All posts filed under: Reviews – The Short Story

Review of John O’Neill’s “Goth Girls of Banff”

by Skylar Kay Goth Girls of Banffby John O’NeillNeWest Press (2020) John O’Neill’s Goth Girls of Banff captures so many aspects of life in and around Banff in brilliant ways. Through expertly presenting characters and landscape, O’Neill instantly creates an environment that draws the reader in, presenting sunlight slopes and dark crevices of both the mountains and humans in general. The stories find loose connections throughout, as names or objects may reappear in later stories, but nature’s harsh indifference is a thread by which one can follow the trail of stories laid out by O’Neill, if they dare. The characters in O’Neill’s stories are generally well presented. This much is obvious even from the first story, as Don and Lee will steal the heart of any reader who has one. The titular story as well, “Goth Girls of Banff” presents us with only the observations of Linda through her sister, but it is done so well that the reader can imagine near perfectly what causes her actions. The way these characters mesh together, or push away from …

Review of Sharon Berg’s “Naming the Shadows”

by Ed Hamer Naming the Shadows by Sharon Berg The Porcupine’s Quill (2019) ISBN 9780889848665 The Stories Themselves: Sharon Berg has written a collection of short stories, really a powerful gallery of highly visual tales that evoke our desire to look into them intensely and to see deeply. Inside the tableaux, she plants the ephemera of psychic shadows and these are certainly enough to launch strong flights of our imagination.  So we are reading and interpreting at two quite different levels.  And she holds true to her initial quotation from Jung: one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious These stories are laden with darkness and it transforms the reading of the apparent into a reading of the obscure and difficult. Like visual art at its best Berg avoids prettiness and too easy legibility. Again, as with difficult visual art, Berg works to make the ritual of reading transformative — calling on us to develop solutionary insights into very difficult situations and very difficult people. Some of the Stories… …

Review of Traci Skuce’s “Hunger Moon”

by Skylar Kay Hunger Moon by Traci Skuce NeWest Press (2020) ISBN 978-1-988732-80-0 Traci Skuce’s Hunger Moon is a well-crafted collection of short stories. While only two of these stories have the same characters, they connect by circling around a central theme: characters finding themselves at a tipping point in their lives and hungering for something more. Whether that something more is an exotic adventure, an escape from a relationship, or the beginning of a new one, the characters in Skuce’s collection all desire to expand another aspect of themselves.  The characters of the short stories are all well-developed — even the ones who aren’t the main focus of the story. I remember reading one story and thinking that the conflict was clearly between two people, but as the story itself develops, I realized that the conflict is internal, as both characters have motivation and reason for their actions, for which the reader cannot fault them. The characters also display a fairly wide range of personalities, showing Skuce’s depth and ability as a storyteller. The initial story …

Review of dee Hobsbawn-Smith’s “What Can’t Be Undone”

by Tia Christoffersen What Can’t Be Undone by dee Hobsbawn-Smith Thistledown Press (2015) ISBN 978-1-927068-89-2  From the award-winning culinary writer and poet dee Hobsbawn Smith comes her first collection of short stories, What Can’t Be Undone. She tells fascinating stories of human connection and passion in the midst of loss and tragedy. With captivating and sometimes haunting imagery, Hobsbawn-Smith cultivates images of the Albertan landscapes that house her troubled and honest characters. Hobsbawn-Smith’s thirteen stories do not idealize the characters, but instead offer realistic and human depictions of people coping with adversity. While reading the collection, I felt both sympathy for and disappointment in the characters, as if they had come to life and I knew them personally. Each story poignantly explores its characters’ flaws, desire, and pain.  A chef loses her senses of smell and taste, threatening her livelihood and her passion. Years after her brother’s death, a woman grapples with feelings of responsibility and guilt. A retired bull rider confronts his own complicity in his brother’s spousal abuse. While each character and their …

Crystal Mackenzie’s Book Review of “On Huron’s Shore” by Marilyn Gear Pilling

Crystal Mackenzie A review of: On Huron’s Shore by Marilyn Gear Pilling Demeter Press (2014) ISBN 978-1-927335-34-5 We all have to grow up, some of us are just better at it than others. I’ve often wondered about the importance our society places on individualism, the lack of rights-of-passages we have for our children, and what that means for their ability to move successfully from childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood. Can we ever truly be individuals or is the influences of our elders too strong? For just as any rebellion is shaped by its opposition, any break or push to be different from our family is really an opposition shaped by them. Marilyn Gear Pilling’s On Huron’s Shore is a collection of linked short stories threaded together to tell the tale of one Ontario family. Told from the perspective of the oldest sister, Lexie, it begins with the memories of a child. The reader is quickly reminded of a time when toddlers freely climbed from the front seat to the back of a car, from mother’s …

