Maybe the Giller Prize longlist is occupying your every reading moment. But maybe not.
Not just novels, but short stories, even poetry.
For a month of Sundays (at least), I’m Buried in ReLit Print.
Sample: Title story, “There Is No Other”
Opening sentence: “Jenny Kagan, dressed in her shimmering Wonder Woman outfit, was already waiting outside the classroom door when Aaron Needle arrived at 7:15 a.m. to prepare for the coming school day.”
What stands out in this tale is the delicate balance between the known and the unknown.
This is true of the plot itself. There is a great deal of tension in this narrative and the resolution is open-ended, leaving the reader with the desire to revisit the story’s 20 pages for clues as to the specific outcome.
It is also true of the characters. It’s notably true of one student in Aaron Needle’s class at the Downtown Jewish Day School (not Wonder Woman, but a boy who has come dressed as the prophet Mohammed for the school’s Purim Festival celebrations); Junius is directly questioning what he knows (believes) to be true, what he has been taught, and what is up for reinterpretation.
What also stands out is the balance between the story’s scenic quality and Aaron Needle’s inward ruminations.
Realistic and direct dialogue punctuates the story’s meditative questioning, and the reader moves steadily — relentlessly, even — through what might have been a muddy and heavy-handed tale.
Punishing Ugly Children, Darryl Joel Berger (Killick)
Sample: One of the longer stories, “Big Head”
Opening sentence: “I’m in trouble again.”
The kind of trouble in which Sean Quintal finds himself is the ordinary sort.
He works at Vivian Ted University for Jesus, creating illustrations of Jesus for various publications and campaigns, and he has called in sick because he was having a sofa delivered, and his boss has chastised him for neglecting to fill out the proper paperwork for his absence.
Readers learn this almost immediately via the email that Sean’s boss (not-so-affectionately known as Big Head) has sent to him, titled NON-COMPLIANCE.
Yes, it’s in capitals. Readers can hear Big Head screaming through his subject line. And, later, readers can sense Sean biting his tongue in replying with subject lines such as “be more specific”. Which earns responses such as MORE NON-COMPLIANCE.
If you’ve ever worked for a Big Head, he is recognizable from the first email. If you haven’t, this description might help: “Big Head looks the way Charlie Brown would look if Lucy tortured him for a few years in a concentration camp, then tried to fatten him up at the last minute.”
The playful tone of the tale belies the more serious power dynamics at play in the story. There is a true back-and-forth to the story, and the reader can’t miss the fact that Big Head is a jerk, but although the story is told from Sean’s perspective, it’s also clear that he causes his own trouble too.
That sense of a bigger picture, coupled with impressive attention-to-detail and a sharp use of language and form makes for an entertaining and colourful story.
Sweet, Dani Couture (Pedlar)
Sample: Ten poems from the central section, titled “Trudge, Groan”
First poem: “The Port-Wine-Stain Removal Technique
Find a tree
With rough bark.
I’m a sucker for short poems. (Maybe it’s because I like to read poetry, but I have that feeling of not being the right kind of reader for it. Maybe it’s because they’re over sooner and I don’t feel so at-sea for so long. I’m not sure.)
I’m also a sucker for poems that make me smile.
Not all of them in this sample did (“Dead Letter” was sad, “Fair Game” was unsettling, and “Inventory” disturbing”), but they reminded me that I should read poems more often.
Short ones and longer ones too. And poems about bears.
I don’t read enough poems about bears. (“Sweet” — which is actually from the collection’s last section — is a terrific example.)
What have you been sampling lately?