Posted in reading, writing

I Don’t Have Time to Write!

“I don’t have time to write!”

This is a classic excuse used by writers and people who want to be writers. Life gets in the way of their craft. Work, family, friends, unexpected events, too many deadlines, not enough creativity left at the end of the day.

I know this struggle very well. I’m a student, so of course, my schoolwork comes first. And I’m in my fourth year, producing news stories every week, completing assignments and getting ready for my journalism placement in the new year.

So, I’m busy. We’re all busy. And if you’re not, you have no excuse not to be writing if that’s what you want to do!

But all of the great writers have lives, too. So how do they manage it all? People keep telling me to set time aside each day to write for X amount of minutes or hours, but it’s so hard when my schedules are constantly changing.

I’m going to look at some advice from well-known Canadian writers about where their ideas come from and how they put them into practice.

Alexander MacLeod

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Alexander MacLeod.

“Most of my stories are constructed around a central image or a scene. I want that image or scene to be strong enough to be able to hold the story together, so that’s where everything usually begins and ends. I don’t ever really go looking for those images; they usually find me, and if they stick around in my head for a couple of months or years, I start to wonder about them, and I think, ‘Maybe there is a story in this thing.'” (Quote can be accessed here.)

This is a great quote because it shows off the power of imagery in creating a strong narrative. If you have an image or scene that is compelling enough and that stays on your mind, you’re probably on your way to a great story – but to do this, you have to get started. For MacLeod, these visions may linger for a while, but I know that from my experience, if I do not start writing while the idea is fresh, it probably won’t make it to a Word document. If something – some image or some scene – strikes you, strike back while it’s hot! Write it down anywhere you can. Hold on to it, explore it, ask yourself why it’s staying with you.

But don’t overthink it – it might lose its magic that way. The best way to find out its meaning, I think, is to just start writing about it and see where the words take you. Maybe you won’t start out with a message in mind but instead, it will come to you as you develop your thoughts. If you never try, you’ll never know.

Lisa Moore

©David Howells 2012www.davehowellsphoto.com
Lisa Moore.

“I think about how much of a good story seems to happen elsewhere, off the canvas or screen or page, in Europe or a backwater New Brunswick town, in what is left unsaid. A word on the tip of the tongue, ungraspable. The teasing smush of a feather boa over naked breasts in a striptease.” (Quote can be accessed here.)

My journalism professors are always telling us that news happens outside of the newsroom, so we need to get out of the classroom to find good stories and talk to real people to get good quotes. Moore’s quote reminds me of this notion that stories don’t just come from within us – they are based on thoughts, ideas and images that we take from the world around us. Moore’s examples of where stories come from are varied and vibrant – the recipe for good storytelling. I think that often, writers get stuck in a trap where they sit down at their computer (or iPad or notebook or stone tablet) and wait for something to appear on the page instead of going out and garnering experiences that will stick with them and become a source of inspiration.

Another important part of writing, besides observation, as Moore encourages, is listening. Listen to what people are talking about around you, listen to what your friends and family have to say. Watch the news, eavesdrop in stores and on the streets. But most importantly, live. Participate in life. Get outside your comfort zone – I know I often trap myself in mine.

Alice Munro

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Alice Munro.

“A story is not like a road to follow . . . it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.” (Quote can be accessed here.)

Although this is not a direct piece of writing advice, I like this quote because it relates to both the reader’s experience and that of the writer. For me, when I write, sometimes the story unfolds unexpectedly, and ideas emerge that I had not previously anticipated. As the sentences start to form, I slowly learn more about the characters, the setting and the significance of what is going on. And then when I read it back, the puzzle pieces start to fit together and I discover things I hadn’t noticed when first drafting my story. That’s when I know I’m ready to go back, edit, revise or re-write. And that’s when I know I have a story worth sharing.

As Munro says, the story “always contains more than you saw the last time.” This is so true! When reading your own work or someone else’s, you always discover new things (if the story is a good one!). Maybe it’s the meaning behind an image or an object, or maybe it’s the incantation in one of the character’s voices that gives you a new perspective about them or their situation.

Reading is an essential part of becoming a better writer, but re-reading one’s own work is also incredibly important – whether it’s during the writing process or afterward. Munro’s quote shows how stories should be intricate, complex and layered with meaning. And this requires reading, re-writing and reading again!

I hope this post and these authors’ advice inspires you to set time aside for writing.

Also, who gets the reference I am making in the featured image? Can anyone pinpoint the short story? Hint – “It was a low, dull, quick sound – much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.”

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Posted in reading, writing

Grabber Leads: How Do You Reel Readers In?

How do you start?

Do you start with a face, a place, an image, an action? With humour, shock, sparsity, melodic description? Silence, dialogue, a Shakespearean soliloquy?

I usually begin with the first sentence. Okay, that sounds obvious. I mean that when I start writing, the opening line usually comes out first. It almost always changes in some way, but it’s typically my starting point when opening up a fresh word document (or scrap of paper during a lecture).

But there’s a lot of pressure in the first sentences. It’s like meeting someone for the first time – you want to leave your reader with a good impression. There are so many other stories out there, so why should they bother reading yours? Is it worth their time?

Sometimes this is how I get stuck. I want to write, I have a hazy vision in my head, some sort of image or inkling as to where I want to go, but I convince myself my opening line isn’t good enough. Even though I know it’s going to change. Even though I know it’s just a rough draft, one of many. Even though with my first sentence, I have no idea where the story is going to take me.

But when I’m lucky, getting out the first line is like cracking open an eggshell, and stuff just comes oozing out. I wish I could have these writing sessions more often (don’t we all?).

I always wonder how other writers do it. You know, successful ones. How long do they take to write their opening sentences? How much thought do they put into them?

Today, I’m going to talk about three more stories in the The Penguin Book of Contemporary Canadian Women’s Short Stories, which I chose to read based on their opening sentences.

“Chemistry” by Carol Shields

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Carol Shields.

“If you were to write me a letter out of the blue, typewritten, hand-written, whatever, and remind me that you were once in the same advanced recorder class with me at the YMCA on the south side of Montreal and that you were the girl given to head colds and black knitted tights and whose Sprightly Music for the Recorder had shed its binding, then I would, feigning a little diffidence, try to shore up a coarsened image of the winter of 1972” (Shields 299).

