Quarterly Stories: Winter 2017

Anosh Irani’s “Circus Wedding” appears in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Eighteen Bridges, a fabulous magazine. His novel, The Parcel, also considers voices which are often pushed to the margins. Here, too, Raju inhabits a precarious existence. Here too, Anosh Irani takes a small character and reveals their big dreams.

Raju is literally small, a little person, working as a clown in the Johnny’s Circus. He has fallen for another performer, Sheila; through Raju’s eyes, she is perfect, but others judge her for her Nepali features and consider her a commodity.

The giant, Ghulam Ali, warns Raju that the match might be troublesome. “Raju understood what his friend meant. Anyone could see that they were a mismatch. But did that mean Raju would have to spend his life only with someone his sie? Did the size of the heart not matter?”

A story of misfits and outsiders, “Circus Wedding” could be only trite, could be only tragic; instead, it is a little bit of everything, shadowing my heart in one moment and making me grin in another.

Carleigh Baker’s collection, Bad Endings (2017), was nominated for the Writers’ Trust Fiction Award

It opens with an epigraph from Lee Maracle – “Fish is the hub of all our memories” – and the gills and fins on the cover suggest these stories will show a shimmer and glint in certain light, and may require readers to swim upstream.

The characters who inhabit these stories have a variety of life experiences, work and play. Some are building bear fences and others are building bee hives. One might deliver your newspaper at the Skytrain station on your commute. Another might participate in an egg take in salmon spawning season. Toilets overflow and fish middles ooze. Teaching English overseas, answering phones on a crisis hotline, collecting recyclables from blue bins, mowing a lawn: Carleigh Baker sets scenes vividly, efficiently.

Head injuries and women’s shoes, divorce papers and postcards, bedtime stories and breakdowns, show tunes and security measures, New Age cliches and lilac cushions, happy hours and skinny jeans, hospital bedsides and tweed-covered cubicles, thumbleberry jam and colony collapse disorder. The cadence of the prose changes to reflect a character’s voice or situation, but the details are consistently evocative and the language sculpted and precise (though it seems effortless).

“Donna reaches for her cigs, but I know better than to follow. After a few seconds, a thin trail of smoke wisps its way in from the door. She notices it and moves to an overhang farther away, by the tool shed. And then there’s nothing but the soft splurp of honey pouring out of the big tank from the spigot, and the patter of fat drops on the tin roof.” (“The Honey House”)

Contents: War of Attrition, The Modern Intimate, Buddy Frank’s Steps to Success, Shoe Shopping with the Cash Poor, Baby boomer, Chins and Elbows, Grey Water, The Honey House, Read These Postcards in a Gonzo Journalist Voice, Exotica, Last call, Imago, Radioactive Particles, Honeybee Dance, Moosehide 

Alison MacLeod’s stories are sometimes spontaneous, sometimes commissioned: each narrative in All the Beloved Ghosts feels polished and perfect.

The works vary stylistically, so readers looking for consistency in voice and tone might find this disorienting; the collection is unified by theme rather than its nuts-and-bolts. The author chooses structures which suit a story’s characters and preoccupations: this is not a one-size-fits-all approach to storytelling.

I was immediately drawn to the story about Princess Diana, with photographs included, even though it was in the middle of the book. (It reminded me of reading the books that I was reading when I was old enough to have watched her marry Prince Charles in the wee hours of the morning, drinking sugary tea with Marks & Spencer biscuits – with photos in the middle, how the book’s back would often break, just there.)

“But you can’t get a picture of a picture coming to life. Reality collapses. It’s simply another picture.” (“Dreaming Diana: Twelve Frames”)

But how different the first story was, pulling readers back into a more distant past, the sentences swelling and the vocabulary intensifying. But here, too, a woman who imagined a certain kind of ending for herself, stopped short.

Perhaps most remarkable was the science story, or perhaps I only think it’s remarkable because I’m not the sort of reader who chooses the science story, in any collection, as a stand-out read.

