’s responsibility.

Her marriage wasn't a disaster. She was neither unhappy or happy with Bennett. Their lives were rote, and the explosion of having a child had settled into a new roteness. It had fallen to her, all those feedings, the changing of clothes, the lulling to sleep, the buying of formula and toys and diapers and finding daycare. Bennett managed to seem helpful, but in fact he wasn't. Motherhood had isolated her somehow, a surprise. That you bring another life into the world and it made you feel more alone.

This briefest of stories has a lot to tell and is full of observations about a young marriage already settling into the Curt and Babe of “Downsizing” mentioned above.

It would be a thrill to own all fifty copies of this series just to see how the Canadian short story scene has evolved over the years. For these pandemic times, Best Canadian Stories 2021 makes for some great escapist reading.


About the Editor

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Diane Schoemperlen has published several collections of short fiction and three novels, In the Language of Love (1994), Our Lady of the Lost and Found (2001), and At A Loss For Words (2008). Her 1990 collection, The Man of My Dreams, was shortlisted for both the Governor-General’s Award and the Trillium. Her collection, Forms of Devotion: Stories and Pictures won the 1998 Governor-General’s Award for English Fiction. In 2008, she received the Marian Engel Award from the Writers’ Trust of Canada. In 2012, she was Writer-in-Residence at Queen’s University. She lives in Kingston, Ontario.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Biblioasis (Oct. 19 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771964359
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771964357
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Shapers of Worlds Volume II Edited by Edward Willett

In Shapers of Worlds Volume II, Saskatchewan-based author and publisher Edward Willett packages up 24 speculative short stories penned by writers who have been featured on his podcast, The Worldshapers. Published under the auspices of Shadowpaw Press, Willett’s own imprint, Shapers of Worlds Volume II offers stories ranging from alternate history to science fiction and fantasy. Though six of the tales have been previously published, the majority have not. Included between the pages are elves, mages, detectives, retired henchmen, ancient heroes, commoners, and athletes. Though a variety of characters and settings are employed, one thing is consistent—the stories are both engaging, and engagingly told.

Readers familiar with the Canadian speculative fiction scene will recognize a number of the included authors, including Ira Nayman, Matthew Hughes, Susan Forest, and Candas Jane Dorsey. Forest’s story, “The Only Road,” was one of the standouts. Historical fiction with a fantasy twist, “The Only Road” whisks the reader to India at the time of British occupation. Forest provides a strong description to aid the reader in making the trek. The story opens with the lines:

A tin wind-up drummer marched jerkily in its red uniform along the broad, flat surface of the Thangdu Temple balustrade as Orville waved a handful of the mechanical soldiers and cried out to buyers in the crowd. Above the restless flow of the market, the high, white cliffs of Khangchengyao sparkled in the clear morning air.

“Featuring a wide range of authors and settings, Shapers of Worlds Volume II performs the function of a speculative fiction sampler, offering a taste of different styles and themes.”

Though “The Only Road” reads like historical fiction, there is a mystical twist with references to the mystical land of Shangri, “a land of magic, a land said to perch at the top of a hanging valley, accessible only by no more than a gossamer ladder, a land that touched the realms of the Gods.” “The Only Road” is a backstory to Forest’s Addicted to Heaven series from Laska Media. The first two books in the series won Canada’s Aurora Awards for Best Young Adult novel in 2020 and 2021.

In “The Cat and the Merrythought,” decorated writer Matthew Hughes, author of the novels What the Wind Brings and A God in Chains, spins a tale of an ancient artifact that has more to it than meets the eye. The story, which features two good friends named Baldemar and Oldo, is packed with humour and makes for easy reading. In “I Remember Paris,” James Alan Gardner provides a re-imagining of the events that occurred after Eris, the Goddess of Discord, threw the ill-fated golden apple into the midst of a certain gathering. Entertaining and imaginative, the story is lent greater resonance by Gardner’s ending. In “Message Found in a Variable Temporality Appliance,” Ira Nayman shows the clever humour that is on display in his other works, including the Multiverse: Transdimensional Authority series. “Shapeshifter Finals” by Jeffrey A. Carver offers something of appeal for sports fans, describing a futuristic wrestling match between a human and a shapeshifter. At the same time, the story illustrates how the collaborative comradery of sport might transcend species boundaries. “Going to Ground” by Candas Jane Dorsey is also noteworthy.

One of the stories I found most enjoyable was S.M. Stirling’s “A Murder in Eddsford,” a detective tale set against a backdrop of an alternate-history Earth. In Stirling’s story, events occurring just prior to the year 2000 resulted in the total failure of all machinery: “under the laws of nature as they’d applied since . . . March 17 of 1998, you couldn’t get mechanical work out of heat, not in any really useful amount. Not in an engine, not in a firearm.” Set at a time just over 50 years after The Change, as it is referred to, “A Murder in Eddsford” portrays a world in which wind pumps, thatched roofs, and horse-drawn coaches are ubiquitous. Besides the intrinsic appeal of a well-rendered and familiar, yet different, world, Stirling provides an intriguing mystery as Detective Inspector Ingmar Rutherston attempts to unravel the circumstances behind the death of a much-disliked man named Jon Wooton.

Featuring a wide range of authors and settings, Shapers of Worlds Volume II performs the function of a speculative fiction sampler, offering a taste of different styles and themes. Besides being entertaining in itself, the collection might inspire further exploration of the works of authors the reader finds appealing.


