Sunday, April 23, 2017

Short Thoughts on Short Stories: two recent reads

Like many readers, I sometimes find short stories a hard go. But I try to follow Mavis Gallant's maxim to read one story and take a break before reading the next. This makes them stand out more individually, and means that I can actually finish a whole collection without it becoming a blur. 

Thus I have two collections to share, one which I finished a while ago but have just revisited, and one forthcoming title that I've just finished in an advance reading copy, which should be available in a couple of weeks, by May 9.

A Three Tiered Pastel Dream / Lesley Trites
Montreal: Vehicule Press, c2017.
213 p.

First, here is the forthcoming title, a debut collection put out by Montreal's Vehicule Press. It's by an author from New Brunswick who now lives in Montreal, and both of those aspects appear in her stories. There are 11 stories in this book, many of which deal with the moments in women's lives that change the direction they're headed in: unexpected pregnancies, split second decisions to leave their mundane life, deaths and breakdowns.

Some of the stories are set in the Maritimes, others in generic big cities. They are all well constructed, with complete story arcs and lots of good writing in evidence. Unfortunately to me they also felt very much alike, with the main characters very similar to one another. The narrative voice kind of blends in and I felt a bit like I was reading the same story being told in different ways - as I often find happening in short story collections, especially debuts. 

There are enough moments of interest that I do think a reader who enjoys stories would still like this book, some illuminating commentary on modern life to think about. And this cover is lovely and directly relevant to the title story.

Sweet Life / Linda Biasotto
Regina: Coteau Books, c2014. 
160 p.

Here is another debut collection that is equally focused on the moments that send lives off in new, unexpected directions. And with similar destruction of sweets implied by the covers! 

This collection has 13 stories, broken up into three thematic sections. It works well, as each feels distinct. Again, it's a look at mostly female narrators facing some kind of change - sickness, widowhood, marriage, deaths, and so on. They're all doing things that they normally wouldn't, otherwise, shaken up by these unexpected events. 

Most of the stories have conclusions, or at least don't leave you hanging. And many of them are wryly funny in a quiet way, alongside the pathos and folly of each life described. The writing style is lively, it doesn't fall back on passive voice much; it's also not experimental at all, just focused on telling a story.

I liked this one - its central section focusing on stories of Italy was especially interesting - it felt new to me, something a little different. Most of the stories were well written and had strong characters, and it was really readable, even if there isn't one story that stands out to me above the others. While I'm not raving about it, it was still a solid collection that provided a good read. 


  1. Cake AND ice-cream. Three-second rule? Hah. Debut collections sometimes require a bit of imagination to carry readers through to the next effort, but I enjoy them too!

    1. I could have included Sarah Selecky's This Cake is For the Party's cover of a broken dish for the perfect trifecta of short story collections with endangered desserts... ;)


Thanks for stopping by ~ I always enjoy hearing your comments so please feel free to leave some!