Regina: Coteau, c2007.
I haven't read Sarah Klassen before, but this book came across my desk and looked really appealling. I have to say I am very surprised that this isn't on any big awards list this year, as I absolutely loved it, and was really taken by the way each story is so exquisitely constructed. The book collects 14 stories, most set in Manitoba, but a few are also set in Ukraine. (I was surprised by it when I came across the first one, and of course I would find it fascinating!) Like many Westerners, Klassen has some Ukrainian background, and has taught English in Ukraine as well.
These stories deal with the human longing for meaning, for significance, for agency in one's own life. They study quiet lives struggling with quiet moments of great internal import. (Quiet moments at least most of the time; there is a rape scene in one story.) Klassen is another poet who has turned to stories, so her observations are precise. She creates complex characters - fathers, daughters, wives, errant children - who inhabit worlds that are fully enfleshed even in such short fiction. There is a novel's worth of story in each piece; I was impressed by the quality of the storytelling and the representation of the smallest variations of human emotion.
One of the stories that I enjoyed most was entitled "Beyond the Border". It relates the experiences of a group of tourists of Ukrainian background who are trying to visit the village their forebears came from. After much confusion and back and forth with border guards, they make it, and spend the day wandering around a village where people are living their everyday lives in the houses their ancestors had fled. As an emotional resolution to their search for roots, it is a bit of an anticlimax - they wander about and then get back on the bus. The interplay between their expectations and their experience is skillfully handled, and the interchanges between all the tourists are wonderful.
There are so many insights to discover in this collection. I highly recommend it.