About the Editor

EDWARD WILLETT is the award-winning author of more than sixty books of science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction for readers of all ages, including the Worldshapers series and the Masks of Agyrima trilogy (as E.C. Blake) for DAW Books, the YA fantasy series The Shards of Excalibur, and most recently, the YA SF novel Star Song. Ed won Canada’s Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English in 2009 for Marseguro (DAW) and for Best Fan Related Work in 2019 for The Worldshapers podcast. His humorous space opera The Tangled Stars comes out from DAW in 2022. He lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. Find him at edwardwillett.com or on Twitter @ewillett.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Shadowpaw Press (Oct. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 544 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989398286
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989398289

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Householders: Stories by Kate Cayley

I’ve spent more time than usual mulling over Kate Cayley’s Householders. In nine separate yet interwoven stories, Cayley creates a complex world inhabited by a set of distinct characters that, in different ways, seem to whisper something of themselves back to readers and to each other. Likewise, while the settings central to each story shift and change, memories of shared places emerge between stories and create pathways of meaning. The pieces navigate past, present, and future; they centre urban mothers, struggling artists, young dreamers, wanderers, children, the elderly, the godlike and the god-less. They are rooted in rural poverty, in the gentrifying city, in disconnected communities, in European flats, in university dorms, and in post-apocalyptic bunkers. Householders is not easily distilled into a summary note. Instead, the way each piece echoes into the next, and the interwoven threads that run throughout the collection, require readers to sit down with suspended expectation. We must wait to figure out what is really going on as the collection moves forward, and learn to be ok with never really knowing the full story even as it is spelled out on the page.

Though each story is different, several are connected to life in a commune in rural Maine. Some pieces are set in this space, where a seemingly brilliant but troubled (and troubling) messiah figure named John uses his knowledge of various histories to entice people to live together on the land. As one character tells us, showing anger was not allowed in this community nor was maintaining any connection to one’s past. Family photos, keepsakes, and even birth names must be renounced, generating a pseudo-blank slate from which to build toward a sense of collective understanding. In different ways, this philosophy is questioned by the various characters connected to the commune. We hear from children of community members who struggle to come to terms with their place in the world, members of the community who have been left behind, and more tangential figures like a mother who “had grown up in a ramshackle commune in Maine.” This kaleidoscopic portrayal of one space over time and through different vantage points affords readers diverse perspectives of the rippling power of shared experience.

“Cayley is adept at using tight sentences and purposeful language to get to the quick of a narrative thread, and her prose lays bare the struggle between perception and reality.”

Even when a story is not related to the commune, reflections on community are central. In “The Crooked Man,” a seemingly innocuous neighbourhood in Toronto sends a young mother into an emotional spiral. She is overwhelmed by what she can and cannot comprehend about her life and surroundings, and feels at once both too connected and deeply disconnected from her own reality. In this way, the story navigates the beauty and pain of community to a tense and uncertain end. Here and elsewhere, questions of leaving and change bubble to the surface. For example, “A Beautiful Bare Room” reflects on the lasting vestiges of relationships in a fallen world and ponders the consequences of escape. The impacts of the narrator’s decision to leave, and her own understanding of this outcome, leaves readers with a sense of unease that lingers long after the story ends.

Cayley is adept at using tight sentences and purposeful language to get to the quick of a narrative thread, and her prose lays bare the struggle between perception and reality. These stories are not easy, often upending reader’s expectations just when we think we know what is going on. The outcomes of such shifts are, at times, a bit disorienting. I found myself returning to certain passages or whole stories, or looking for hints of characters between pieces as a way to create my own connections.

In the end, I think it is a testament to the strength of the collection that I’ve struggled to untangle my thoughts about it. Trying to parse through the stories is difficult because they are all affective in their own way. These pieces stick with you because Cayley’s writing is beautiful and hard. The style used to depict a range of weird and wonderful characters is compelling, and the experiences navigated throughout tap into tensions that feel gripping and present. Ultimately, Householders is a movement through contrasts, confusion, and moments of clarity. It reflects on the familiar and the disparate, and successfully brings together a patchwork of unique moments into something beautiful.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Cayley has previously written a short story collection, two poetry collections, and a number of plays, both traditional and experimental, which have been produced in Canada and the US. She is a frequent writing collaborator with immersive company Zuppa Theatre. She has won the Trillium Book Award and an O. Henry Prize and been a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. She lives in Toronto with her wife and their three children.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Biblioasis (Sept. 14 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771964294
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771964296

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Gemma Marr
Some Rights Reserved  

Chemical Valley by David Huebert

The world of David Huebert’s second collection of short fiction, Chemical Valley, is a poisonous, inhospitable place. In some respects, as we turn these pages, it’s easy to imagine we’re visiting a future world: the one that awaits our elder selves and our descendants should humans continue to obliterate CO2-absorbing flora and allow toxic effluents and emissions to pour unchecked into the land, sea and air. One might assume that the author intends these tales of struggle and longing in a tarnished landscape to be cautionary: prognostications of environmental cataclysm, annihilation at our own hands. But as we read, what David Huebert is really telling us becomes clear: this is the world in which we currently reside, and the confusion and desperation his characters experience as contaminants seep unseen into the earth and the biological slowly succumbs to the chemical is everyone’s here and now. 

This is serious business. 

