Anosh Irani’s “Circus Wedding” appears in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Eighteen Bridges, a fabulous magazine. His novel, The Parcel, also considers voices which are often pushed to the margins. Here, too, Raju inhabits a precarious existence. Here too, Anosh Irani takes a small character and reveals their big dreams.

Raju is literally small, a little person, working as a clown in the Johnny’s Circus. He has fallen for another performer, Sheila; through Raju’s eyes, she is perfect, but others judge her for her Nepali features and consider her a commodity.

The giant, Ghulam Ali, warns Raju that the match might be troublesome. “Raju understood what his friend meant. Anyone could see that they were a mismatch. But did that mean Raju would have to spend his life only with someone his sie? Did the size of the heart not matter?”

A story of misfits and outsiders, “Circus Wedding” could be only trite, could be only tragic; instead, it is a little bit of everything, shadowing my heart in one moment and making me grin in another.

Carleigh Baker’s collection, Bad Endings (2017), was nominated for the Writers’ Trust Fiction Award

It opens with an epigraph from Lee Maracle – “Fish is the hub of all our memories” – and the gills and fins on the cover suggest these stories will show a shimmer and glint in certain light, and may require readers to swim upstream.

The characters who inhabit these stories have a variety of life experiences, work and play. Some are building bear fences and others are building bee hives. One might deliver your newspaper at the Skytrain station on your commute. Another might participate in an egg take in salmon spawning season. Toilets overflow and fish middles ooze. Teaching English overseas, answering phones on a crisis hotline, collecting recyclables from blue bins, mowing a lawn: Carleigh Baker sets scenes vividly, efficiently.

Head injuries and women’s shoes, divorce papers and postcards, bedtime stories and breakdowns, show tunes and security measures, New Age cliches and lilac cushions, happy hours and skinny jeans, hospital bedsides and tweed-covered cubicles, thumbleberry jam and colony collapse disorder. The cadence of the prose changes to reflect a character’s voice or situation, but the details are consistently evocative and the language sculpted and precise (though it seems effortless).

“Donna reaches for her cigs, but I know better than to follow. After a few seconds, a thin trail of smoke wisps its way in from the door. She notices it and moves to an overhang farther away, by the tool shed. And then there’s nothing but the soft splurp of honey pouring out of the big tank from the spigot, and the patter of fat drops on the tin roof.” (“The Honey House”)

Contents: War of Attrition, The Modern Intimate, Buddy Frank’s Steps to Success, Shoe Shopping with the Cash Poor, Baby boomer, Chins and Elbows, Grey Water, The Honey House, Read These Postcards in a Gonzo Journalist Voice, Exotica, Last call, Imago, Radioactive Particles, Honeybee Dance, Moosehide 

Alison MacLeod’s stories are sometimes spontaneous, sometimes commissioned: each narrative in All the Beloved Ghosts feels polished and perfect.

The works vary stylistically, so readers looking for consistency in voice and tone might find this disorienting; the collection is unified by theme rather than its nuts-and-bolts. The author chooses structures which suit a story’s characters and preoccupations: this is not a one-size-fits-all approach to storytelling.

I was immediately drawn to the story about Princess Diana, with photographs included, even though it was in the middle of the book. (It reminded me of reading the books that I was reading when I was old enough to have watched her marry Prince Charles in the wee hours of the morning, drinking sugary tea with Marks & Spencer biscuits – with photos in the middle, how the book’s back would often break, just there.)

“But you can’t get a picture of a picture coming to life. Reality collapses. It’s simply another picture.” (“Dreaming Diana: Twelve Frames”)

But how different the first story was, pulling readers back into a more distant past, the sentences swelling and the vocabulary intensifying. But here, too, a woman who imagined a certain kind of ending for herself, stopped short.

Perhaps most remarkable was the science story, or perhaps I only think it’s remarkable because I’m not the sort of reader who chooses the science story, in any collection, as a stand-out read.

But, then, it’s not about science, it’s about hearts.

“Every part of a great story ‘contains’ every other part. Every small part anticipates the whole. Nothing can be passive or static. Not if it’s great and..true to life. Nothing is just a part. Not really. Because the whole cannot be divided. That’s what a real creation is. It has its own unity.”

No, wait. It’s actually about stories.

See, I knew why I loved it after all.

Contents: The Thaw; Solo, A Cappella, The Heart of Denis Noble, Sylvia Wears Pink in the Underworld, There are precious things, Oscillate Wildly, Dreaming Diana: Twelve Frames, In Praise of Radical Rish, Imagining Chekhov: Woman with Little Pug, Chekhov’s Telescope, The Death of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov, How to Make a Citizen’s Arrest, We Are Methodists, all the beloved ghosts

Polish(ed) is a collection of stories by and/or about Polish-Canadians, edited by Kasia Jaronczyk and Matgorzata Nowaczyk, which Mel at The Reading Life recommended to me.

Readers move dramatically between space and time, at times inhabiting a New Town (which is actually 600 years old) and at other times visiting the Old Country.

Characters are making sense of relationships, to the past and to other people, sometimes of other people’s relationships with the past. Sometimes relationships to other places, in other times.

In one moment, there is a woman murmuring in a Slavic language to her baby on the Toronto subway, firmly rooted in realism. In another, memories of a loved one verges on a haunting.

There is talk of foundation makeup and caramel macaroons, anatomical parts are compared to beer bottles and there is an overwhelming sense of longing for be/longing.

Bears and prayers. Brides and dresses. Specimen jars and setting suns. Past-due notices and Paramedics.

Despite the shared theme, a variety of styles and voices are included here; Polish(ed) is a worthwhile collection which contains both established and emerging writers’ works.

Contents: Stories by Aga Maksimowska, Andrew J. Borkowski, Ania Szado, Anna Mioduchowska, Christijan Robert Broerse, Corinne Wasilewski, David Huebert, Dawid Kotoszyc, Douglas Schmidt, Eva Stachniak, Jowita Bydlowska, Kasia Jaronczyk, Katarzyna Jaskiewicz, Katherine Koller, Lilian Nattel, Lisa McLean, Matgorzata Nowaczyk, Mark Bondyra, Norman Ravvin, Pamela Mulloy, Robert B. Young, S.D. Chrostowska, Zoe C. Greenberg

What short stories have been in your stacks lately? Which of these collections or stories would you most like to read?

Are you making a new year’s resolution to read more short fiction?