This opening sentence is different from that of most short stories I’ve read, particularly in its length. Despite it taking up the space of an entire paragraph, what charmed me about it was the fact that it works. It works brilliantly. In one sentence, Shields paints a picture of a specific person in a specific place in a specific moment of time, lets the reader know that the ‘you’ the narrator is addressing is undoubtedly important, and that the narrator is reminiscing about an important part of their past.

This one sentence is mighty powerful, and primes the reader for the descriptive, image-filled story they’re about to embark on.

We never find out the gender of the narrator, or really much about them at all, other than their affection for the “girl given to head colds” and aptitude for playing the recorder. But we do find out a lot about how a group of misfits come together and create a special bond that is sadly broken when the six-week course comes to an end. We get a taste of Montreal in the 1970s, the students’ pride in their thriftiness and the tragic backstory of their music teacher. Most importantly, we get a unique story about a group of advanced recorder players whose hesitation and anxiousness about saying goodbyes stop them from exchanging contact information.

We don’t know how much time has passed since the narrator was in the class as they recount their experience, but that it has been some years. We don’t know what their life is like or what anyone else’s turned out like, but we know that the class continues to have an effect on them.

My favourite thing about this story is the beautiful prose, the poignant observations about people and life and emotions, and that the reader is invited into such an intimate circle of people without the burden of dramas or tensions between them.

It’s a special experience that lends itself to curiousity, wonder, and a certain kind of nostalgia for a place we’ve never really been.

“The Nature of Pure Evil” by Zsuzsi Gartner

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Zsuzsi Gartner.

“Hedy reaches for the telephone to make another bomb threat” (Gartner 127).

What an explosive opening sentence (ha, get it?). It’s sharp, quick, to the point. It gives you a character, an action and a wave of shock and suspense, all in 10 words.

Isn’t it crazy how writers can do that? Put an image, a feeling, a fear in your head – all in 10 words?

Throughout the story, Hedy feigns many more bomb threats, which thoroughly entertain her. She loves watching the swarms of people fleeing the buildings and thinking about how she has affected their lives and stirred up heated conversations.

Her bad habit begins when her boyfriend leaves her for another woman and gets married behind her back. While Hedy copes with her breakup by faking bomb attacks, her co-worker, Brigit, won’t let the subject of Stanley go. She goes on and on about the notion of pure evil (accusing Stanley of committing such) and talks with others about what pure evil is and where it comes from, all without knowing about Hedy’s secret phone calls.

The opening sentence not only hints at the surprises to come in the story, but the stucture itself reflects Hedy’s character: impulsive, quick-thinking, unpredictable. The reader wonders where she got the idea from in the first place to call about fake bombs and why her breakup has triggered this behaviour (especially when she describes a picturesque childhood and no previous mental illnesses).

The reader cannot stop thinking about what Hedy will do next, or if the phone calls will turn into something much larger. Hedy sees herself as innocent of any crimes, and although she isn’t throwing any bombs, she is causing major disruptions and instilling fear in the populace.

She’s a fascinating character to examine, and the way the story jumps right into her actions makes it impossible to not read on.

“Black” by Annabel Lyon

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Annabel Lyon.

“The old woman upstairs is taking a long time to die” (Lyon 207).

I love this line. I’m a big fan of dark humour, and this brief, shocking sentence pulled me right in. It may seem like it doesn’t revel much, but it tells the reader that someone is dying and that someone else is either annoyed or indifferent about it. And call me creepy (I mean, I was raised on films by Tim Burton), but I want to know that character.

The sory unfolded much differently that I had anticipated. The son of the dying woman is throwing a party of sorts in his backyard as his mother lays dying upstairs in the house. The man is the brother of a menally unstable woman named Lorelei, who abandons her child Suzy and leaves her with a man named Morris, who ends up raising her. Morris is invited to the party (I can’t bring myself to call it a funeral – firstly, she isn’t dead yet; she dies partway through, and secondly, the affair is more like a family barbecue than a time for grieving). Lorelei is there but leaves before even seeing her daughter, and the story continues on with the reader watching Suzy grow up and slowly lose herself to mental health problems.

The darkness is subtle, hinted at through references to the colour black (a classic symbol of death and despair, but hey, the colour goes with everything), and I had to re-read it to fully identify Suzy’s decline. The story starts and ends with death, but is still a very enjoyable read, with humour intertwined with traumas and explorations of the complexities of identity,  relationships and the unconventional family unit.

While we don’t find out how Morris and Lorelei break up, or where Lorelei ends up, we do get a sense of who Morris is and how he does everything in his power to make the best life for Suzy possible. We don’t even know what he does for a living, what his upbringing was like or whether he feels heartbroken or lonely, but we do know he cares about his adoptive daughter (and it’s hard not to love him for the little things he does, like put food colouring into Suzy’s ice cubes because that’s her favourite snack, or make her Jell-O when she’s sick even after she’s grown up).

The story is sad, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s a certain kind of sadness, laced with curiosity instead of pain, as the reader is left wondering about the cause of Suzy’s fall – whether her mental health issues are genetic or due to the traumas of her early days.

What’s your favourite opening sentence? What do you look for when picking up a book or short story for the first time?

Or better yet, why did you decide to read this blog post – was it the title or the first line? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Posted in reading, writing

What Makes Something Quotable?

Today I’m going to do something a little bit different. In the past three stories I read, I focused on the authors’ writing styles and the poignancy of their prose and ended up underlining a lot of different quotes. I’ve always been the type of person that slathers my books in sticky notes, marking lines that stand out to me. I have a long word document on my computer with all of the ones I’ve saved, and every so often I look through them see what I thought was important or worth remembering.

But lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes a quote…well, quotable. It’s all subjective, of course – every reader interprets every story differently. Certain sentences have entirely different meanings to different people despite the words being the same. However, many quotes have been widely recognized as “good quotes” – and even if you haven’t read the book they came from, you’ve likely heard of them before:

“Not all those who wander are lost” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”- J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

But what makes some quotes stand out on the page more than others – what is it about them that merits a sticky note, a dog ear, an underlining?

Continuing through The Penguin Book of Contemporary Canadian Women’s Short Stories, I’m going to discuss some of the quotes I marked in the last three stories I read and discuss how they affected me.

“Play the Monster Blind” by Lynn Coady

Lynn Coady
Lynn Coady.

