Gambler's Fallacy follows on the success of Judith Cowan's 1997 story collection, More Than Life Itself, which was shortlisted for the Qu?bec Writers' Federation First Book Award. The seven stories in Gambler's Fallacy extend her range and power.
Judith Cowan lives in Trois-Rivi?res and these stories are set there -- offering us a view of Qu?bec both strange and intimate, visionary and comic, an insider's view. The society she describes she catches in loving detail. Crammed with verbal felicities, electric with incident, this collection will delight those who enjoyed her first book and will enchant those who are encountering her work for the first time.close this panel
Although Judith Cowan's characters in Gambler's Fallacy all muddle through life in Trois-Rivi?res, their experiences could not be more individual and unique. Judith Cowan, here in her second collection of short works, introduces us to her perception of this small French city through the personalized experiences of lone story tellers. Cowan's passionate, and complex personal feelings towards life in Trois-Rivi?res is beautifully translated here, resounding with the reader a feeling of the ups and downs of small town hardships including regrets induced by life in the shadow of big town successes.
Cowan's intimate style which effortlessly merges the sentimental with the cynical, embeds the men and women we meet here in a meaningful context. They are not wholly likeable, or hateful. Cowan dulls the standard dichotomous personality (bad vs. good) by layering her characters in a realistic way that reflects thoroughly our human experience. This stripping motion is a refreshing and satisfying way to tell a story. Cowan understands our need to be discovered, and subtly fulfills this through her slow and steady character revelations.
In 'The Launching' -- the first, and for me the most powerful story in the collection, Cowan introduces us to Raymonde. Raymonde's anxiety is immediately obvious as she is awaiting guests to her lover's book launching. Raymonde's anxiety acts as a powerful motor in this story, compelling our attention away from immediate interactions, over to the other end of the bar where her lover, and accomplished poet, socializes with fans. She reveals herself and her heavy insecurities through her interpretations of his behavior. Raymonde emerges, though she began weak and nervous, surprisingly astute. I could not help but to admire Raymonde's conscious acceptance of her own vulnerability to this man. Cowan never introduces us personally to Russell Paradis, although we meet everyone close to him: his mother, best friend, agent, his closest adversary, and of course, his nervous girlfriend. Cowan makes Russell the central aspect of the story and still totally irrelevant at the same time. She reminds lovers of how extraneous the other can be when insecurities cause us to focus inward and stew in our own emotional juices. Raymonde makes Russell so important that it becomes irrational and soon too ridiculous even for her.
The characters within the stories of Gambler's Fallacy are intense and contradictory. Jacques, the storyteller in The Best Time of the Night, exemplifies Cowan's layering techniques superbly. He is a man of simplicity, appreciating the often unnoticed and underappreciated aspects of daily life. As Jacques beings to be exposed to the reader, Cowan reveals the complex reasons for Jacque's minimalist tastes, and brings into question the idiosyncratic nature of human reactions, as well as our reliance on others for perspective on ourselves.
Overall, Judith Cowan's works of short fiction are extremely compelling. They can be likened to short bursts of flavour; she wastes no time in shoving the reader straightforwardly into the private internal dialogue of her truly fascinating creations. Although it is frustrating at times that the stories end in such haste, Cowan's emphasis on the personal discovery of her characters does not open the door to a lengthy narrative. Cowan uses the action of the stories as a context to display and describe the intimate qualities of the residence of Trois Rivi?res. When Cowan has created for us, the snapshot she desires, the story, needs no longer to continue. This limitation and self restraint on the part of this talented author is certainly admirable.
Only her second work of short stories, Gambler's Fallacy is an exceptional collection of fiction from Judith Cowan, and I would highly recommend it for anyone who appreciates well written, genuine and revealing storytelling that explores our shared human experience.
'Opening with the ruminations of a poet's girlfriend, left to fend for herself at his book launch, Cowan moves deftly through an array of personalities: a schizophrenic, an abandoned husband, an unwitting inheritor, a traumatized student, a foreign poet and an unemployed recluse who finds adventure rather than his desired drink at the local pub. Cowan treats each of these individuals as though they were her own kin, loving them, letting them grow and flourish within the lives she grants them on the pages of her collection.
'Written in a manner that transports the reader into the streets of Trois-Rivi?res, Gambler's Fallacy moves the reader comfortably through the stories of this small city's inhabitants, slipping from one circle to another with only gentle realization.'
'The conundrum at the core of Gambler's Fallacy, author and translator Judith Cowan's seven-story follow-up to her distinguished 1997 debut, More Than Life Itself, involves an impressively erratic cast of fearful and fragile Qu?b?cois characters, capriciously transformed into victims of the strange vagaries of chance and serendipitous circumstance. Not unlike Raymond Carver or Alice Munro, Cowan creates heartbreakingly felicitous portraits of Chekhovian elegance, featuring the ordinarily forgotten little folks who, for no apparent reason or logical explanation, have fallen through the cracks. ... Suffused with a largeness of spirit everywhere animated by moments of aching clarity and lyrical grace, Cowan's gritty minimalist vignettes will, if truth be told, simply break the most hardened of readers''hearts. You can bet the farm on it.'
'Spare and eloquent, reverential but never loquacious ... masterfully crafted and close to unforgettable ...'
'Cowan's fiction expresses an abiding sympathy for individual humans in their elemental loneliness and isolation, for people struggling on with hope in the face of defeat.'
'Cowan holds a candle to all those anonymous roadside and riverside places we pass by quickly on our way to somewhere else. Hung together, these stories are like lanterns on a dark horizon.'
'A writer and translator living in Trois-Rivi?res, Judith Cowan brings a rare sensibility to the stories in Gambler's Fallacy. Writing with an intimate's grasp of life in a second-string -- if not second-rate -- town, she strikes an elegaic chord that grows as she gets under the skin of the seasons and moods she surveys.'