One imagines these are the kind of stories that erupt from a phrase overheard at a restaurant or eavesdropped from a park bench.
These are not the kinds of stories that come complete with detailed descriptions and backgrounds; it`s hard to imagine Cary Fagan filling out long character outlines, sussing out their favourite bands and vacation destinations, sketching family trees, and creating soundtracks to accompany their paged journey.
And, yet, one has the sense that each of these characters has, if not an entire bookshelf, at least a book in hand, representing the author’s understanding of his or her literary taste. There is an apparent bookishness to the collection’s population.
A man reads Robinson Crusoe in a diner. Another reads Heinrich Böll.
A T.S. Eliot poem is referenced over dinner. A man reads The New York Review of Books over knockoff KD.
A man buys a book at Britnell’s on Yonge. Another reads a magazine in Berlin, ExBerliner.
Moby Dick, Jane Goodall and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: the shelves are rich and well-stocked.
And, despite the broad-stroked development, these characters are multi-dimensional and their arcs can stretch across lifetimes.
Thematically, these stories tread familiar ground: regret, loneliness, love, work, family and memory. Take, for example, this excerpt from “The Creech Sisters”:
Forty years later, my mother is dead and my father mourns for her in his retirement. Both my brothers have taken after my father; they are lawyers, the elder a law professor, as well as loyal husbands and devoted fathers. Why I turned out differently is the haunting question of my life, but it is perhaps the reason that I remember this incident, which my brothers both claim to have forgotten.
Geographically, sometimes specific areas are referenced (a diner at Bloor and Wellesley, a home on Ava Road), but the terrain is recognizable and familiar beyond the details. These are the cottages, theatres, banks, apartment buildings, and coffee shops that readers know.
Cary Fagan’s stories appear effortless. Their action is varied; sometimes interior, for an entire story can take place in a woman’s mind following the death of her husband; sometimes overtly exterior, with a boss firing an employee; sometimes a combination, with a book left behind in the diner leading to a series of events but also inspiring a series of reflections in the finder’s mind.
This is the kind of collection that reminds readers of the potential and power of short fiction; the characters in My Life among the Apes are memorable, complex and the sort that one usually expects to meet in novel-length works.