As I was saying, my Shadow Giller reviews will appear in a slightly different format: first, In Short, a 300-word and spoiler-free summary, intended to have a broad appeal, and, next, In Detail, which will expound upon one aspect of the book which I found remarkable (but which might be of interest only to those who have already read the book or those with an interest in the mechanics of writing).
Paige Cooper’s collection presses astute observations of real-life into a wad of putty, then stretches out the scenes, making them spare and strange, before she folds them over and squeezes them tightly in her fist.
Zolitude is named for a story about severance and a yearning to reconnect; throughout the collection, people are preoccupied with distance and intimacy, with the space between two people (or two states of being, or two versions of reality) taking on a peculiar significance.*
Whether along borders or perimeters, or inside chambers and shelters, Paige Cooper’s characters uncoil and recoil, stretch and retreat, always keeping readers at a distance, even when exposing their innermost dreams and fears.
Setting so many of the stories in places where two extremes are depicted, works to emphasize each of those divergent experiences and, simultaneously, the loose and often unexplored middle-ground.
For instance, in both “Spiderhole” and “Retirement” there is a distinction drawn between the way that residents and tourists view and inhabit the same space, which also emphasizes the unknowability of the space, the ways in which neither group fully captures the reality of it.
There are boys in “Spiderhole” and tourists, who “don’t quite eat their sneers”:
“In the city, on R&R, boys like these whipped by faster than bats on bicycles, took the pens right out of your shirt pocket. But these kids, their auntie comes by with a bucket and yells them off and they disappear into the marsh. Hunting frogs for their families. Invisible.”
The worlds depicted in these stories are often divided into separate ways of being, into opposing sides (often subdivided once more) leaving readers without an allegiance, which sometimes feels disorienting and other times feels wholly uncomfortable.
Always, however, the observations possess an acuity to the observation, even when what is observed is a kind of absence.
In “Ryan & Irene, Irene & Ryan”: “Her body holds emotion like smoke in a barricaded room.” In “Thanatos”, “The child is picking at her stitches. This is the interstice. This is a non-place.” And, in “Record of Working”: “The air stretches in one long, lordly parabola between them.”
“Tourists come here to gawk, and we abjure them, but we can’t comprehend this place either.” There are moments in Zolitude which do offer an opportunity to connect, but perhaps the overarching intention is to remind readers that we are all struggling to find meaning and that that struggle is, itself, a more unifying force than any other detail.
Contents: Zolitude; Spiderhole; Ryan & Irene, Irene & Ryan; Thanatos; The Emperor; Slave Craton; Moriah; The Tin Luck; Record of Working; La Folie; Pre-Occupants; Retirement; The Roar; Vazova on Love
This is one of the twelve books chosen for the longlist for the 2018 Giller Prize, which was announced on September 17, 2018 and selected by the 2018 Giller Prize Jury which includes Kamal Al-Solaylee, Maxine Bailey, John Freeman, Philip Hensher and Heather O’Neill.
On October 1st, five other books were advanced to the shortlist and one of those will be chosen to win the prize on November 19th. This year I am reading with the shadow jury, with Alison and Kim and Naomi, who have committed to reading this shortlist in its entirety. Although it was not shortlisted for the Giller, Zolitude has been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. It’s definitely worthwhile reading, particularly for short story lovers.