Lynn Coady is a writer and journalist from Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia, and the 2013 winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her short story collection Hellgoing.

In “Play the Monster Blind,” a woman named Bethany is spending time with her fiancée John’s family as they travel from cottage to cottage, eating, drinking, swimming and listening to their alcoholic father’s stories about his boxing days. The siblings spend much of their time roughhousing, which eventually results in Bethany getting an elbow to the face, while they try to ignore their father’s drunken antics.

A major topic in this story is weight. John is described as big – overweight in his youth, but now just naturally large. His brother is described as wiry while his sister has struggled with anorexia, while the father and uncle are heavily overweight.

Here’s a quote that made me laugh:

“…the plastic chairs sagged and quivered from the weight of men. The father built all of hard, stubborn fat, but John was just big. They sat quietly torturing their lawn chairs together” (Coady 43).

Of course, the picture of two men on the brink of breaking their lawn chairs is inherently amusing, but what makes this quote effective is how it both brings a specific image into the reader’s head and also provides a succinct comparison of John and his father. It’s not only the humour that makes this quote stand out, but how it’s constructed. Coady doesn’t just say the chairs looked like they might break; she describes the men’s effects on them. She leads the reader in and then distinguishes the two men from one another, comparing and contrasting them in a simple but satisfying way.

Bethany begins comparing herself to John’s sister, and her self-consciousness is effectively represented in the imagery of the natural landscape around her:

“The ever-present ocean was nowhere in sight, and it disoriented her. She didn’t know if this was beautiful or not. The green mounds sloped upward uninsistently, and then came together in dark, obscene valleys that reminded her of the creases in a woman’s flesh – her own. Reminded her of sitting naked and looking down at the spot where her stomach protruded slightly over her thighs. She didn’t like how these low mountains were everywhere, their dark rolling motion completely uninterrupted by a view of water, or patches of field” (Coady 58).

All right, so this is a passage, not a single quote, but I didn’t want to cheat you out of any line. Bethany feels she has lost control of her body, and, like nature, her skin has taken on a form of its own without her intervention. She feels uncertain about the landscape and whether it is beautiful or not – just as she feels uncertain as to whether or not to accept her body, and whether or not John is bothered by her weight (which he later mentions he is not). She sees her stomach rolls in the low mountains and is bothered by the lack of variety in the view and how she can’t see anything past them.

The comparison is obvious, but still elegantly formed. Coady doesn’t just say that the mountains remind Bethany of her stomach rolls – instead, she intertwines the imagery with Bethany’s thought process, taking the reader through the landscape and also through Bethany’s insecurities. It’s beautifully written with strong imagery and storytelling.

Of course, the line that connects to the story’s title must be included here, when the comparison is made to the drunken father and Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein:

“On the path to the cabin, they saw the father coming towards them. The sun had set moment’s before and their eyes were used to the dark, but the father’s weren’t. They saw him first, walking with great clomps, his arms stretched out in front of him like Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein” (Coady 64).

Bethany then proceeds to describe how the monster was originally going to be blind, which is why he walks with his arms out on the film. This quote is great because it evokes suspense and fear in the reader that the father’s alcoholism is about to come to a boiling point and things are going to turn violent, when really, it is the siblings’ tipsy tomfoolery that ends up causing injuries.

The comparison of the father to the monster – is a powerful way to describe his anger issues and alcoholism. His drinking makes him monstrous – like when he snaps at the waitress at the restaurant and makes her cry – and his behaviour is unpredictable. John and Bethany recognize the father’s problems but cannot clearly discern what he will do next. The blindness really comes from the father’s children who are trying to ignore their father’s issues and carry on drinking; John is the only one who tries to acknowledge it head-on. That’s what makes this quote important and unique.

“Reunion” by Libby Creelman

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Libby Creelman.

Libby Creelman was actually born in Massachusetts but lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She has published a short story collection and two novels.

This story about a woman named Yvonne who attends her high school reunion with two old friends. She immediately regrets going, feeling detached from everyone there and not even recognizing a man, Teddy Lawson, who fingered her derrière in the fifth grade. She reflects on how the men have aged less gracefully than the women, and then discovers that Teddy was ‘sweet on her’ when they were younger. Yvonne reveals that she is divorced and that her five-year-old son, Rudy, had meningitis and is now deaf.

Yvonne is struggling with life right now, and the high school reunion reminds her of how life goes on in strange and unpredictable ways, how everyone’s lives and turned out differently and everyone has faced different problems over the years.

Yvonne’s negative association with Teddy (which is completely justified, considering the fingering incident) combined with her drunkenness, brings out her anger and frustration:

“I listened as he summarized his life, and gradually began to hate him and direct towards him all of my anger of the past three years. I blamed him for everything, knowing he was not to blame” (Creelman 74).

Anger comes takes many different forms. For Yvonne, she has internalized her grief over her son’s condition, but being back in her old high school with someone she detests is what triggers her confession of how she is really doing. She cannot control her son’s health, like she could not control Teddy’s actions or his former feelings towards her. Her lack of control makes her feel powerless, so all she can do is indulge in her emotions.

She later realizes that:

“The people we had become bore traces of the children we had been, but these traces were negligible – almost ornamental. Sometimes Rudy looked up at me from his chair and for a moment I caught just that: a curious, ghostly trace of the baby he had been” (Creelman 76).

Our past selves stay with us, even after we’ve grown and changed and matured. This is what Yvonne takes away from the reunion, and this quote summarizes her feelings in a poignant, powerful way. Its meaning is pretty explicit, but it is still articulated effectively and makes the reader better understand her thoughts about her son and empathize for her.

“An Apology” by Ramona Dearing

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Ramona Dearing.

Ramona Dearing is a successful writer from St. John’s, Newfoundland who also works at CBC as a reporter, host and producer. Her first book, So Beautiful, was published in 2004.

“An Apology” tells the story of a man, Gerard, who is on trial in Newfoundland for sexually abusing boys at an orphanage run by clergymen. He is in complete denial of the allegations against him, despite the number of boys – now men – standing against him, and the clear disgust the jury has of him. Gerard dismisses the men as mentally ill, low-life alcoholics, and insists he taught discipline at the orphanage and should not be held responsible for their problems. He is constantly thinking of his puppy, Brigus, who he had to leave back in Ontario, that is in the care of a young woman who eventually hears about the trial and becomes mistrusting of Gerard and threatens over the phone to take the dog with her. In the end, when Gerard realizes he will be found guilty, he phones the girl and tells her to take the dog. The story ends with his phone ringing with news of the judge’s verdict.

