Giller Longlist: The Two of Us by Kathy Page

28818591This 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!


31 thoughts on “Giller Longlist: The Two of Us by Kathy Page

  1. whatmeread says:

    I tried to read the Man Booker longlist a few years ago, and although I didn’t get through all of them, I thought that some of the longlist books that didn’t make it into the shortlist were better than some that did.

    • Naomi says:

      You’re very welcome, Debbie! I was also curious about it for the very reason that I haven’t seen much ‘coverage’ of it. I’m glad it appeals to you – I think you’ll enjoy it!

  2. FictionFan says:

    I tend to struggle with short story collections – I love anthologies of different authors and individual stories, but with collections I tend to find myself losing interest after a bit, even if the author manages to get a lot of variety into them. It’s interesting that two collections made the longlist though – that’s quite unusual for literary prizes, I think…

    • Naomi says:

      I know what you mean about short story collections – I’ve felt the same way before. One thing I like about them, though, is that they can give me a good sense of an author’s style without reading a whole novel. In this case, I’m looking forward to reading something lengthier next time!

  3. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    I’m not familiar with this author, Naomi, so thanks for reviewing her. I enjoyed the snippets you shared. I am a big fan of stories and novels about personal relationships. I see my library system has a copy of The Story of My Face, so maybe I’ll try that one.

    • Naomi says:

      I wasn’t familiar with her either until now. I’m glad I’ve discovered her! Let me know if you decide to try The Story of My Face. (It has to be at least a little bit good with that title, right?)

  4. The Cue Card says:

    Thanks for introducing me to Kathy Page. I think some of the story snippets sound alluring. I guess she lives on a BC island these days according to her website. Hmm.

  5. Read Diverse Books says:

    Sounds like a great collection. Short stories aren’t my favorite kind reading, but I have enjoyed quite a few of them this year.
    Do you know if any collections have won the Giller prize before? It’s rare for them to get such a high honor!

    • Naomi says:

      Short story collections have won 4 times! Alice Munro has won twice (1998 and 2004). In 2006, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam won. And in 2013 it was Hellgoing by Lynn Coady. And there are often story collections on the long and short lists!
      Good question! 🙂

  6. madamebibilophile says:

    I read The Story of My Face years ago & really liked it, but for some reason I’ve not picked up anything by Kathy Page since. The quotes you’ve pulled out are great, so I’ll definitely hunt this out and start catching up on her writing!

  7. buriedinprint says:

    I read Paradise and Elsewhere not too long ago and was very impressed; I can still remember a couple of the stories quite clearly (and you will relate to the fact that I find this happens less frequently with story collections than novels). This is one I’m quite looking forward to reading but, first, the Kerry Lee Powell collection, which also seems quite good!

    • Naomi says:

      Both are good! I can see why they made it onto the longlist.
      It *is* harder to remember short stories – easier to remember the overall feel of the collection.

      • buriedinprint says:

        Sometimes I have trouble with that too. Usually I try to follow Mavis Gallant’s advice and read the stories with some time between the readings, but then I am also reading a few books alongside, so remembering the overall feeling gets dispersed along the way. Maybe the best solution would be to only read a short story every day or so and nothing else alongside, but that would mean an endlessly swelling TBR and hardly any reading going on! I’ve started Paintbrush, but I haven’t started this one…yet!

      • Naomi says:

        The best thing for me, most of the time, seems to be to just read it like a novel. I’m pretty careful about the books I choose, so it usually works out okay (as in, it’s a book that makes me *want* to plough through it). 🙂

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