This is one of the few books on the Giller Prize longlist that I hadn’t heard of. It’s also one of the only two short story collections on the list. The other being Willem De Kooning’s Paintbrush by Kerry Lee Powell.
Admittedly, short story collections aren’t my usual fare, but this is a strong collection that kept my interest throughout. Among these 16 stories that vary from 4 to 20 pages, you will come across spouses growing old together, a child and her mother battling it out at the dinner table, a hairdresser and a cancer patient, a lonely mother who has alienated herself from her son, old lovers, new lovers, a woman struggling with weight issues, homeless people trying to find a place to call home, a swim coach and his protégé. There is nothing outrageous about them; they are snapshots of people’s lives, so many different lives. It’s in reading stories like these that I realize how varied we are, yet still fundamentally the same; we feel pain, love, hurt, betrayal, fear, joy, loneliness, shame. And we all long for the same things: to matter, to belong. “United by her characters’ primal desire for intimacy, these stories reflect our yearning for meaningful connection.”
Snippets to whet your appetite:
I saw that love could not be done by halves. Nor was it rational, or fair. It demanded dedication, as did its opposite, hate.
Seated, she looked at him properly for the first time. She judged his hair to be ever-so-slightly thinner on the crown of his head and cut shorter. She recognized his long-fingered hands with their baby-pink, neatly filed nails. But the lips she had crossed the city for, changing buses three times – those weren’t here. Instead, a different pair of lips stood out on Simon’s face, fissured, bloody, and swollen to almost twice their usual size. Skin blistered from them in bubbles and rags, as if they were being barbecued.
We are killing each other, she thought again. By inches. Or mouthfuls. Sometimes deliciously, but not always so. They were killing each other routinely, sometimes grudgingly or argumentatively, and mostly they were unaware of what they were doing. By now, she could see it, the strangeness of the pact they were joined in without ever having discussed it or consented to its goals and terms. Gravity pulled down on every pound of her flesh. She was her own worst enemy, and his.
….when she kissed me on the mouth, it was as if she was turning me gently inside out to look for something she had lost.
There was no point in being pushy, and, as he explained to Annette, it was all too easy for parents to think you were some kind of pervert, especially once your hair started to thin. These days, he said, it’s probably better all round to be female, but some things can’t be helped.
I’m doing it for both of us, because this is how we must go: muffled, blinkered and blind, empty of knowledge, fearless, deaf to warnings and ignorant of history. You and I, the two of us, moving on, but also going back to where everyone has been before.
This is the first book I’ve read by Kathy Page, but I’m looking forward to reading more; perhaps one of her novels. Her fifth novel, The Story of My Face, was long-listed for the Orange Prize in 2002, the sixth,Alphabet, was nominated for a Governor General’s award in 2005, and in 2011, The Find was shortlisted for a Relit Award.
The Two of Us did not advance to the shortlist, but don’t let that stop you from considering this book the next time you’re in the mood for some short stories.
Thanks to Biblioasis for providing me with a copy of this book for review!