Gerard’s perspective is unsettling but is also a powerful way to tell this kind of story in a different form. He consistently refutes the men’s testimonies of him in his mind:

“They’ve got something else in common: they’ve disappointed anyone who ever came into their lives. Including Gerard” (Dearing 81).

This quote summarizes Gerard’s opinions of the men and shows how guiltless he feels. It is evident he abused them when they were children but in his frame of mind, they are the ones at fault. His psychology is fascinating to example, particularly in these snippets of his thinking. What makes this quote so potent is its shock-value; Gerard explicitly blaming the men, putting them in a box and separating himself completely from their situations. If he had rambled on and on about how he is innocent and how the trial is unfair, the story wouldn’t have the same effect. Gerard’s thoughts are sudden punches to the reader’s gut, and that’s what makes this story so good and so disturbing.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about leads and their effect on enticing the reader and setting the tone for the rest of the story, so look for that in the next few days.

Please share some of your favourite quotes and what effect they’ve had on you and your interpretations of texts!

 

 

Posted in reading, writing

Love, Lust & Loss

I’ve started reading a very exciting short story collection: The Penguin Book of Contemporary Canadian Women’s Short Stories. I think it’s so important to celebrate women’s contributions to literature. I remember how shocked I was in high school when I learned that Mary Shelley published her most famous book – Frankenstein – anonymously, so as not to deter readers with her feminine name. It was a common practice for women to write under a male or androgynous pen name so that their books would be viewed as more credible. Even in recent years, J.K. Rowling used her initials rather than her first name so that the Harry Potter series would be equally enjoyed by boys and girls – the thought being that boys would be less likely to pick up a book by a female author because they would think it was too ‘girly.’

To me, it’s a ridiculous concept that women should feel the need to hide part of their identities in order to be more successful. I think women should feel comfortable publishing under their chosen name and not feel pressured to change it for the sake of popularity.

Now that I’m done ranting about that pesky patriarchy, let’s look at the first three stories in this collection.

Love and lust are two very different things that often get confused. Love is defined by Google Dictionary as “an intense feeling of deep affection,” while lust is “a very strong sexual desire.” The difference between the two may seem clear on the surface, but when you’re experiencing a mixture of thoughts and emotions, sometimes your head and your heart don’t quite get along. The characters in these three stories all have unique struggles when it comes to love and lust, so today we’re going to look at how well they sort out their feelings.

“Spring Song of the Frogs” by Margaret Atwood

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Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood turns 79 years old this Sunday. Born in Ottawa and raised in northern Ontario and Quebec, Atwood has become one of the most prominent Canadian writers of the century. Her full bibliography has too many entries for me to count.

“Spring Song of the Frogs” follows Will, a man who has struggled to find love, in several encounters he has with women, all of whom experience anorexia. Will doesn’t like that the women in his life don’t eat, yet he keeps finding himself in their company.

I think what’s interesting about Will is how he complains that the women in his life are starving themselves and are too focused on their appearances, yet there are paragraphs and paragraphs describing how the women look from Will’s perspective.

The pressures on women to keep up with the changing fashion trends are summarized poignantly in the first three lines:

“Women’s lips are paler again. They wax and wane, from season to season. They haven’t been this pale for years; not for fifteen or twenty years at least” (Atwood 1).

Some years we’re meant to be skinny, and others we’re meant to have curves. These days, the ideal woman is “slim thicc” – having a narrow waist, thick thighs and a nicely-sculpted. These impossible demands are constantly changing and have a detrimental effect on women’s body image and self-confidence.

Looking at this issue from Will’s point of view – the male perspective – adds an interesting twist. Will is not attracted to the women who starve themselves and is deeply upset by his niece, who is in the hospital because of anorexia. He describes how she used to run around on the farm and play with the boys and laments about her ‘downfall’ into puberty, where societal pressures changed her disposition and turned her into an entirely different person. Will is powerless to help her, or his close friend Diane, who was once “well-fleshed and athletic” but now “felt frail, diminished” (Atwood 9). Diane throws up the meal Will prepares for her, but he feels it would be inappropriate to acknowledge this. He gives up his hopes of ending the night with intimacy, so instead, he takes Diane outside to hear the frogs. But their song is disappointing.

“This doesn’t have the effect on Will he has hoped it would. The voices coming from the darkness below the curve of the hill sound thin and ill. There aren’t as many frogs as there used to be” (Atwood 12).

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The frogs, of course, are meant to represent the women in Will’s life and their deterioration and illness. The spring is supposed to be a season of life, sex and vigour, but for Will, it’s become a time of sadness. He is unable to fulfill his desires for both love and lust – being unsuccessful in keeping a relationship or even being physically attracted to a woman. While he is saddened by the struggles facing women, Will is not actively doing anything to help them (his visit to his niece too short and silent to suffice), and his focus on their appearances only adds to the toxic culture that surrounds women’s bodies.

What do you think of Will’s actions (or better yet, inaction)?

“Bloodwood” by Jacqueline Baker

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Jacqueline Baker.

Jacqueline Baker is a writer from Sand Hills, Saskatchewan who currently lives in Edmonton with her husband and children. She has published several novels and short story collections.

“Bloodwood” is about the power and pains of familial love. The protagonist, 71-year-old Perpetua Resch, is reflecting on the people in her life and realizes she has only ever loved her immediate family members, despite being contentedly married to a man named Joe for years. She blames her inability as “the result of a too-happy childhood” (Baker 14). She describes how her childhood was very sheltered and her parents never took them to other people’s houses, they never hosted parties or visitors and they even held their own private church sessions at home. Perpetua says her family was so tight-knit that they never felt the need to expand their inner circle.

Perpetua then thinks about her sister, Magda, who has passed away, whose marriage fell apart. In a letter, Magda complains about how she is unable to love another person and wonders how Perpetua can love Joe when really she does not love him. Their brother, Martin, stayed at their parent’s farm and never moved out or found love. Perpetua insists that her and her siblings’ struggles to connect with others is all because of their detached upbringing and the sheer strength of their internal bonds.