But though the messaging is palpable, there is nothing heavy-handed in his approach: no doomsday declaration, no portentous drumbeat. In Chemical Valley, as in his previous volume of stories, Peninsula Sinking, David Huebert’s knack for creating engaging characters and finding interesting things for them to say, do and think is on abundant, boisterous display. 

“Huebert’s characters are Every-man and -woman, people whose daily rituals, quandaries and tribulations mirror our own.”

Huebert’s characters are Every-man and -woman, people whose daily rituals, quandaries and tribulations mirror our own. The narrator of the title story, set in Sarnia—hub of Canada’s petrochemical industry and nicknamed “Chemical Valley”—works at a processing plant. His partner, Eileen, is off work, suffering from a mysterious, debilitating malady. With the indifference of his employer as a backdrop, we witness him floundering under domestic and professional pressures while grappling with manifestations of community contamination so widespread they have infiltrated his home. “Swamp Thing,” tells the story of teenage Sapphire. Bouncing between her separated parents, embroiled in a clandestine affair with her female English teacher, Sapphire and her friends Dee Dee and Jenna are members of the ultra-climate-change-conscious generation meeting the disastrous consequences of the previous generation’s environmental profligacy head-on. The story, set during a punishing heatwave, chronicles Sapphire’s emotional awakening through a series of catastrophic climate/environmental incidents, culminating in “a super-flare, a major melt-down, and a death at the plant.” 

Elsewhere in the book, we encounter Deepa, a young mother barely coping with a recalcitrant newborn, a complacent husband and a rodent infestation (“Cruelty”), a reluctant hockey enforcer whose personal life is a mess (“Six Six Two Fifty”), Zane, whose partner Geoff is obsessively preparing for the coming environmental apocalypse (“SHTF”), and fifty-year-old socially-challenged Edward, bullied all his life, afflicted with a maddening fungal skin infection, whose man-made companion (the GenuFlesh XS-4000, “a fully customizable” “anthropomorphic robobride”), named Lily, is just about done for, worn out by his constant need (“The Pit”). 

Throughout the book, Huebert’s prose shines, frequently catching the reader off guard with startling but memorable turns of phrase and delirious imaginative leaps. And while the manic energy, eccentric humour and wry observations on life and love keep us entertained, the book’s rich emotional core draws us in, touching us at the most profound level.  

David Huebert writes in a pulsating, kinetic contemporary voice. Still, at an early point in his career, he has complete command of his craft. These quirky, artfully composed stories are a gift worth savouring.

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Huebert’s writing has won the CBC Short Story Prize, The Walrus Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for the 2020 Journey Prize. David’s fiction debut, Peninsula Sinking, won a Dartmouth Book Award, was shortlisted for the Alistair MacLeod Short Fiction Prize, and was runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. David’s work has been published in magazines such as The WalrusMaisonneuveenRoute, and Canadian Notes & Queries, and anthologized in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Stories

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Biblioasis (Oct. 19 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771964472
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771964470

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Pump by Sydney Warner Brooman

Southern Ontario often calls up images of the spectacle of Niagara Falls, picturesque vineyards, and sunny beach towns dotting the shoreline of Lake Eerie. But if you’ve ever driven through its desolate fields and crumbling farms and felt a chill down your spine, or stepped off a bus into a place that looks harmless, but feels dangerous – then you know what Sydney Warner Brooman’s debut short story collection, The Pump, is really about.

The Pump refers to a small swamp of a town in Southern Ontario, where the water is poison, the wildlife is sinister, and the people float in and out of one another’s lives, thrown together in a stew of suburban chaos, corruption, disease, and decay. The pot boils slowly throughout these interconnected stories, a pervasive dread seeping into the very fabric of the characters’ lives, so that they become nearly numb to the horrors of the place they call home. And those who do wake up to the trouble they’re in, often find it’s too late – they’re already cooked. 

“The Pump clearly takes inspiration from Alice Munro, a master of the gothic pastoral, but Brooman puts their own contemporary, surrealist spin on the work.”

The collection opens with “The Bottom,” which introduces us to Ellie and Bodhi who go beaver hunting in the marshes with their father. They soak raisins in blood and wait for the carnivorous beavers with whom they share the Pump, to come and get them. They do this, we learn because Ellie and Bodhi got too big to use as bait anymore. It is an effective introduction to the gothic landscape Brooman has created and to the casual cruelties – parental, marital, political, environmental – that permeate it.

The beavers, who both eat and are eaten by Pump residents, reoccur throughout the book. In the story, “I Can Outrun You, Too!” Brooman takes us into the world of Pump mayor, Jacob Jameson. It is he who suggests that the beavers can be hunted, their parts sold off to richer people in richer towns. But then, it is also he who turns a blind eye to the kids who die in the marshes; also he who understands that to hold on to his position of power, certain (human) sacrifices must be made. In short, he keeps the beavers fed. When one of the creatures appears in Jacob’s office, we see this exchange between them:

“I could make a hat out of you. It’s snowing. I could wear you out in the snow and my head would be warm and you wouldn’t eat anyone ever again.
The beaver raised a paw to its tiny mouth and coughed. Its voice was low and raspy. 
I can outrun you, too, it said.”

Through the beavers, we get both a deeply unsettling bit of magical realism and also an interesting disruption of the beaver as a patriotic Canadian symbol. In Brooman’s stories, the very notion of “home” is turned on its head, and what is exposed in the process is unremorseful violence and all-consuming rot.

