Julie Paul on Autumn and Falls

"Danger: High Voltage," says Kathleen Winter about Julie Paul's debut story collection, The Pull of the Moon, whose stories, she elaborates, are "masterful and sexy."  In this list, Paul contemplates the nature of fall and falling with a beautiful list of recommended reads.

*****

There is something good to be said about every season, isn’t there? Aren’t our best Canadian selves like decent parents, loving each unique season equally, but in different ways?

Well, no. We’re not kidding anyone with our nicey-nice. Who really wants another Canadian winter to descend? Even us West Coast dwellers, to whom the rest of the country directs evil curses come the fifth month of shovelling, do not welcome the impending doom.

Autumn, though. Now there’s a season fer ya. Despite the fact that autumn inevitably leads to winter, we just love our crunchy leaves, brilliant colours, crisp air, and sharp blue sky. And sweaters! We love our sweaters. Secretly or otherwise, so many of us claim autumn to be our favourite season. Even though we know better, we can’t help but look forward to the fall. We claim identity by waving a dying maple leaf on our flag.

Most of the characters in my new collection of stories, The Pull of the Moon, know better than to do what they do, and yet, they carry on anyway. They’re caught in situations where their common sense is tested, where their hearts are pulled in a few directions, where they falter. They trip over secrets and descend into comedic and tragic allegiances with neighbours. They plunge into trysts and truces without thinking things through, and put their hopes in the wrong person. In other words, they’re humans, and sometimes, they fall.

Autumn: AKA, the Fall. The descent. Icarus tumbling back to earth with melted wings. Visits to the underworld. Seasonal changes. A dying off. A beautiful release.

What is it to fall? The eight books of fiction I’m recommending here all explore this idea in one way or another. Enjoy this season of crunch and clarity and pretending.

Yes, dears. Of course leaves are all that will ever drop from above.

Book Cover High Clear Bell

High Clear Bell of Morning, by Anne Erickson

This novel, set in my stomping grounds of southern Vancouver Island, follows the downward spiral of a young woman into mental illness, and its devastating effects on her and everyone close to her. Parallels are made between the health and endangerment of the orca population and the increase in human illness, but this is not overplayed. I loved this novel for its complexity and its tenderness, its honest portrayal of a family in acute distress, and for the questions it dares to ask.

Every Happy Family, by Dede Crane

A novel told from multiple points of view, all members of the same family struggling with various forms of descent. A mother deals with her mother’s slide into senility, a young man struggles with addiction, an aunt stumbles as she meets her indifferent birth mother, a brother falls in love with his adopted sister, who’s in turn trying to figure out her place in the family dynamic. All of them meet in the final section of the book to celebrate with the father, dying of cancer, before he leaves this earth. It all sounds heavy and tragic, but in Dede’s hands, these characters’ stories become manageable, even comical, and always recognizable.

Book Cover Who Do You Think You Are

Who Do You Think You Are?, By Alice Munro

This book was published in the USA as The Beggar Maid, it is said, because the phrase Who do you think you are? does not resonate with most Americans. I’m not sure if this is true, but Alice knows who we are. She takes her lucky readers into the lives of Rose and her stepmother Flo, from the small-town upbringing, through the escape to city life and eventually, the fall from grace that can happen when one wants to achieve more than what is possible within the confines of family and birthplace. This is my very favourite book of Munro’s, perhaps because I come from a village of 800 people (Lanark, ON), but mostly because she just gets everything right.

Man Descending, by Guy Vanderhaeghe

In this book of stories—Vanderhaeghe’s first book, published in 1982—people are reaching new lows. Characters slide into long-standing unemployment or anxiety; they recover from TB; they live in or alongside depravity; they struggle with mental fragility. But do not despair: these dense stories are also darkly funny and very smart.

Y, by Marjorie Celona

This novel details the life of a young girl from the time she is dropped off at the YMCA—just hours after birth—until she reaches seventeen. It’s set where I live, in Victoria, BC, and it’s refreshing how Marjorie portrays this postcard-pretty place in a more realistic way. There are many descents in this story, many lows in this young girl’s lonely life, but there is also goodness, hope, and a level of truth that we don’t often see in books—or life.

The Broken Record Technique, by Lee Henderson

I first read this collection about ten years ago, and it still ranks as one of my all-time favourite story collections. Tragedies befall, mostly to children and their families, but Lee’s a master at blending in humour and tenderness, and he delivers all of this in prose that has me saying, Wow, over and over

February, by Lisa Moore

A novel about love and loss is nothing new, but in February, it feels new. We are at close range in this story about a woman whose young husband has died on a sunken oil rig; we fall into her grief as if it is our own, and then, we gradually emerge from it with her, as hope returns and life resumes.

Oh, My Darling, by Shaena Lambert

Many of the stories in this gorgeous collection delve into what happens after a stumble, and address this question: will these people get back up, rejoin the world, or not? These stories are filled with complexity and surprise; they show us our humanity and the difficult, amazing choices we are required to make for both ourselves and those we love.

Julie Paul is the author of The Jealousy Bone and The Pull of the Moon. Her stories, poems, and essays have been published in numerous journals, including The New Quarterly, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, The Dalhousie Review, Geist, and Canadian Living, and in the anthologies Coming Attractions 07 and Women Behaving Badly. Learn more about Julie at juliepaul.ca. 

October 2, 2014
Books mentioned in this post

edition:
also available: Hardcover Book Book
tagged :
More Info
High Clear Bell of Morning

High Clear Bell of Morning

edition:Paperback
tagged : literary
More Info
Every Happy Family

Every Happy Family

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : family life
More Info
comments powered by Disqus

X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...