I was pleased with Harper Collins' new initiative to promote short stories as the perfect cure for "What to read this summer."
I must admit that while I respect the craft of short story writing, it is not my favourite genre of fiction. While authors like Alice Munro, Alistair MacLeod and Arthur Conan Doyle have often kept my heart pacing with their excellent short works, I sometimes feel that I can leave bereft of characterization by terse and sparse prose.
I knew that Frances Itani would be an exception. How could she not? She is a gorgeous writer and penned one of my favourite contemporary novels, Deafening.
I enjoyed this collection focused on the lives of a family living in rural Quebec in the post-war period. Like some of Munro's work, the stories threaded together as a novel broken into several, poignant fragments.
Perhaps my favourite story---for its simple, emotional resonance-- was A Long Narrow Bungalow.
As in Deafening, Itani paints a community and life that---although I never lived in--- I am left nostalgiac for.
Itani knows when to insert poetry, when to flower her prose with description, when to leave the reader hanging like a musical chord without resolution.
While the stories can range from light family matters ( such as preparing for a day at church) they can realistically dip into sombre territory. Perhaps Itani's work is best encapsulated in the gripping sentence which closes the work:
"There are shadows[...] Sometimes we see our reflection, sometimes we don't. It depends on how dark the sky." (p.206).
Like the book itself which, so compelling in its exposition, caused me to relate to moments in each character's life( happiness, isolation, the yearning for solitude and grief )it could simultaneously invite me in and keep me at a distance.
This was a pleasant and thougthful read to take on vacation. On a bus across Cape Breton under very lugubrious and mournful clouds, my appetite was sated.... proving short stories invaluable as summer traveling companions.
To learn more about the Harper Collins Summer is Short, Read a story challenge see here
To learn more of Frances Itani and purchase Leaning, Leaning Over Water, see here