            The Pump clearly takes inspiration from Alice Munro, a master of the gothic pastoral, but Brooman puts their own contemporary, surrealist spin on the work. One of the most resonant aspects of the collection is the depiction of queer relationships to show the desperation of being different in a small town – a desperation further amplified by the many ways, literally and figuratively, that this particular town is out for blood.  In “Mal aux Dents (or Toothache),” Taylor and Laurent are queer bible camp leaders who find an escape in each other, even when escape from the Pump feels like an impossibility. And in The Pump’s closing story, “Home,” Jo must contend with her mother’s attempts to send her to conversion therapy, while also reconciling her girlfriend Marty’s passionate condemnation of the Pump with her own attachment to all that is familiar, deadly though it may be. 

            The Pump is not a book for the squeamish. It veers, at times, into the kind of visceral horror that may keep you up at night, and whispers warnings about what happens when humans turn on the land, and on each other. Altogether, it is a strange and satisfying debut which, despite its nightmarish magic, manages to capture something terrifyingly real.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sydney Warner Brooman (they/them) was raised in Grimsby, Ontario. They attended Western University in London, Ontario, and currently live in Toronto. The Pump is their debut short fiction collection. Their story The Bottom” was shortlisted for The Malahat Review’s 2020 Open Season Awards, and they have recent work in American ChordataThorn Literary Magazine, and other literary journals.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Invisible Publishing (Sept. 7 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 144 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1988784794
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1988784793
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Anuja Varghese
Some Rights Reserved  

An Impalpable Certain Rest by Jeff Bursey

Note: this review was originally published at Atlantic Books Today and is reprinted here by the kind permission of the author and ABT.

In her recent review of Katia Grubisic’s English translation of Marie-Claire Blais’s novel Songs for Angel, Amanda Perry argues that Blais believes in, and endeavours to show via her narrative techniques, a universal human experience. Not long ago I wrote about Blais and Jeff Bursey in an essay, calling them both “outliers” as far as anglophone CanLit goes and praising their courage.

Both writers take huge aesthetic and thematic risks, and both writers are often accused – as am I – of expecting too much from their readers. (I can’t speak for Bursey or Blais, but it feels to me like an accusation.) What if approaches to fiction like Blais’, like Bursey’s, are not about expecting too much or demanding something from a reader but about respect for a reader, and respect for how fiction itself can work? What if these unusual techniques do indeed point to the possibility of universal human experience and all that implies, and thereby try to create deeper, if more difficult, empathies? 

“One cannot be passive when reading Bursey’s fiction. One must participate.”

Bursey’s latest book, a short story collection called An Impalpable Certain Rest, looks odd. First, it’s a pocket book, a size and shape no longer common. The cover art, by Bursey and Beth Janzen, draws the eye downward into a thickening darkness, a descent experienced by many of the characters within. Yet atop this darkness, first in flicks and shadows and then a defined narrow band, is a gorgeous lightening blue – of water reflecting back the sky, perhaps.

Another oddity: Bursey punctuates dialogue with the em dash. So do I. We’ve discussed this technique over the years, first over a shared admiration of the work of American novelist William Gaddis, and then in terms of how it can support thematic vision.

For me, using the em dash and foregoing dialogue tags like “she muttered” or “they said” forces me to work harder, to make certain that emotion, tone and, most of all, character voice, are clear. It forces me to show, not tell. Bursey is more advanced, interrupting the dialogue with narration but no additional punctuation beyond a comma or ellipsis.

While this technique does require close and attentive reading, it also leads to a deeply immersive experience. One cannot be passive when reading Bursey’s fiction. One must participate. Actively thinking about what a character is saying, or not saying, and why, creates what I can only call a hyperrealism. I do not read about Bursey’s characters; I am in the room with them. 

Bursey might not thank me for the “hyperrealism” comment. He is an experimental writer, uninterested in traditional realism and naturalism. His daring use of dialogue leads to questions of character and narrator reliability.

Playwright Robert Chafe advises, “Make sure your characters are lying, lying to each other, and lying to themselves.” Bursey’s characters lie, as humans do, causing or magnifying sadness in their lives. Catching the lies within the strong empathetic bond forged by Bursey’s technique deepens the stories’ emotional punch.

Yet these are not hopeless stories. While Bursey does reach for intellectual and emotional honesty in his fiction – and the results can be stark – he’s no nihilist. (If he were, why would he bother with writing fiction at all, let alone risky experimental fiction?) With one story title from Milton’s Paradise Lost, “What in Me is Dark, Illumine,” and the collection title from Whitman’s Song of Myself, we get clues not only to the characters’ broader humanity but to a Modernist concern with creation. Are these songs of Bursey himself? They are in that he wrote them – with great care. 

Can fiction show and thereby re-create, and then beyond that create anew, universal human experience? I argue that Bursey, like Blais, is reaching for that. Bursey forges a profound empathetic bond between me and his characters, and he accomplishes this with his apparently odd choices of narrative technique.

Bursey is interested in far more than the surface story. He wants to plumb just how and why fiction can work, and that ambition, like a rock thrown into water, ripples out into broader questions of just what it means to be human. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Bursey is a Canadian novelist, short story writer, playwright and literary critic. His books: Verbatim: A Novel (hardcover, October 2010; paperback, February 2018); Mirrors on which dust has fallen (June 2015); Centring the Margins: Essays and Reviews (July 2016); Unidentified man at left of photo (September 2020); an impalpable certain rest (June 2021).