J.D Mersault’s Book Review of “7 Ways to Sunday” by Lee Kvern

J.D Mersault A review of: 7 Ways to Sunday                                                  By Lee Kvern   Enfield & Wizentry ISBN 978-1926531854 Lee Kvern’s recent short story collection, 7 Ways to Sunday, succeeds in bringing its readers a rich world of descriptive prose and a depth of reflection rarely found in the high realist tradition of the Canadian short story collection. When I first picked up the book, I felt the nervous sense of foreboding I often experience when I’m expecting to delve into some identity-based Canadiana. Was it going to be another book of Canadian stories that happen to Canadian people that live in Canada? I know little of Kvern’s oeuvre, but from what I had heard and read, I was expecting to be in for a lot of ink about the Great White North, and the good white people living in it. Not so. Or, at least not entirely so. This is the tension …

Book Review of “Hellgoing” by Lynn Coady

Crystal Mackenzie A review of Hellgoing by Lynn Coady House of Anansi Press (2013) ISBN: 978-1-77089-308-5 $19.95 We are all going to hell–or so they say–in a tightly woven basket. But is this a fate saved for after death or the constant state we live? Lynn Coady’s book Hellgoing is a collection of short stories of people experiencing their own personal hell, if only for a short while. Each story is a glimpse into the lives of diverse people from all over Canada. People with depth and purpose and people whose past and present are in conflict. I was hooked from the first two lines, “Jan salutes you from an age where to be an aficionado is to find yourself foolishly situated in the world. Where to care a great deal about something, no matter how implicitly interesting it may be, is to come across as a kind of freak” (3). This witty language is carried throughout the first story and by the end I couldn’t wait to experience the rest of the book. The …

Book review of “Better Living Through Plastic Explosives” by Zsuzsi Gartner

Chase Baird A review of Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner Hamish Hamilton Ca ISBN 978-0670065189 $30.00 Zsuzsi Gartner’s second short story collection, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, is edgy, modern, ingeniously full of cutting edge pop culture and technology references and still manages to be Canadian. It’s no wonder this collection was a Giller finalist. Gartner turns our Twitter-driven, social-media-centric, cell-phone-obsessed existence into a mirror that reminds us that human hearts beat under the humming miasma of all our gadgets. Her stories caution us how easily we can be overwhelmed by the bizarre extremes of the cutting edge world we take for granted. Gartner’s writing is astute, precise and evocative. Most of Gartner’s characters have been pushed to the edge, to breakdowns and beyond, by the incongruence they experience when the reality of their frantic, youth-obsessed world conflicts with their ideals and beliefs. There’s Nina in “Investment Results May Vary”, doing community service as a sweat saturated Olympic mascot, because she turned a leaf blower on its owner when she became enraged …

Book Review of “Light Lifting” by Alexander MacLeod

Kate Marlow a review of Light Lifting By Alexander MacLeod Biblioasis (2010) ISBN: 978-1-89723-194-4 $19.95 Light Lifting is Alexander MacLeod’s award-winning debut collection of short fiction. It is a collection that should be consumed carefully; MacLeod so beautifully articulates everyday events that even the most normal (even mundane) occurrence becomes breathtaking. He takes his reader to a reality in which everything is nuanced. Every object, interaction and event has a beautiful poignancy to it, and it is in illuminating this beauty to his reader that MacLeod succeeds in breaking his reader’s hearts. A reader is left with the overwhelming sense that she has missed something in the real world; that within our reality is a capacity for depth and beauty that, somewhere along the line, we have grown to ignore. Through his collection, MacLeod seems to question why it is that we ignore these moments of everyday poignancy: have we chosen to ignore them, or is this blindness a learned behavior? The question of why we ignore the poignancy of everyday life is explored in …

Book Review of “What Echo Heard” by Gordon Sombrowski

Rea Tarvydas a review of What Echo Heard by Gordon Sombrowski Oolichan, 2011 ISBN 978-0-88982-279-5 $21.95 This debut collection of linked short stories illuminates the social stratification of the small, working-class town of Fernie, BC and takes readers back to an earlier time: when timber and mining companies ruled a community cut in half by the railway tracks; when miners, loggers and tradesmen worked long, sometimes dangerous hours to provide for their families; when the church both cradled and towered above its people. The title is derived from the myth ‘Echo and Narcissus’. Although the stories feature a number of marginalized characters, the mountains that surround the town form another character for consideration. Their power is evident throughout: “[s]he had never seen mountains before, and she marveled that something could go so high into the air. She felt sure the mountains must keep the sky from falling down” (22). Their menace, too: “[h]e looked out his window where he could see Mount Fernie looming over the town, its snowy scalloped escarp lie a leering row …