I wrote this review when I first read the novel, shortly after the collection was published. At the time I read the collection twice (yes, it was worth it) and I would actually love to re-read it now, but I learned about Canada Reads Independently after I’d already committed to an insane amount of reading for February, so it’s unlikely that I will have the time to re-read anything I hadn’t already scheduled. (Yes, scheduled: hair-dressers, doctors and trainers have all despaired over my scheduling abilities, but I stick to reading schedules cuz, hey, they matter.) In the meantime, here’s my original review
*** *** ***
“Would I make up a guy with his hair shaped like a hat?” The character posing this question suggests it is an unlikely, even incredible, idea, but Carrie Snyder has done just that with her first published collection: she made up a guy with his hair shaped like a hat, had him link her collected stories, and named the book after him.
“Yellow Cherries”, the first of Hair Hat’s eleven stories, opens with a scream, immediately arousing interest in the girl staying overnight at her Aunt’s house in the wake of a tragedy. Aunt Lucy also appears in two other stories, once as a narrator and once as another narrator’s best girlfriend; connections like this, with the regular reappearance of hair-hat man, layer the reading experience and strengthen the collection.
First-person narrators (daughters, mothers, aunts, wives, girlfriends, neighbours and acquaintances: ten female and one male) describe university lectures, subway rides and an afternoon at the beach. Whether working in a coffee-shop or jarring preserves, the interconnected characters in Snyder’s stories cope with everyday uncertainties and disappointments. “It was ruin; ruin on a small scale, but ruin nevertheless,” one narrator thinks, having discovered a glass bottle of iced tea has shattered in her bookbag. Dog bites, intruders, assaults, accidents and sometimes a more tangible sense of loss is considered: disappearance, even death.
Hair Hat reads quickly – simple language, realistic settings and dialogue, and a consistent and informal style – but not always easily. Hair-hat man is not the stories’ only link: a thread of darkness connects them too. “What nobody tells you about absence is how near the dead will seem: just around the corner, in the next room.”
I was still thinking about Snyder’s dead waiting around corners when I read Virginia Woolf’s The Waves: “It is strange how the dead leap out on us at street corners, or in dreams,” she writes. One of Hair Hat’s narrators observes that “Life unfolds randomly, and yet it has its patterns, observable, pointless, drab” but finding this connection between two books felt anything but drab; it recalled the drownings in Snyder’s collection, the rhythm of ordinary days unfolding and passing, and a young girl’s noisy awakening from a dream. Finding the connections between the stories, between Carrie Snyder’s and all the others’ too, is magical. And, like the girl at the end of “Yellow Cherries”, when it was finished “I wanted to hold absolutely still.”