When Myra, Magda’s daughter, unexpectedly arrives at Perpetua’s house, Perpetua is taken aback by Myra’s striking resemblance to her mother, and this makes her emotional and distraught. Myra lived with her father and stepmother after her parents’ divorce and Magda was very absent from her life –  a stark contrast to the tight-knit family Magda grew up in.

We know that Perpetua, Magda, Martin and their parents loved each other deeply, but it is unclear what Myra’s upbringing was like or what her feelings were towards her mother. Magda claimed she was unable to love her husband or her daughter, which is why she abandoned them, but it is still hard to understand why.

I think Perpetua is mistaken when she blames her family’s love on why she and her siblings cannot love other people. Really, it is how their parents separated them from others and never exposed them to different people, different families and different types of love which has caused them to be so distant from the people who they are supposed to be close with.

Joe carves wooden creations in his free time out of different types of wood, the most precious being bloodwood. The bloodwood in the story effectively shows the deep-rooted nature of the family bonds Perpetua had with her immediate family and that Myra lacks:

“… red richness of cherry (bloodwood, he called it), so rare and expensive out west – the grain, the weight, the variations in colour and texture, the shine that could be brought to any piece through sanding” (Baker 18).

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Of course, this brings imagery of a family tree with blood flowing through the roots to the branches of each member. Each family is sculpted differently, is a different shape, size and appearance – but all have roots that bind them.

At the end of the story, Joe gives Myra a horse figurine made from bloodwood, “gleaming with all the light of new marble” (Baker 25). Perhaps this symbolizes Joe and Perpetua’s efforts to invite Myra into their lives and reconnect her with her family so she can see them anew. I’ve always associated horses with being free-spirited, so it can also be seen as Joe giving Myra the freedom to rejoin the side of the family that she has been distanced from or to return to her own life guilt-free.

Do you think Perpetua should confront Myra about her issues with loving others? How do you think Myra conceptualizes love?

“Jiggle Flicks” by Bonnie Burnard

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Bonnie Burnard.

Bonnie Burnard was a successful Canadian writer from the town of Petrolia in southwestern Ontario who passed away last year at age 72. She published two short story collections and one novel and won many awards for her work.

In this story, a divorced woman named Heather is attending a work conference and encounters a man named Tom whom she once had a fling with. Their relationship is broken up when Tom speaks about how he once slept with this “one perfect woman” (Burnard 35) and Heather becomes angry and leaves him the next day (and rightly so) after insulting his hands for being disproportionate to the rest of his body (not the most epic comeback, but at least she tried).

I may not know much about relationships, but I do know that you should never compare your current partner to your former partner – especially by saying your former one was free of any flaws. Just saying.

After she leaves:

“He wote to her later that he didn’t think her leaving solved anything, and that he didn’t think she was being particularly fair to him. He didn’t think her leaving was very original either, or profound. He said he was only trying to understand love and its relationship to beauty, and that he didn’t see this as a necessarily despicable undertaking. He said he did love her, he couldn’t imagine not loving her” (Burnard 37).

Maybe they did have a genuine connection, maybe they didn’t. I’m not too convinced, personally. He seems like a lost man who is trying to recreate the past romance he had with that one “perfect woman,” while Heather is struggling with becoming older and dismissing new experiences out of fear and pessimism.

Now at this conference, Tom is unsuccessful in engaging with a young woman there and then visits Heather’s hotel room in the night. She ignores him and falls asleep but he stays and watches her all night (not sure what he is trying to accomplish here other than being labeled as both a hound dog and a stalker).

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The theme of aging love is seen particularly when Heather shows up to dinner wearing the same floral dress as the young woman Tom had tried to serenade, and how later that night she throws out her stockings and decides to donate the dress to her neighbour. I don’t think Heather is in denial of being older, but I do think she is in denial of the fact that she can start fresh and have new experiences despite her age. Maybe her fascination with the sailboats out the window in the opening passage is hinting at her contemplation of whether to sail with the winds of change or stay at safe harbour.

I think her refusal to sleep with Tom again shows she does not want to go back to the past, but whether she is willing to move on and pursue a new romantic relationship is questionable. I think it troubles her how withdrawn she has become but it is hard to say whether she will actively do anything to change it. Either way, at least she’s strong enough to push lustful, delusional Tom aside and leave him as a “jiggle flick” (his term for a teaser of an adult film).

What do you think of Heather’s actions?

Stay tuned for more discussions about stories from this collection.

Posted in reading, writing

From Boyhood to Manhood: Daddy Lenin and Other Stories

I was at Chapters the other day without any intention of buying anything . . . but I’m sure all book-lovers can guess what happened next. I decided to search the computer’s directory to see if they had any of the Canadian short story collections I read about on CBC recently.  Luckily for me (though not for my wallet), I found two: Daddy Lenin and Other Stories by Guy Vanderhaeghe and Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam. They were actually both in the Bargain Books section, though they definitely don’t sell short on powerful prose.

Today I’m going to start with the first three stories in Vanderhaeghe’s collection since that’s all I’ve read so far (ah, the struggles of being a student – so many books, so little time!). Specifically, I’m going to talk about how all of them speak to the struggles of boys transitioning to manhood.

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Guy Vanderhaeghe.

1. “The Jimi Hendrix Experience”

A summary:

A teenage boy named Troy goes to people’s houses with his friends Conrad and Finty and tries to con people by saying they are there to buy a Jimi Hendrix album. At the first house they go to, they make up a sob story about Finty having a sister with cerebral palsy who is desperate for the album. After they flee that house, they go to another old man’s house and are welcomed inside, surprising them by saying he’s been expecting them.

The man scares the kids by pointing a gun at them and then says Conrad and Finty have too much copper in their brains and might get struck by lightning. He then begins eating pennies (becoming a less reliable character with every sentence), saying he is immune to the thunderbolt, and then opens up a photo album with images of highways he helped build. The two guys get angry that there aren’t any people in the photos but Troy realizes the old man identifies himself in the photos because he created the roads. Troy’s friends get mad at him because he’s playing along with the old man’s games and they leave. Troy runs out shortly after when the man starts talking about his aura.

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Jimi Hendrix.

Troy’s discovery:

Troy is a trouble-maker. This is not uncommon for a teenage boy, but his bike-thieving and door-knocking endeavours combined with his hormonal angst and woes about moving to a new city after the school year make a recipe for disaster. He is well overdue for a wake-up call, though whether or not he recognizes the meaning of his discovery is up in the air. In recognizing the old man’s essence in the photograph – in seeing himself as part of the road he has built – Troy realizes he is growing up and is creating his own road that he will look back on…

…or that his actions and efforts are a part of him…

…OR, he simply says what the man wants to hear because he is afraid of him (and rightly so).