His webpage is: www.jeffbursey.com

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Pigeon Soup & Other Stories by Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli

Pigeon Soup & Other Stories, published by Inanna Publications and Education Inc., opens with a quotation from Charlotte Brontë: “The shadows are as important as the light.”

Author Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli adopts this phrase as a guide as she dishes up plenty of shadows including cultural and generational differences, gender expectations for women, and the experiences of Italian immigrants far from their homeland. Add in narratives relating to racism, bullying and sexual abuse familiar to all, regardless of background, and you might think the book would be a difficult read. But the author often lightens the dark themes with humour, optimism, acceptance and understanding.

Ms. Battigelli’s Italian heritage plays a significant role in the stories. And as you might guess from the title, she offers a culinary and olfactory feast that includes such delicacies as pigeon meat, sausage, and blood pudding. Throughout the book, food binds people together, heals wounds and comforts.

Characters are deftly described. In the eponymous story “Pigeon Soup,” the cabbie takes two travellers on a wild ride. A string of red peppers hangs from the rear-view mirror, and his grin exposes nicotine-stained teeth and one gold cap. To one of the passengers, the driver smells like “the shot his grandmother usually put in her morning espresso per rinforzare il cuore––to strengthen the heart.

In “Black as Tar,” a young boy notices the new kid across the newly tarred road. “He sat in between his mother’s potted geraniums like a garden gnome ornament: knees up to his chin, pixy face in his hands, a glazed look on his face and his mouth half-open.”

In “Francesca’s Ways,” the complexities of family relationships play out over an afternoon of sausage making. A young woman (Angie) steps in to help her mother Francesca make sausages, replacing her deceased father who used to fulfil this role. When Angie doesn’t fill the sausages like her father once did, she draws her mother’s ire. Francesca criticizes her daughter’s life decisions, and the daughter bristles even as she notes signs of her mother’s ageing. Like tying off the ends of the sausages, Angie works toward a subtle reconciliation:

"Angie watched as her mother placed the last sausage link on the table. For how many years had those hands performed this ritual? Forty, maybe fifty, first with her grandparents and parents, then with her husband. Now, even with the latter gone, Francesca still clung to the traditions. Perhaps they brought her solace, Angie thought, forgetting the criticisms and harsh words uttered earlier and feeling sorry for the lonely, embittered woman across from her.”

Many of the stories reflect childhood memories or are told from a child’s perspective, and the reader acutely feels the character’s pain. Ms. Battigelli adroitly tempers this reaction, however, as her characters find hope, generosity, and resilience. And like the pigeon soup that offers healing (and sometimes bones on which to choke), grandmother Nonna’s shawl wraps those who suffer.

Pigeon Soup & Other Stories is a new and compelling short story collection.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

At three years of age, Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli immigrated from Calabria, Italy, to Sudbury, Ontario, Canada with her family. During her teaching career, she received four OECTA (Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association) Best Practice Awards for her unique strategies in early literacy and other initiatives. An alumna of the Humber School for Writers, her writing has been published in nineteen anthologies. Her novel, La Brigantessa, published in 2018, won a Gold Medal for Historical Fiction in the 2019 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards. La Brigantessa was also a finalist for the 2019 Canadian Authors Association Fred Kerner Book Award and the 2019 Northern Lit Award. Her children’s book, Pumpkin Orange, Pumpkin Round, was published in the fall of 2019, and she has published two novels with Harlequin UK (2018, 2020). She lives in Sudbury.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Inanna Publications (June 10 2021)
  • Paperback ‏ :‎ 80 pages
  • Print  : 978-1-77133-793-9  
  • ePUB  : 978-1-77133-794-6  
  • PDF  : 978-1-77133-795-3  ‎ 
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Patricia Sandberg
Some Rights Reserved  

The Sleep of Apples by Ami Sands Brodoff

In the Saint-Henri neighbourhood of Montreal, nine linked people – lovers, friends, spouses, parents, kids, and strangers – have their stories told in the twelve short stories in Ami Sands Brodoff’s The Sleep of Apples. I always enjoy linked short stories, with overlapping characters, because I always treat it as a game to figure out who’s connected to who and who flits between each story and how. The Sleep of Apples absolutely scratches this itch. Brodoff invites us into the neighbourhood, introducing us to the different generations and their lives over time, beginning with Miri as a child, learning the truth about her father and role model, to the titular story at the end of the book, following Miri in her dying days, coming to terms with the end of her life and work – all the while other characters flit in and out of the main stage, linked as friends and classmates, neighbours and caregivers, and even witnesses to the death of another character’s mother. Each story is its own world inside the neighbourhood, with previous main characters stepping back and becoming part of the background in the next story. This is something I think Brodoff does very well here: creating a realistic, well-rounded cast of characters with sometimes only the slightest of linkages, or decades of time between each story.

“There’s a lot happening in these stories: struggling with fertility, sexuality, gender identity, mental illness, mortality, terminal illness, and estrangement.”

There’s a lot happening in these stories: struggling with fertility, sexuality, gender identity, mental illness, mortality, terminal illness, and estrangement. Occasionally I wished that a story had been a little longer – there were a few pieces where I felt things would have flowed better if they had been longer. However, Brodoff excelled in her treatment of these incredibly complex and delicate subjects, navigating the different feelings of her characters and their opposing viewpoints with compassion and sensitivity.

