Sarah Selecky #2: This Cake is For the Party

While I was reading Radiant Shimmering Light, which I wrote about last week, I was also reading Sarah Selecky’s short story collection, This Cake is For the Party. I have to say, and this is rare for me when comparing novels with short stories, that I’d be hard pressed to say which I enjoyed more.

Let’s start with Lilian. Remember Lilian from Radiant Shimmering Light? She has her own story in this collection, from the time before RSL. Back when she first met her dog, Friday. I recognized her right away, inviting her friends to a night at the cottage in the hopes that they will be convinced to buy her “Go-Manchura” products. I was happy to spend some time with her again, while at the same time cringing in embarrassment for her as she tries to convince her friends to buy into the pyramid scheme.

Since I’ve integrated these products into my regular diet, I’ve felt a major shift in my overall energy levels. My sleeping patterns are more balanced – I now wake up refreshed each morning and fall asleep easily each evening – and this has made a noticeable difference to my moodiness. I view the world in a positive way, now. And this new energy has started an avalanche of abundance in so many other parts of my life!

In Throwing Cotton, four friends gather at a cottage talking, drinking, and remembering. It was in this story that I came across a sentence I would never have imagined that I’d see…

Janine’s latest project is a font that she’s made entirely out of pubic hairs.

The narrator in Standing Up for Janey has recently called off her engagement, but is still putting on her best face for her friend Janey who is getting married to Milt. Janey has just confided in her that she has been having an affair, but still fully intends to get married. And here is Milt, all full of pride and adoration for his bride-to-be.

When he smiles, it’s like he’s throwing open a set of double doors so you can step out onto the veranda.

In Watching Atlas, Lise’s partner burns with stress and rage as he watches Lise continue to enable her alcoholic friend by taking care of the friend’s child whenever she asks. But Lise’s friend is just the tip of the iceberg. He admits to having “control-freak tendencies” and wonders if he’s just being “a big dick”. He hates his job and has grown apart from his old friends who are now all starting familes and having parties at their cottages in Muskoka.

Even though I know that they’re all mostly unhappy, that they’re all morphing steadily into versions of their own fathers and they hate it – if they could talk about it, they’d see that they actually do hate their lives – even though this may be true, even though I try to deny it, the thing is that I want it too.

I don’t often read stories or books from the perspective of a young man comparing himself to his friends, and thinking about the inner workings of his relationship. Here’s another passage from that story that I thought brilliantly showed the difference in personalities…

Lise and I hear sirens all the time in Peterborough. But we interpret them differently. I like to think of myself as a rational guy, but when I hear a siren, I freak out slightly. I prepare for an emergency. My pulse beats like a strobe light in my throat. A siren sounds like a mechanical scream, which is even worse than a human one. But Lise says that she likes to hear the sirens, especially late at night when she’s cozy in bed. She says it’s like hearing a train in the distance. It calms her down. Reminds her that someone is out there, taking care of things, so she can sleep.

So, which type are you?

Other stories in the collection… at a library fundraiser, a woman sees another woman from her past and is reminded of the time she was involved in an experimental trial for painkillers… after many years of no communication with her mother-in-law, a woman writes to her, telling her the story of the water that trickles down behind her ear – something that has been happening since her mother saw the Virgin Mary on an Ida Red apple at the grocery store when she was little… Keane and Robin have been married for 20 years and make candles for a living. Keane recounts the events leading up to disaster…. “I’ve tried to think how it started, since you keep asking. It was right after the Island Daze craft sale, the day Stu and Olivia came for dinner. The cat had diarrhea. I knew it was my fault, I knew I’d given her the wrong kind of food, which is exactly why I was so pissed when I found the soft spread hardening on the mat by the door. You know how that is – I was mad because I could have prevented it. Story of my life.”

Further Reading:

This Cake is For the Party was shortlisted for the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Get to know Sarah Selecky – a new favourite author for me.

Buried in Print: “The stories’ structures are uncomplicated (with the occasional “here we are now, but here’s what you’ve missed” framework, and with one epistolary story). And the prose is straightforward. But the the emotional territory that the collection covers is fraught, pervasive and extreme.

The Globe and Mail: “Selecky catches each of her characters in the midst of acute crises and keenly extracts the stories behind the stories we tell ourselves. Our capacity for vision depends upon our ability to look again – to see the cake that is not one.”

Quill & Quire: “This Cake Is for the Party may not offer a variety of styles or tones, and the subjects covered are anything but fun, but it possesses a satisfying blend of humour, angst, desperation, and warmth.”



16 thoughts on “Sarah Selecky #2: This Cake is For the Party

    • Naomi says:

      Interesting! I tend to try not to think about what’s going on… thinking about ambulances makes me sad. With firetrucks and police sirens, though, I tend toward Lise’s reaction.

      • whatmeread says:

        Well, most of the time we don’t know which vehicle it is. The only time I get anxious rather than curious is if it is around me somewhere when I am driving and I haven’t yet figured out where, so I don’t know whether to pull over.

  1. buriedinprint says:

    Thanks for the link to my thoughts on this collection: you’re very kind. And the fact that I remember that story, Lilian’s story, so many years later (7 or 8), means the collection was just as good as I thought at the time. Now I am *definitely* wishing I had a copy of the novel to start reading! (I am the person whose heart races when the sirens squeal, but I tell myself stories like Lise’s to slow it down again.)

    • Naomi says:

      It’s good to have coping techniques. 🙂

      I read the story about Lilian after reading the novel, and recognized her in the story before even coming across her name!

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