I’d like to think Troy does see something more than a road in the photograph. While he certainly doesn’t fit the mold of a youth who respects his elders, perhaps part of him wants to – he wants the wisdom the old man might have (buried beneath a few layers of questionable sanity).

One thing I also find interesting is when Conrad asks:

“‘How come there’s nobody in these pictures?’ Conrad wants to know. ‘Pictures without people in them are a fucking waste of film'” (Vanderhaeghe 10).

The old saying about teenagers being self-absorbed comes to mind here (along with a strong dose of anthropocentrism). I find it interesting that Troy is the only one that recognizes, albeit momentarily, meaning in the photo while the others do not. Troy is trying to find his identity; right now, he’s a Jimi-Hendrix wannabe, but that’s not his organic personality. What makes Troy unique is, despite his troublemaking tendencies and apparent lack of empathy for others (namely the people he tricks), he gives the old man a chance and tries to listen to what he has to say.

When he flees the old man’s house, maybe he is not just escaping from the man’s abnormal behaviour, but from the thought of ageing, of becoming isolated like the man, weighed with the burden of building the road ahead.

2. “Tick Tock”

A summary:

An old university professor named Charley Brewster has an ongoing dispute with his new, noisy neighbours, and the anger he feels towards the situation builds up in his hands – not just metaphorically, but physically, as his hands start hurting profusely for no apparent reason. Brewster lives a mundane life in a mundane apartment, spending his time teaching, grading, watching TV and eating cheap frozen dinners. He has a girlfriend, though the romance has fizzled out and neither party has the will to end it. However, it is revealed that Brewster had a tumultuous past, getting into fist fights and spending two years in jail due to a brawl with a privileged youth that turned serious. Brewster eventually turned his anger into a thirst for knowledge, which led to his subpar career in English literature, though evidently, he has not overcome his anger issues just yet.

As the noises next door grow louder, Brewster suspects the man, Janacek, is abusing his wife, though she doesn’t confess when the police are called. His frustration with the situation builds up until the woman comes to his door in need of refuge. Brewster’s girlfriend takes her to a shelter, while he is left alone at the apartment awaiting the abuser’s return.

The story ends with a showdown in the parking garage, where Brewster’s hands finally relax as he submits to Janacek and takes the punches, realizing he needs to let go of the bully inside him in order to conquer the bullies that have haunted him.

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Brewster’s revelation:

Brewster became a bully in his youth because he was mistreated by others. His story is a classic case of the bullied becoming a bully themselves. His anger issues throw his entire life off course when he goes to jail, but it is education and his quest for knowledge that saves him. And at the end of the story, he suspects Janacek has gone down to the garage to wreck his wife’s car, and so he photographs him in the act. He then has power over Janacek not in physical strength, but in what he knows about him. Ultimately, it is likely that Janacek is able to delete the photo from Brewster’s phone after effectively beating the shit out of him, but Brewster’s efforts to solve the matter with wit instead of violence show true character development and courage.

Janacek is a foil to Brewster in that he represents who Brewster used to be (and still is, internally) – violent, irrational and quick to anger. Brewster is only able to make peace with himself and his past once he fights Janacek in a different kind of wrestling ring- by helping his wife escape and by using information about Janacek rather than brutality to combat him (which ends up being the less effective strategy, but at least he tried to do the right thing, right?)

Brewster goes from a rampant youth to a dull senior. Whether his encounter with Janacek and his moral triumph changes his fate is the real question. I’d like to think that Brewster learns to better express himself and his emotions after this so that he can rekindle his relationship with his girlfriend and perhaps even regain the passion he once had for his studies. But maybe that’s because I like imagining happy endings.

3. “Koenig & Company”

A summary:

Billy Dowd is a troubled teenager with a lot of family baggage. His mother has been sent away (again) to be treated for another nervous breakdown, and his father is away working most of the time. It’s summer vacation, and Billy is left to his own devices- except for his deal with his father to eat supper at the social pariahs’ place every night: the Koenig family. Billy sneaks to the house so as not to be seen by nosy neighbours and gossipy school peers. He finds the Koenig residence in a filthy condition, with all the children fixated on the television screen sitting amidst piles of dirty clothing, only moving to consume the grease-infused meals their mother slaps together. The outcast in the family is Sabrina, a bookish girl with a lame leg due to having Polio in her younger years. She refuses to eat with the rest of the family and instead uses Billy’s situation to her advantage. Sabrina takes the money Billy’s father gave to the Koenigs to pay for his meals and uses it to buy fresh food that she prepares at Billy’s house, so he doesn’t have to go over there and she gets to take a break from her family.

The two bond over the summer by watching movies, especially Abbott and Costello films, and occasionally talking about what their futures may look like. Sabrina tries to guide Billy into being more ambitious and eager for knowledge, but he refuses her attempts at making him a better man (well, teenager).

Sabrina is entering her graduating year and anticipates she will become valedictorian. This becomes a major source of contention between the two, whose secret friendship is put at stake when Sabrina asks if Billy will dance with her after the graduation ceremony. She insists the valedictorian needs an escort, but he refuses, on account of his fear of girls (ah yes, that ripe and fragile age) and how he is repulsed by her leg. She thinks he might finally agree to take her if she has sex with him, but he freaks out when he sees her naked on the bed, her lame leg exposed, and they never speak again.

The story ends with Billy looking back on that summer as a twice-divorced businessman when he hears about Sabrina’s next art show. She has become a famous avant-garde artist who refuses to stick to the same style and isn’t afraid to make political statements with her work. Billy debates going to the show to see her but decides to keep his memories of her from that summer, instead, as if he is afraid of tainting them.

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Abbott and Costello.

Billy’s pride:

Like most young people, Billy is overly concerned with what other people think of him, and does everything he can to ‘protect’ his social status: he keeps the curtains closed when Sabrina over, sneaks around town when he has to go to her house, doesn’t approach her at school. Part of his insecurities surely stems from issues he has with his mother and her illness- especially after she calls up half the town to reprimand them in one of her fits. However, Billy’s inability to feel any sense of compassion towards Sabrina and her desires shows he has a selfish side. He cannot look past her lame leg or her family’s last name (which she eventually makes famous) because of his fear. Instead of identifying with how Sabrina feels and recognizing that they are both insecure teenagers with serious family issues and a lack of parental guidance, he dismisses her once her function as his personal chef is finished.