Ultimately, I liked The Sleep of Apples, though some arcs were certainly more compelling than others. However, the stories were all of a similar quality and tenderness. My personal favourite was “Private Practice,” where Miri, now a psychiatrist, meets with Rachel and Natalie about their son, JF. Rachel and Natalie first appeared in the second story, “The Arrangement,” where Natalie and her then-husband, Guy, ask Rachel’s help when they’re having trouble conceiving – a request which changes their relationships forever. It was these clever and seamless links between the stories which really made this book for me. A full, rich working-class community in the midst of gentrification, Saint-Henri is the loving background character in all of the stories in this collection, acting as the tool Brodoff uses to smudge the line between short stories and a novel and provide a solid continuity. The Sleep of Apples is a wonderful read for anyone interested in community.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ami Sands Brodoff is the award-winning author of three novels and two volumes of stories. Her latest novel, In Many Waters, grapples with our worldwide refugee crisis. The White Space Between, which focuses on a mother and daughter struggling with the impact of the Holocaust, won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction (The Vine Award). Bloodknots, a volume of thematically-linked stories, was a finalist for The Re-Lit Award. Ami leads creative writing workshops for teens, adults, and seniors. She has also taught writing to formerly incarcerated women and to people grappling with mental illness. Ami has been awarded fellowships to Yaddo, The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation, and St. James Cavalier Arts Centre (Malta). Ami lives in Montreal. The Sleep of Apples is her third short fiction collection.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Inanna Poetry & Fiction Series (Sept. 30 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 200 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771338814
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771338813
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

The fourteen stories in Souvankham Thammavongsa’s first collection of short fiction are narrated in terse, economical prose largely shorn of lyrical embellishment. It is prose that thrusts hard and deep, its emotional impact landing with little to cushion the blow.

The majority of Thammavongsa’s stories revolve around the immigrant experience: the aspirations, disappointments, the blunt-force strategies for survival that people are compelled to adopt in the struggle to adjust to unfamiliar, confusing, sometimes hostile environments. The title story, which opens the collection, describes the struggle of a school-age Laotian child to learn English. Because his wisdom is unquestioned (he is “the only one in their home who knew how to read”), she consults her father about the puzzling word “knife.” But the advice he provides is flawed, and she is humiliated in class. After this experience she sees him with new eyes, recognizing his limitations and realizing that a lonely, gruelling struggle awaits her.

“The majority of Thammavongsa’s stories revolve around the immigrant experience: the aspirations, disappointments, the blunt-force strategies for survival that people are compelled to adopt in the struggle to adjust to unfamiliar, confusing, sometimes hostile environments.”

In “Paris,” Red, an immigrant, works shiftwork at a chicken plant and is careful to never be late. Believing herself ugly, she’s convinced that if she could only get a nose job her boss Tommy would treat her differently, and her chances for advancement would improve. But when she witnesses the shabby manner in which Tommy treats his stunningly beautiful wife, she realizes that altering her looks to conform to a glamorous ideal will accomplish nothing: “The only love Red knew was that simple, uncomplicated, lonely love one feels for oneself in the quiet moments of the day.”

And in “Edge of the World,” the daughter of Laotian immigrants looks back with an aching heart to the time when her mother abandoned her. Now in her forties, she is able to see that her mother had been unable to adapt to life in a new country. Lonely and hopeless, the young woman had one day packed a suitcase and walked away, leaving her bewildered husband and helpless daughter behind. The narrator allows herself to imagine the depths of the despair that must have taken hold in order to drive her mother to such an extreme. But she is not resentful. Yes, the loss has marked her, left a gaping wound, an emotional void that she’s been unable to fill, but it also toughened her for the life she has had to live.
Thammavongsa’s stories zero in on moments like this, when a character attains a stark or painful realization: that despite the hopes and dreams that refugees carry with them to a new country—despite their best efforts, years of sacrifice and valiant, honest striving—life in the real world is brutal and unfair and comes with no guarantee that the sacrifice will be rewarded. Thammavongsa’s poignant, powerful stories speak openly of this blunt, unadulterated truth.

  • WINNER OF THE 2020 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
  • WINNER OF THE 2021 TRILLIUM BOOK AWARD
  • FINALIST FOR THE 2021 NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD, the PEN AMERICA OPEN BOOK AWARD, and the DANUTA GLEED AWARD
  • #1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

SOUVANKHAM THAMMAVONGSA’s fiction has appeared in The New YorkerHarper’sGrantaThe AtlanticThe Paris ReviewPloughsharesBest American Non-Required ReadingThe Journey Prize Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. Her debut book of fiction, How to Pronounce Knife, won the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN America Open Book Award, the Danuta Gleed Award, and the Trillium Book Award, and one of Time‘s Must-Read Books of 2020. The title story was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Thammavongsa is also the author of four poetry books: Light, winner of the Trillium Book Award for Poetry; FoundSmall Arguments, winner of the ReLit Award; and, most recently, Cluster. Born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, she was raised and educated in Toronto, where she is at work on her first novel.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Random House of Canada (March 17 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 192 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0771094604
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0771094606

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop & support independent bookstores! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3C4GeKX

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
Some Rights Reserved  

Breaking Right: Stories by D. A. Lockhart

There may be record-breaking heat in parts of the world, but D. A. Lockhart’s ‘Kentuckiana‘ is pretty hot (“Crock-Pot heat”) between the covers of his collection of short stories, Breaking Right.

