Tag Archives: short fiction

Two New Short Story Collections from Tightrope Books

One thing is definite about Toronto’s Tightrope Books: they know a good short story when they see one. In 2016, they published Danila Botha’s excellent collection of short stories For All of the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known which met with great success. Now I have just finished reading two more fine collections, Barry Dempster’s Tread & Other Stories and Rebecca Higgins’ The Colours of Birds. Both books contained some great stories, so I decided to review them together. First, Tread & Other Stories.

Tightrope Books has a propensity for publishing good short story books, and these two titles are no exception.

Tread & Other Stories

Barry Dempster might be best known for his many award-winning works of poetry and literature (he was twice nominated for a Governor General’s Award) and his award-winning 2014 novel The Outside World. Tread & Other Stories was my first introduction to Mr. Dempster, so I was curious as to how he handles the short story format. I so enjoyed Mr. Dempster’s writing style and his character creation (and the situations that confront thme) that I would like to read more of his back catalogue.

It was difficult to pick out a few stories to highlight, so here are two that I particularly enjoyed:

Who? Am I? is the story of a man looking for his birth mother. I’m sure most, if not all persons, upon discovering they are adopted wonder why? So does Kevin:

At first, all he could think of was why? Had his mother been shamed by a religious family, or was she living a post-sixties, no-strings-attached life where a baby would be a drag or was it simply a case of not being ready: no money, no partner, no hope?

When a woman mysteriously approaches him and tells him that she may have given birth to him, Kevin is unnerved. She gives very few details and is even reluctant to give her full name lest they get too involved. Eventually, he gets her name and tracks her down to a cemetery that she visits regularly. A man working at the cemetery directs him to Chestnut Lane:

It sounded like he was going to a bungalow rather than a gravesite. He thought of lawn chairs and an unfamiliar family – grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, perhaps even brothers and sisters – sitting around a circle of tombstones, chatting with each other and the dead.

Half a Man is the story of a couple, Charlie and Nessa, who from their wedding day, seem to be a perfectly matched couple, although they are both very different. In their later years, a stroke leaves Charlie ‘half a man’ with one side of his body paralyzed. While Charlie is discouraged, angry and depressed, Nessa continues to care for him, and he thinks of their wedding vow: “in sickness and in health:”

So this was sickness, he thought. This was what a vow looked like after thirty years of knowing it was there but thinking it might never have to be used. It was like a backup generator in case the power went out.

These two stories are representative of the other thirteen in Tread & Other Stories. There are young people, older ones, some living aimless lives until something or someone awakens some unseen meaning in their lives. The Red-Framed Glasses is an incredibly told story of a young man who drinks too much, blacks out and awakens in a woman’s apartment. Shamed, he leaves and never sees her again. Later he wonders if he raped her. Then somewhat humorous is the story of a female prison guard who likes bad boys (“Bad Boys”). All of Mr. Dempster’s stories are very real; the people as well as the scenarios of each tale. As such, they make for some very good reading.

“Barry Dempster writes stories of the everyday that are not everyday stories. They release depth charges of feeling, unease, and strangeness too powerful for that. They take us to places we’ve known but never so vividly.” —Greg Hollingshead, author of Act Normal and Bedlam

The Colours of Birds

Mimosa Pudica

The Colours of Birds is Rebecca Higgins’ first book of short stories, and its pages contain a varied collection of approaches to creative fiction, slightly different from Tread, but with the same familiar types of protagonists that we may encounter (or have encountered) in daily life. There are twenty-three short works here, some of just a page, others only slightly longer. One of the first stories is Sensitive, in which Olive, a single woman, is mirrored in Mim, her mimosa pudica plant (from Latin: pudica “shy, bashful or shrinking”; also called sensitive plant, shy plant) that she was misguidedly told was easy to care for. Olive doesn’t watch the news (“it makes her feel very stressed out”) or engage in any discussion of current events, folding up and withdrawing like Mim’s leaves when touched. She is reluctant to have her sister Harriet visit with her two-year-old son Jake. Jake is loud, and always yelling and banging into things, which upsets Olive. She also fears for Mim around Jake, as you can well imagine:

Behind him [Jake], near the window, Mim’s leaves are closed even though it’s the middle of the day. Olive doesn’t blame her.

Charlene at Lunchtime continues with the sensitive theme, this time in an office setting where Charlene will eat her lunch in the bathroom once the lunch table talk turns to “what comes out of pets and kids.” She is OCD (she likes to line her pens up on the desk, which she finds relaxing) and decides for the office Christmas exchange to make a Gingerbread House for Jerry, a co-worker even though she didn’t draw his name. She meticulously constructs the house, including melted blue Jolly Ranchers for the stream behind the house. She is sure Jerry will like it. He just has to. The outcome is surprising!

This is a charming, unsettling, and splendid debut.” —Jessica Westhead, author of Things Not to Do and And Also Sharks


Tightrope Books has a propensity for publishing good short story books (as I write this, Aaron Kreuter’s You and Me, Belonging is on my TBR stack) and the above two are no exception. Lovers of the short story genre will undoubtedly these two titles, as I indeed have.