Is Billy selfish? I would say so. Does he lack empathy? Perhaps, though the repression of his feelings about his mother’s condition and father’s absence may play a big role here. Beyond the story’s message that anyone can overcome their situations if they put their mind to it (Sabrina’s success is certainly inspiring), I think this story says a lot about how boys are conditioned to conceal their thoughts and feelings instead of fostering their emotions, and in turn, fostering the emotions of others.

Next week’s topic will be girlhood, and I have plenty of stories to choose from in The Penguin Book of Contemporary Canadian Women’s Short Stories.

Posted in reading, writing

Human Fascination

The last three stories to be discussed from the Best Canadian Stories 2017 collection are not very similar. The first is about teenage angst and mental health issues bubbling up at a party, the second about a troubled hotel employee’s interest in an actress, and the last about a struggling boy seeking employment from a woman who frequents a hair salon. However, they all share the broad theme of human fascination – a character’s intense interest in someone around them.

While each character exhibits this differently in their unique contexts, it is useful to look at how stories can be crafted in a way where the reader is looking at the world through the perspective of one person, who is looking at the world through another.

“Shimmer”

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Alex Pugsley.

Who is the author?

Alex Pugsley is an award-winning writer and filmmaker from Nova Scotia.

What is this story about?

A high school party that takes place when the host’s parents are away. The reader follows Celeste, who seems to suffer from anxiety and depression, as she tries to get attention from boys while making dark comments about the meaninglessness of life and wanting to kill herself. She also steals pills from the medicine cabinet and a photo of her friend at the Grand Canyon.

How does it portray human fascination?

Celeste is incredibly observant and thinks critically about everyone she sees and encounters. However, she is also very unhappy. She feels uncomfortable by the number of people there and is easily irritable, especially around her friend, Sheri. Sheri keeps telling Celeste to stop being weird, and Celeste says:

“Why? Nothing ever happens, and if it does it’s going to happen to somebody else anyway so who cares?” (Pugsley 197).

Celeste seems to pretend to be apathetic about things but really she wants more out of life and wishes she had more exciting things happen to her – which is likely why she takes the photograph; she wishes she could go on adventures like her friend. She seems to be struggling with traumas from her past, mentioning a memory of her mother staying out all night when she was a child and leaving her panties in her shoes.

I think this story effectively portrays the adrenaline, excitement and fear of teenhood. But beyond this, it shows the challenges young people face that are often dismissed as just their heightened hormones when really there are larger problems at hand. Celeste, like many teens, is concerned with looking good and kissing boys but she is also struggling to find meaning, happiness and figure out what kind of person she wants to be. Teenagers’ struggles are often brushed off as rage and angst, but this story suggests their problems should be taken more seriously; Celeste’s actions are not healthy, and her behaviour should not be normalized.

“Currents”

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Beverley Shaw.

Who is the author?

Beverley Shaw is a successful writer and violin teacher who lives in Nova Scotia and is currently working on a novel tentatively called Undertow.

What is this story about?

A troubled, reserved hotel employee named Fred and his fascination with an actress named Sophie who is staying at the hotel with two men she works with. The woman goes missing one morning and Fred finds her on the beach. She was caught by the currents and nearly drowns and Fred brings her to the hospital and they talk. He realizes that she is an ordinary person despite her flashy career and that his own life cannot be enhanced by becoming involved in hers.

“He no longer wanted to know the details of her life, to take part in her world. He realized that, despite his interest in with her, he would probably never know her more than he knew her now” (Shaw 218).

How does it portray human fascination?

Initially, when Fred discovers that Sophie is an actress, he wants to know everything about her and the men she is traveling with. However, he realizes that her life may not be so grand – she nearly dies and gets in a dispute with her co-workers and, like him, is vulnerable to danger and despair. Throughout the story, he has flashbacks about his former boyfriend, Jamie, who suffered from drug abuse and depression and attempted suicide. Fred broke up with Jamie for the sake of his own health and happiness but still feels distraught over the breakup and concerned over Jamie’s safety. When Sophie nearly drowns, Fred notices a change in her disposition and reflects on it.

Fred lives an isolated life, spending his free time watching movies at his apartment instead of going out and meeting new people. Perhaps through watching films and examining the people who stay at the hotel, he lives vicariously through other people’s seemingly more exciting lives. But Sophie reminds them that everyone suffers and things are not always as they seem. He cannot know a person by simply observing them; he needs to participate in life and in other people’s lives in order to fully comprehend their situations.

“He supposed nearly drowning would be a sobering, life-changing event. He realized he no longer thought she looked like Catherine Deneuve. But he thought she was lovely anyway” (Shaw 218).

In the end, Fred:

“felt as though an ocean current were pulling him farther away from the shore, just as she found her footing on dry land” (Shaw 219).

As Sophie’s experience helps ground her and make her more aware of her immortality, this may serve as a call of action to Fred to get out of the comfort zone of his apartment and participate more in the world around him instead of just being a spectator.

“Miss Charlotte”

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Martin West.

Who is the author?

Martin West is an established writer from Victoria, British Columbia whose first collection of short stories, Cretacea and Other Stories from the Badlands, was published in 2016.

What is this story about?

A troubled boy named Gerald shows up outside of Miss Charlotte’s house covered in blood (though she is more concerned about his dirty fingernails). He offers to work for her for some money and she gets him to do some chores. She takes him to a salon, where the women there are disturbed by his bloody appearance, which Miss Charlotte refers to as a “mishap.” The reader is not explicitly told what Gerald has done, though he says he has done “something terrible” and lived a cruel life on a farm before escaping. Gerald co-operates with Miss Charlotte’s wishes and fetches her groceries. He talks about wanting to join the Navy, which the women think he is too young to do, but Miss Charlotte agrees to sign off for him so he is able to. The women are worried Miss Charlotte will get them in trouble by having the boy around, and mention something called the Vice Squad, but she dismisses them and tells Gerald they are all awful people. The story ends with Miss Charlotte agreeing to take Gerald to the Navy office.

How does it portray human fascination?