The smell of Indiana as it meets Kentucky is that of the breath of a man in the morning. The scent is heavy and full of the moisture of tar-filled lungs, putrid and fresh with the richness of river-fed earth.

Eight short stories in a little over 150 pages, but each story exists as a small marvel in itself. Mr. Lockhart knows this part of Indiana and Kentucky, so he writes like both a native of the area as well as that of a short-term resident, one who has spent enough time there to get a good grasp of the language and customs. This is evident from the get-go in “Riding the Rosewater” as two friends Omer and Smithwick dream of winning the annual Bedford rally, a car race that even Indiana’s Larry Bird enters a car in, and as such, becomes ‘the car to beat’. A grease monkey named Gretchen comes to the friend’s help in building a winning entry. The car, named Rosewater, becomes more than a vehicle to Omer, who as the driver, sees the car as a way out of his mundane life.

In “From the Banks of Jeffersonville” protagonist Dmitri and a friend are escaping the heat by cooling off down by the riverside one night when they see someone drop a flaming object off the bridge onto a passing coal barge that immediately starts a fire. This turns into a big news story and Dmitri finds himself caught in between a beautiful dance partner he met earlier that night and the local fossil-fuel baron.

The Twilight Zone award goes to the story “Blackford County Lights”. Two co-workers are driving home from work (after getting their lay-off letters) one night:

Lucas Hatton and George Fox were driving home post-shift without much in the way of conversation. They had split driving duties over the past few months since they had always managed to find themselves on the same shift-and with the same need to save a few extra bucks. They needed to pay for all the things that life told them they required, even though life also refused to pay enough for them to afford them.

Then the UFO appears. Enough said.

What these stories and others in the collection have is a working-class mentality and rootedness. It is not known whether some characters are white or black or Indigenous, and it doesn’t really matter in these stories as everyone is struggling together in the midwest USA. There’s even a local shaman (“Etch A Sketch Shaman”) who creates art with cassette tape and plans to use an Etch-a-Sketch to save the city the way he once used one to save a man’s life. Absurdist? You bet, but Mr. Lockhart lets the story unfold naturally so that by the end, you too are a believer.

Author Diane Schomperlen sums up Breaking Right nicely when she says:

“Harnessing all the superpowers of the short story in one slim volume, D.A. Lockhart writes about hot-rods, sports, love, disasters both natural and supernatural, and the legends and mythologies that shape the lives of a cast of unforgettable ordinary characters who are anything but ordinary.

I absolutely love the short story format and I agree with Ms. Schomperlen that “superpowers” were at work here. Heretofore, I was only familiar with Mr. Lockhart’s exceptional poetry, and now, with Breaking Right, he has created eight fictional stories worth revisiting. A keeper for sure!

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!


About the Author

Daniel Lockhart is the author of several books of poetry, including Devil in the Woods (Brick Books, 2019) and Gravel Lot That Was Montana (Mansfield Press, 2018). He currently acts as the publisher of Urban Farmhouse Press and poetry editor of The Windsor Review. He is a Turtle Clan member of the Moravian of the Thames First Nation and lives at Waawiiyaatanong, lands most often known as Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Porcupine’s Quill; 1st edition (April 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 160 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0889844364
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0889844360

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

We Two Alone by Jack Wang

Jack Wang’s first collection of short fiction, We Two Alone, is a superior example of the form, beautifully crafted, emotionally resonant, and dramatically satisfying. Wang’s characters are primarily Chinese nationals and the sons and daughters of Chinese immigrants, people who are struggling to acclimatize to shifting geopolitical environments and/or deal with crises that threaten their way of life and sometimes their very survival.

Racism is present in many of these stories, either hovering menacingly in the background or playing a dominant role in the lives of Wang’s characters. For instance, “The Valkyries” takes place in Vancouver and Banff shortly after the end of the First World War. Teenage orphan Nelson, who lives in Vancouver’s Chinatown and works in a laundry, loves hockey and is highly skilled, but being Chinese he’s denied the opportunity to play in an organized men’s league. Instead, when he discovers a women’s league, he assumes a disguise, passes himself off as “Nelly,” and becomes one of the stars for his team, the Valkyries. But when his deception is uncovered, the price he pays goes far beyond a mere settling of scores.

“There is an effortless and seamless quality to Jack Wang’s writing that is particularly impressive.”

A remarkable feature of Wang’s fiction is his ability to convincingly evoke an assortment of cultural and historical contexts. In “The Nature of Things,” it is 1937. Young Chinese couple Frank and Alice must flee Shanghai because of the escalating hostilities with Japan. Frank, an American-educated physician, puts his pregnant wife on a train to safety but refuses to leave the city himself because of his work. From this point, the story chronicles Alice’s desperate yearning and fears for her husband after the Japanese invasion, and her eventual realization that she will never see him again. The narrator of “The Night of Broken Glass” is recalling the time just prior to World War II when he, his father and stepmother lived in Vienna. The narrator’s father is a Chinese diplomat, versed in the ways of the world, wily and pragmatic, and the story tells of the father’s careful navigation of shifting political winds when the Nazis move into Austria and begin victimizing Jews, minorities and foreign nationals. “Everything in Between,” set in South Africa at the beginning of the Apartheid era, describes a Chinese family’s efforts to live a normal life under exceedingly challenging circumstances. “Bellsize Park” takes place in contemporary England and poignantly depicts the doomed relationship of two students: Peter, who is Chinese, and Fiona, who is English. And in “All Hallows” divorced Ernie’s irresponsible nature is thrown into sharp relief when he takes his children, Ben and Toby, trick-or-treating the day after Halloween because he’d failed to show up the night before as he’d promised.