But, then, it’s not about science, it’s about hearts.

“Every part of a great story ‘contains’ every other part. Every small part anticipates the whole. Nothing can be passive or static. Not if it’s great and..true to life. Nothing is just a part. Not really. Because the whole cannot be divided. That’s what a real creation is. It has its own unity.”

No, wait. It’s actually about stories.

See, I knew why I loved it after all.

Contents: The Thaw; Solo, A Cappella, The Heart of Denis Noble, Sylvia Wears Pink in the Underworld, There are precious things, Oscillate Wildly, Dreaming Diana: Twelve Frames, In Praise of Radical Rish, Imagining Chekhov: Woman with Little Pug, Chekhov’s Telescope, The Death of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov, How to Make a Citizen’s Arrest, We Are Methodists, all the beloved ghosts

Polish(ed) is a collection of stories by and/or about Polish-Canadians, edited by Kasia Jaronczyk and Matgorzata Nowaczyk, which Mel at The Reading Life recommended to me.

Readers move dramatically between space and time, at times inhabiting a New Town (which is actually 600 years old) and at other times visiting the Old Country.

Characters are making sense of relationships, to the past and to other people, sometimes of other people’s relationships with the past. Sometimes relationships to other places, in other times.

In one moment, there is a woman murmuring in a Slavic language to her baby on the Toronto subway, firmly rooted in realism. In another, memories of a loved one verges on a haunting.

There is talk of foundation makeup and caramel macaroons, anatomical parts are compared to beer bottles and there is an overwhelming sense of longing for be/longing.

Bears and prayers. Brides and dresses. Specimen jars and setting suns. Past-due notices and Paramedics.

Despite the shared theme, a variety of styles and voices are included here; Polish(ed) is a worthwhile collection which contains both established and emerging writers’ works.

Contents: Stories by Aga Maksimowska, Andrew J. Borkowski, Ania Szado, Anna Mioduchowska, Christijan Robert Broerse, Corinne Wasilewski, David Huebert, Dawid Kotoszyc, Douglas Schmidt, Eva Stachniak, Jowita Bydlowska, Kasia Jaronczyk, Katarzyna Jaskiewicz, Katherine Koller, Lilian Nattel, Lisa McLean, Matgorzata Nowaczyk, Mark Bondyra, Norman Ravvin, Pamela Mulloy, Robert B. Young, S.D. Chrostowska, Zoe C. Greenberg

What short stories have been in your stacks lately? Which of these collections or stories would you most like to read?

Are you making a new year’s resolution to read more short fiction?

2018-01-15T19:50:05+00:00

13 Comments

  1. Deepika Ramesh December 25, 2017 at 1:14 am - Reply

    “But, then, it’s not about science, it’s about hearts.”

    I want to print that sentence and put it up on my bedroom wall, B.I.P. This is a gorgeous post. I can never which one I want to read from this. Everything seems to have arrested in some way. I want to read everything. Is that normal? 🙂

    I am still not completely warmed up to short fiction. I can’t understand why. Is it because I harbour a need to spend more time time with the characters? Is it because I am not able to nurse the hangover from the previous story before moving to the next one? These are questions I ask myself. However, I want to read more short fiction. Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s ‘The Adivasi Will Not Dance’ is staring at me from my bookshelf. I will pick it up soon and maybe share my thoughts too. Thank you, B.I.P, once again. 🙂

    • Buried In Print December 28, 2017 at 3:29 pm - Reply

      Of course if you ask another bookworm, you know she is bound to tell you that it is completely and wholly normal to want to read all the books, but another person might answer differently! If you are not a committed short story reader, however, that might influence your desire. I think, at the beginning of exploring short fiction, it is important to find a writer whose voice you enjoy (preferably one who is committed to short stories and who does not simply write one when asked to do so – for a specific anthology or something like that – but who might be better suited to writing longer works), and then take some time with their works, to see how you can fit with reading short stories. I did not naturally like to read them either; I had to practice it, to adjust my expectations and not to feel the same way (either while reading or after reading) that I felt with novels (my first literary love!) so I don’t think it’s strange that you are not hot for them yet. The relationship just needs some time! 🙂