Miss Charlotte demonstrates fascination over Gerald and his situation by letting him into her life, allowing him to work for her and helping him join the Navy, despite her negative opinions of it. The women in the salon are also fascinated with Gerald, but are also afraid of him and the consequences of his actions. My personal interpretation of him is that he may have killed someone back where he is from who had been harming him. He clearly feels guilty about it, as there is a scene where he starts crying in the back room of the salon where Miss Charlotte is trying to clean him up and literally wash the blood off his hands. He refers to having done something terrible but Miss Charlotte tells him to let go and forget about it.

The Vice Squad is mentioned by the women in the salon, though its role is not specified. A vice squad is defined by Google Dictionary as: “a department or division of a police force that enforces laws against prostitution, drug abuse, illegal gambling, etc.” There is a moment where Gerald disposes of the women’s cigarette butts by throwing them down the laundry chute instead of the garbage, which may imply he wants to get rid of his sins (which seem to go beyond being an underage smoker). The blood on his hands washing down the drain also shows he wants to start a new life and cleanse himself of his wrongdoings.

I will admit this story was difficult to wrap my head around at first, especially the time period (though it is certainly post-WWII), the nature of this society and how it functions. However, it is an interesting example of how to show and not tell and let the reader fill in the gaps and analyze unique characters. I would appreciate others’ thoughts on this story and how they interpreted it.

Now that I have finished this short story collection, a new series will commence on this blog, so stay tuned.

Have a great day!

Posted in reading, writing

Family: Trials & Tribulations

Continuing through the collection Best Canadian Stories 2017, today I am going to talk about two stories that explore the theme of family.

But what is family, in this context?

To me, your family doesn’t have to only consist of blood relatives. I think of family like I think of home; people who bring you comfort, security and warmth. While you cannot choose where you are born and what situation you’re born into, I like the idea that you can create your own families and not solely be tied to the people you are related to. So, perhaps we can distinguish between families based on blood, legality and kinship and families based on bonds. In this post, we’re going to look at families based on blood relatives and the burdens that inherently accompany them that cannot completely avoid.

“Next of Kin”

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Anne Marie Todkill.

Who is the author?

A successful writer based in both Ottawa and North Hastings who has been published in a variety of Canadian literary magazines.

What is this story about?

The narrator, Marian, reflects on her childhood and relationship with her mother, her older sister and their old neighbour, Vera, who is suffering from cancer. She recounts working in the general store her mother purchased, the death of her father and the sale of the floundering business as her mother loses herself to grief. Marian envies her sister, Ruth, who is at university and dating an older, married man named Russell. When her sister is killed in an accident in Paris, Marian turns to Vera for support. As they strengthen their bond during Vera’s battle with cancer, Marian learns that Vera had a child that she adopted out, and wishes she could get in touch with her one last time. Vera dies and Marian calls the daughter, Amy, to inform her that her biological mother has passed away. At first, Amy does not want anything to do with her, but then thanks Marian for the call.

What does it say about family?

I think this story effectively shows how a family afflicted by tragedy and loss functions in a fundamentally different way. Marian becomes the strong and silent one and enjoys this description of herself, though she does wish she was more adventurous and bold like Ruth. When she enters into an affair with Russell, this may show, in a twisted way, her longing to become Ruth and live a more exciting, unpredictable life. Marian feels stuck in a rut, spending all of her time working and taking care of her mother, and Russell offers her an escape, albeit a dissatisfying one, since he does not want to commit to her wholly.

When it is just Marian and her mother left, it may seem as though the family has disintegrated, but Vera becomes like a family member as they visit her in the hospital and Marian tries to take care of her. Despite all she has gone through, Marian continues to want to serve others. Her only act of selfishness- her affair with Russell- does not last, and she grows from this experience and recognizes that it was only lust and envy driving her. Throughout the story, Marian seems to suffer from a lack of purpose, but the moment when she contacts Amy is cathartic; she realizes that she derives meaning from helping others and from being empathetic and attentive. As Marian comes of age, she learns to accept her identity as a supporter of others and realizes that staying loyal to her family does not make her boring or weak but instead makes her resilient and powerful.

“Clean”

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Who is the author?

Martha Wilson is an established writer who was actually born in the United States but has been settled in Canada for over 20 years, living with her husband and two daughters in Nova Scotia. Her first short story collection, The Golden Bra, is set to be published by Biblioasis in August 2019.

What is this story about?

A woman named Liz reflects on her father’s battle with cancer and the efforts made by her and her mother, Rena, to keep the house as sterile as possible for his well-being, though he eventually passes away. She takes a trip with her mother to Calgary to see the Stampede and to distract her mother from her loss. Rena talks about how it is inevitable that one person in a marriage will be left alone.

“Now there’s just me. No other half of my machine” (Wilson 277).

Liz thinks about how she felt when she decided to marry her partner, Stokes, and how the thought of committing to a lifetime partner weighed on her. She thinks about the intimacy involved in caring for another person and sharing their pains and hardships but returns to Stokes happily when she arrives back in Ontario, accepting the challenges that will come with aging and raising children with him.

What does it say about family?

This story portrays the natural fears people have about aging, dying and losing their loved ones. The family’s experience is tragically a common one, and Rena’s lost sense of purpose after her husband’s death shows how grief can leave people feeling empty and unsure of what to do next. Liz’s efforts to help her mother cope show she is strong and dedicated to her family, but her fears about aging with Stokes show it is normal to think about the dark parts of marriage.

The theme of cleanliness brilliantly highlights how life will inevitably become disorderly at times. The thing about cleaning is that the dirt and disease always come back; it is an inherent part of being alive. Similarly, life and routine will inevitably become disrupted by challenges and chaos. No matter how much people try to make things run smoothly, life will never stay consistent forever. I think the author is trying to remind readers that this is okay and is a normal part of living and that it is normal to be afraid of this. However, entering into a lifelong bond means accepting the fact that death will one day part you, and that whoever remains will have to carry on. The final line captures this beautifully:

“The mess is okay, she thinks. The blood not so bad” (Wilson 281).

To conclude this post, I think families go through a variety of trials and tribulations, and how they cope with these determines whether they become stronger or more fragmented because of them. These stories show both outcomes in unique ways.

What are your favourite stories that revolve around the themes of family and relationships?

My last post in this series will be coming shortly, so stay tuned!