Tread & Other Stories by Barry Dempster
The Colours of Birds by Rebecca Higgins
Tightrope Books

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ads below you may be using an ad blocker. Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2018-2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

A Bird on Every Tree by Carol Bruneau

A Bird on Every Tree won The Very Best! Book Award for Short Stories.

Carol Bruneau is the author of six books, including the recent These Good Hands. Her 2007 novel, Glass Voices, was a Globe and Mail Best Book. She lives with her husband in Halifax, where she teaches writing at NSCAD University.

Each story in A Bird on Every Tree is decidedly larger than the few small pages needed to tell them.

I had never read Carol Bruneau until receiving this ARC from Nimbus Publishing, and it made me a little anxious for here was a Maritime author I should have been familiar with, yet it is not humanly possible to have read books by all the different authors the East Coast provinces are blessed with. Coincidentally, at about the same time I received this book, I happened to be browsing the books at the Fredericton Value Village and came upon a copy of Glass Voices, her 2007 novel. I really wanted to read one of her novels before I read A Bird on Every Tree which is a short story collection. Simply put, I was blown away by Glass Voices, or more to the point, Ms Bruneau’s astounding command of words. She is definitely one of Canada’s best fiction writers, for Glass Voices (and A Bird on Every Tree too) is overflowing with word pictures, metaphors, and similes to the point that the reader is enraptured by the story and like a beautifully fulfilling dream, you don’t want it to conclude.

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At an even dozen, the stories in  A Bird on Every Tree are decidedly larger than the few pages they inhabit, dealing as they do with relationships (Burning Times, The Grotto, Crotch Rockets, Shelter, The Vagabond Lover), family (If My Feet Don’t Touch the Ground, Solstice, Polio Beach) and personal struggles like Marion’s in The Race, Sister Berthe’s in Doves, and Delia’s in Saint Delia. What is truly fascinating in reading this collection is the way Ms Bruneau captures each character’s voice, whether it is a mature woman, a man, or as in the case of Delia, a young girl with a learning disability, making it so real that we feel we are looking through the character’s eyes (male or female) into the world as they see it. Another gift she has is that of making her locations so vivid. Has she really visited all these places she sets her stories in? It would seem so, yet if she hasn’t, the reader would never suspect that either, so ingenious is her inclusion of details only a person who has actually been there could give.

By now, you have likely guessed that I thoroughly enjoyed A Bird on Every Tree, and you would be right. I enjoyed every story; there wasn’t one that I would have left out. Ms Bruneau writes with a graceful precision and has a deftness with words and their cadences, their implications and meanings so that there are no misunderstandings, only a full comprehension of each story and its message.  A Bird On Every Tree will go on the 2017 Longlist for a “Very Best!” Book Award for Short Stories.

A Bird on Every Tree by Carol Bruneau (available Fall 2017)
Nimbus Publishing

This article has been Digiproved © 2017-2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Fiddlehead Issue No.270 (Winter 2017)

Winter 2017, issue No.270

Issue No. 270 of the Fiddlehead literary journal sports an attractive cover with art by Ann Manuel entitled “Blur 1” making you feel that what is contained within is something special. There are works of short fiction by Jasmina Odor, Charlie Fiset, David Clerson (an excerpt from his otherworldly novel Brothers (translated by Katia Grubisic), Darryl Whetter and David Carpenter. There are poems from no less than twelve different poets as well as book reviews. I’ll briefly look at two of the stories, Jasmina Odor’s Skin Like Almonds and David Carpenter’s Hope.

Skin Like Almonds is the wistful recollection of three weeks spent on the Croatian Adriatic coast by the unnamed storyteller and her friend Eva who are “on the verge of being no longer young” at age twenty-five. It has been several years since the Bosnian War ended and the friends were separated by the storyteller’s move with her family to Canada, while Eva’s family stayed behind. They meet two young Bosnian students and spend their days on the beach, going to clubs and generally enjoying a time without the burdens and responsibilities of adulthood.

Hope is the story of Ethel Ringrose, a practical girl who is charmed by an itinerant door-to-door salesman in the days leading up to WWII. The salesman, Hardy Munge is successful at what he does but spends money as fast as he makes it, usually on drink. Once married, Ethel will have none of that in her house, so Hardy finds work on the West Coast which is fine by Ethel, who can do pretty good on her own, managing to get a job at a jewelry store which, when oil is discovered in the province, gets customers with all the “new” money to spend. Hope is an insightful look at relationships and what one considers more important, living like a spendthrift, or being more judicious and staid, like Ethel.

The Reviews section includes reviews of recent works of fiction as well as poetry.

The Fiddlehead is published four times a year and a subscription is only $30 Canadian for one year, which is $15 off the cover prices. Based on issue No. 270 alone, you are getting more than your money’s worth. https://thefiddlehead.ca/content/subscribe-today

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James FisherSome Rights Reserved