Watermark by Christy Ann Conlin

After coming out with two remarkable novels – Heave and The Memento – Watermark is Christy Ann Conlin’s first book of short stories.

Watermark has already garnished a lot of praise from some well-known Atlantic Canadian authors. Lynn Coady remarks that Conlin’s stories “achieve a dizzying balance of light and dark”; Lisa Moore calls the stories “gothic dark and sparking with brilliant twists”; Kerry Lee Powell believes that Conlin “presents a moving and uncompromising exploration of the deep undercurrents of the human psyche”; and Alexander MacLeod writes that these stories are “lovely and loathsome, terrifying and tender”.

What I love most about Conlin’s work is her inclination to write about ‘home’. Whether a character has ever lived anywhere but home; has always longed to leave home; left home but has carried with them a pull to come back. Sometimes home is a place of love, other times a place of terror or grief. Often, home for these characters is in the mountains of the Annapolis Valley. What a perfect setting for dark pasts, tragedy, ghosts, and secrets (as well as peace and belonging).

In Eyeball in Your Throat, Lucy worries about her daughter coming home to her after many years away, and the possibility that they will continue their rocky relationship; in Dead Time, Isabella is awaiting her trial for the death of Lulu, sure that Sergei will vouch for her innocence; in The Diplomat, Henry is in exile from his home while Viola is choosing to stay away from hers; in Full Bleed, two elderly women are taken through the woods to the old homestead where they’re in for a shocking birthday surprise; in Back Fat, a woman regrets marrying her husband and is told by an acquaintance to “never be with anyone who doesn’t lift you up”; in Flying Squirrel Sermon, Ondine goes looking for the home her grandmother grew up in, where she finds an old woman with something to say about the past.

“Well, you’ve spent your life since you were fifteen trying to get away from here. How do you think coming back here is going to make it any better?”

But Ben always knew what he wanted. He never felt like the water encircling Campobello Island was going to drown him, the way I did. Ben always said the ocean simply meant there was an enormous world beyond and it made him appreciate the world he was actually living in.

I wish I could leap out of this chair and run away and leave myself behind.

She was feeling her ancestors, she said, the Acadians who had been sent away in the Grand Dérangement, the Expulsion, and wondering if they ever sat beside these bushes they had planted and wondered if anyone would remember them.

Even as adults we never stop trying to complete the childhood story. We never stop trying to find the ending.

It was the summer grief pressed in upon me in the way a watermark imprints paper, permanent and imperceptible in certain light.

“Some folks roam the world in search of wondrous sites, but living here there’s no need. Wonder is all about…”

Further Reading:

Review at the Quill & Quire: ““[As a teenager] I felt so oppressed by rural Nova Scotia that I went off to cities, inland, and discovered there was no place more exotic – with the best and worst of humanity – than the freakin’ Valley.””

Interview at the 49th Shelf:  “My first short story won a prize and I got to go to Toronto and meet Alistair MacLeod, who told me to always stay true to my voice.

Review at Pickle Me This:There is death and murder, and accidents that may not have been accidents, or maybe the moral of these stories is that there is no such thing as an accident at all. Instead, there is purpose, precision, and an incredible haunting darkness, all of which are the reasons why Watermark is such pleasure to read from cover to cover.”

Thank you to House of Anansi Press for sending me a copy of this book!

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11 thoughts on “Watermark by Christy Ann Conlin

  1. buriedinprint says:

    This is one that, selfishly, I was hoping would be on the Giller list so that I would have an excuse to boot it up the stack sooner rather than later. But, I know it’ll be a good read whenever I get t them. Alexander MacLeod’s “lovely and loathsome” bit thrills me!

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