I wasn’t expecting to love Zoey Leigh Peterson’s Next Year for Sure so much.
Aryn Kyle’s blurb caught my eye (because I’ve loved some of her short stories), but the pastel colours made me squint a little.
I didn’t think I was going to fit into a story with that kind of palette on the cover.
And, then, I was on page 203 (out of 247, just after the chapter called “Feelings”) and I was carrying the book around with me.
Carrying it everywhere I went, actually, But not reading it. (Reading something else – anything else – instead.)
Because I had realised that I was probably only going to be able to sit down with it for one more reading session.
And then it would be done. Which would normally be my main concern with a book that I really loved. That not-being-able-to-read-it-again-for-the-first-time-ness of it all.
But here it was something slightly different. My concern was not that the story would end, because I was sure that it was going to continue. The story would continue for these people, but beyond my reach.
And not one of them has my address to send me postcards.
And without other chapters to read, how can I get news of Chris and Kathryn, and Chris and Kathryn’s apartment, and Emily and everyone else?
It’s not even that I’m especially fond of any one of them.
I do love the way that Chris decides to buy Kathryn a second-hand copy of one of her favourite books, Vilette, based on the way that it smells.
And I love how Kathryn loves that slice of cherry pie. That whole scene actually, but her relationship with the pie is key.
Those are the kinds of sticky bits which Peterson is tossing at me, while I am distracted by realistic dialogue and savvy observations which float across the whole story.
And so many other details attach themselves to those sticky bits, and my heart got more involved than I expected.
But it’s not about those details, not even about specific characters because I actually want every single person in this book to be happy. I really want it for them.
“There was a time when Kathryn might have asked Sharon these questions. Actually, there was a time she wouldn’t have had to ask – the answers would have bubbled to the surface while they helped each other put away groceries or stood in line together to cash their student loans. When they were part of the slow unspooling of each other’s lives.”
The tension in this story revolves around changes in relationships, from times when things didn’t have to be asked – merely understood – to times with spiralling unresolvable Q&A sessions or times with long periods of emotionally charged silence.
Mostly, these developments are expressed in the simplest terms. “It was weird to have gone a whole day without talking to her. He felt full of things to tell her and empty of the things she might tell him.”
And it’s not because words don’t matter, but because they matter so much. “Chris remembers Kathryn talking about the book, excitedly, both before he’d read it and after, and using the word indefatigable. And he remembers wondering what it would be like to kiss someone who used the word indefatigable.”
But not everybody talks all the time. “You get the feeling whenever Moss is in a room with people that he was there alone and then other people showed up.”
The prose feels all-of-a-piece. Dialogue swells from a scene, unmarked with punctuation although the speakers are clearly identified.
Sometimes there is a script form a telephone call between two characters. Sometimes we spend a period of time in just one character’s experience (close third-person narrative, not first). Both feel intimate.
The story is structured to unfold across a year, but several of the months are simply chapters without content (and, no postcards here, either).
The focus shifts naturally to include another character of some emotional importance to one of the other characters, and then it shifts again.
Relationships feel remarkable stable, but then, just as remarkably transitory. Which makes it all seem that much more real.
I just want it all to last.
With the same desperation that I never wanted to hold on to the characters in Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World.
With the same kind of shake-my-head admiration and confusion that I felt in the final season of “Girls”, with all those floundering lost and brilliantly focused separatenesses and togethernesses.
And, in the end, I am left with this niggling yearning. Which I think I’ve caught, like a cold, from Kathryn or Emily. (And I think of making a nest in the bathtub – what was that word, Moss?)
They all have it – that yearning. Even characters we barely glimpse. But not always in a bad way. But, oh, I feel it even more keenly now.
Please, someone: send me a postcard from the land of Next Year for Sure.
Next Year for Sure‘s superpower is intimacy.
Not only that which develops between its characters, but the intimacy the reader experiences as an observer. It’s as if the author has pulled back a quilt to tuck readers into the story and not even one character has their toes sticking out. The Giller Prize jury has awarded astute and tender narratives in the past. Bonnie Burnard’s A Good House claimed the prize in 1999, and Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows and Alix Ohlin’s Inside were shortlisted (in 2014 and 2012, respectively). This year’s jury appreciates attention-to-detail and complex characterization but may choose to advance a narrative with more layers (not with bedding, but theme or structure).