As good as these stories are, the outstanding piece in this collection is the masterful novella from which the volume takes its title. Leonard and Emily, both actors, are divorced. Leonard, in his late forties and still hunting for the Big Break, is entering a premature cognitive decline, which he recognizes because it is the same disorder that left his mother debilitated before her death. As he struggles with worsening symptoms, he recalls his years married to Emily, who finally gave up on the dream, retired from acting and left Leonard when he refused to do the same. Wang chronicles their life together from beginning to end: the shared aspirations, thwarted idealism, the minor triumphs countered by heartrending setbacks that marked their marriage and their careers. In the end, a crisis brings Leonard and Emily together one more time to enact a final scene before Leonard slips into the darkness and is unable to remember what they meant to each other.

There is an effortless and seamless quality to Jack Wang’s writing that is particularly impressive. The nuts and bolts of craft, the scaffolding of plot, never intrude on the reader’s experience. In each of these tales, Wang generates considerable narrative momentum by introducing his characters in place, slowly revealing their hopes and fears as he ramps up the stakes and the tension, and then letting the drama unfold in a manner that is patient and never forced. There is nothing cheap or maudlin going on here. Wang frequently elicits an emotional response from the reader, but without exception, this reaction arises naturally out of the drama we’re witnessing.

We Two Alone is a thoroughly engaging volume of short fiction by an exceptionally talented author. These are near flawless tales of personal struggle and modern angst: deeply empathetic, humane stories by a writer whose command of form and technique is unfailing.

Winner of the 2020 Danuta Gleed Literary Award

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!


About the Author

JACK WANG received a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto, an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona, and a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in creative writing from Florida State University. In 2014–15, he held the David T. K. Wong Creative Writing Fellowship at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Stories in his debut collection, We Two Alone, have been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and longlisted for the Journey Prize, and have appeared in PRISM International, the Malahat Review, the New Quarterly, the Humber Literary Review, and Joyland. Originally from Vancouver, Jack Wang is an associate professor in the Department of Writing at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, where he lives with his wife, novelist Angelina Mirabella, and their two daughters.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (Sept. 1 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 296 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487007469
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487007461

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop & support independent bookstores! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2VWhxzJ

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link:  https://amzn.to/3d9H1jH Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ian Colford
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Home of the Floating Lily: Stories by Silmy Abdullah

At the heart of Silmy Abdullah’s debut, Home of the Floating Lily is an intimate portrayal of the Bangladeshi Canadian population. Through the eyes of ordinary people, Abdullah navigates the complexities of migration and its impact on relationships, be it between a husband and a wife or between parents and children. While these stories focus primarily on displacement, culture shock, and family dynamics, they are all driven by one constant theme–the universal longing for home.

Maya Angelou, in All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes, states, “The ache for home lives in all of us”, and Abdullah captures this perfectly in all eight of her stories. Beginning with “A Good Family”, we see a newly married Shumi struggling to adjust to her life in Toronto while her husband is largely absent because of his job. Drama unfolds in “All the Adjustments” when a man marries a woman from a different culture and brings her back to his hometown in Bangladesh. And “The Middle Path” tells the tale of a mother’s sacrifices for her two sons as they grow into adults and choose their own destinies.

“Abdullah uses displacement and migration to reveal experiences that are at once unique to Bangladeshi Canadians but also part of a shared human experience.”

My personal favourite is the titular story, nestled at the very end of the collection but by no means any less provocative. Reading almost like a novella due to its longer length, “Home of the Floating Lily” focuses on the fragility of relationships through the alternating perspectives of mother and daughter in the midst of family secrets and clashing ideals.

In many ways, these stories recall Jhumpa Lahiri’s 1999 short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. Like Lahiri, Abdullah uses displacement and migration to reveal experiences that are at once unique to Bangladeshi Canadians but also part of a shared human experience. While the characters she created are very complex and have authentic Bangladeshi traits, they are all someone that we can relate to and in turn, sympathize with. In Tasneem from “Home of the Floating Lily,” we see our rebellious teen selves, striving to break free from our parents’ expectations and become our own person. In Shaila and Shahnaz, we see our mothers–all-loving, sacrificing, forgiving. Even secondary characters, like Syed or Rachel’s in-laws, bear resemblance to someone we know–be it our friends, cousins or relatives.

While the stories are intriguing and induce a mixed range of emotions, the constant reliance on overly dramatic plot twists as a means of moving the narrative along can get a bit tiring at times. But that’s a small flaw in an otherwise notable and ambitious short fiction debut. The stories, told in clear, lucid prose, may seem depressing to some but that is precisely the point. Each of the stories continues to linger in the reader’s mind long after the book is finished and in doing so, Abdullah is the very first to open a window to the rarely seen, rarely talked about Bangladeshi Canadian community.


Silmy Abdullah is a Bangladeshi-Canadian author and lawyer. Her legal practice focuses on the intersection of immigration, poverty, and gender-based violence. Silmy writes both fiction and non-fiction and Home of the Floating Lily is her debut collection. She lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press (June 22 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 216 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1459748174
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1459748170

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Noor Ferdous
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