Audrey Thomas has been nominated twice for the Governor General’s Award (for Intertidal Life and Coming Down from Wa, in 1984 and 1995).
She has won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize in three years, including for The Wild Blue Yonder in 1990.
But have you read her fiction?
(I had not, despite having collected her works over the years.)
The Wild Blue Yonder makes for a good starting point.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the collection is that many of the stories contain wordplay.
In “Roots”, Michael leaves his wife to clean up the ‘smithereens’ while he goes to look up the word in his dictionary.
Sarah carefully reads the signs when travelling in “The Slow of Despond”. (And, well, yes, you’ve caught the fun of that title, right?)
Annette and Sven make up destinations while driving: “Inn Hospitable”, “Inn Cognito” and “Inn Compatible”.
This continues throughout the collection, to the final story, whose titles graces the collection, with the puns about living to die and dying to live.
Many of the characters in The Wild Blue Yonder are on the move, literally or figuratively. Even those who feel confined and isolated are often pushing against the boundaries of their existence.
Christine was actively seeking solitude in “Ascension”, when she went to the island, but ultimately her relationship with the elderly Mrs Papoutsia carried a significance that Christine doesn’t fully understand until the old woman’s health has taken a turn.
And the landlady in “Trash” feels like a prisoner in her own home, unable to leave but unhappy to stay on the premises after she has rented impulsively to a couple who wasn’t what they seemed, but she is making dramatic changes in terms of the way that she copes (and does not cope) with the situation.
Sometimes even characters who are blatantly on the move find ways to enlarge upon the experience of discovery, even beyond the maps and itineraries. (“Blue Spanish Eyes” is a perfect example.)
Many of the women do feel isolated and lonely, even in the context of their primary relationships. They wrestle with public encounters and mammograms, they have bad experiences on public transportation and kitchens: they spend a lot of time in their own heads.
But the stories end on a note of resolve, which isn’t, of course, the same as a happy ending as it is usually defined, but which feels more hopeful than despairing.
I’m glad to have, at last, been introduced to Audrey Thomas’ fiction.