      • Deepika Ramesh December 28, 2017 at 11:08 pm - Reply

        Oh. I love how you put it, B.I.P. It didn’t occur to me that I could strive to establish a relationship with specific sort of artforms. That is a new thought to me and I am really relishing it. Thank you for all the love! I will think about it more, act upon it soon, and share my thoughts. 🙂

  2. Wendy December 24, 2017 at 11:30 am - Reply

    I’ve never enjoyed reading short stories as much as fiction. However, I am reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout which is sorta a collection of short stories? thank you for all your posts this year!

    • Buried In Print December 28, 2017 at 3:25 pm - Reply

      Thanks for visiting so often, Wendy; I’m always pleased to see your name come through when you’ve left a comment. Olive Kitteridge is one that I really want to read this year. If you enjoy it, that will nudge it up the stack once more. (Her Amy & Isabelle was a favourite of mine as well, her debut.)

  3. The Reading Life December 23, 2017 at 11:49 pm - Reply

    I’m very glad you enjoyed the collection of stories about Polish immigrants to Canada.

    • Buried In Print December 28, 2017 at 3:23 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much for recommending it; I might have heard it mentioned here, as it’s produced rather close-to-home, but a personal recommendation is the kind of thing which ensures I’ll actually seek out a copy and read it!

  4. iliana December 22, 2017 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    I haven’t gone through my list yet but I think I managed to read two short story collections which for me is huge. I don’t turn to short stories very much but hopefully more next year!

    • Buried In Print December 22, 2017 at 5:26 pm - Reply

      If you did, I’d be so curious as to which ones you read, how they beckoned you over to the “short story” side of the tracks!

  5. roughghosts December 22, 2017 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    What a great selection of books! I have never heard of or seen Eighteen Bridges and I’m in Alberta! I will have to look into it. I’ve not read Anosh Irani but have heard so many positive responses to The Parcel. I did meet him at the 2016 Wordfest, and he was such a nice, genuine man. Bad Endings has been on my radar and I happened to pick up an ARC of All the Beloved Ghosts at this year’s Wordfest volunteer wrap-up. I didn’t realize it was short stories, but I’ve been seeing it pop up on a few year end lists.

    So thanks for calling my attention to these.

    I just finished Attrib. by UK writer Eley Williams, which I read with the Guardian Reading Group. It’s one of the indie hits of the year. She plays with language in the most remarkable ways and, with a few reservations, I really enjoyed it. I will write about it after the online author chat later this month.

    • Buried In Print December 22, 2017 at 5:23 pm - Reply

      This was the first issue of “Eighteen Bridges” that I bought as well; I hope to subscribe to it before long, as I just bought the newest one and it is every bit as good! One of those which I am happy to read from cover to cover. (I saw it advertised in another literary magazine, and then found it at the library shop here “Page and Panel”, but I don’t recall where the ad was – maybe Brick Magazine?)

      Just an hour before I saw your comment, I had made a note of Attrib. from Naomi Frisby’s list of 2017 reads, so now seeing your remarks, I feel like I must find a copy. It sounds just delightful. I think you’ve mentioned the Guardian’s reading group before? I’m thinking I should take a closer look…

  6. Naomi December 21, 2017 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    I loved “All the Beloved Ghosts”, but didn’t get a chance to write about it before it HAD to go back. A drawback to all my library reading, I guess. Some books end up missing the boat. And, I agree, I think the story that stood out most for me also was the one about the heart. “Remarkable” is a good word for it.

    Now I am very tempted by “Bad Endings”…

    I recommend “Peninsula Sinking” by David Huebert to everyone reading this post! 🙂

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