The Short Story Has No Limits

The books on this list serve to demonstrate that the short story has no limits, that it can take its readers anywhere and everywhere, and that reducing the form to any single definition is as foolish as it is futile. With short fiction, there's a story (or a book of them!) for every kind of reader, and you're sure to find something that hooks you right here. 

*****

Use Your Imagination!, by Kris Bertin

About the book: A woman becomes obsessed with a story about her family from 1890—when a naked, mute girl stumbled onto their property—and whether or not it really happened. A self-help guru and his chief strategist take their most affluent and unstable clients on a harrowing nature hike that destroys their company. A young convict in a prison creative writing class chronicles the rise and fall of his cellblock's resident peacemaker. A rural neighbourhood becomes obsessed by the coming of a strange and powerful new homeowner who is in the middle of reinventing herself.

The stories of Use Your Imagination! are about stories, about the way we define and give shape to ourselves through all kinds of narratives, true or not. In seven long stories, Kris Bertin examines the complex labyrinth of lies, delusions, compromise, and fabrication that makes up our personal history and mythology. Sometimes funny, strange, or frightening, these stories represent Bertin's follow-up to his critically acclaimed, award-winning debut, Bad Things Happen.

Why we're taking notice: From Lisa Moore's endorsement, "Kris Bertin's Use Your Imagination is propulsive, taut, tough and emotionally charged..The people here suffer beautifully crafted, disturbing downfalls; they are viciously smart, vulnerable, breathtakingly hardened; they are trusting and innocent; they are betrayed—sometimes all at once! Bertin is a wickedly masterful writer—these stories tantalize and enthrall." 

*

Notes On Recovery, by Louise Ells

About the book: Notes Towards Recovery comprises 21 short stories thematically linked through loss and the spaces around loss. At the centre of these stories are women who navigate holes created in their families due to distance, disappearance, dementia, divorce, or death, often reinventing themselves in the process. How do you identify yourself after losing the role by which you were defined? If you have always labelled yourself as a mother, who/what do you become when your child dies?

Questions characters ask include: How do we live with the knowledge that we are unable to protect from all harm the people we love? How do we confirm the truth of a matter, when the facts of an event are accessible only via a memory, which may or may not be entirely trustworthy? How do we make a choice when both options are equally difficult to imagine? What role does silence play in communication?

Woven throughout the collection is the theme that people create identities though the telling and re-telling of their stories.

Why we're taking notice: For a sample of Louise Ells' prose stylings, check out the beautiful annotations on her "Short Story Stunners" recommended reading list, which also serves to confirm that Ells knows what's what when it comes to the short story. 

*

Lands and Forests, by Andrew Forbes

About the book: Escaping government-sanctioned flooding, obsessing over camera-equipped drones, violently mourning a lost brother, discovering a new passion in fencing, watching a wildfire consume a whole town: the stories in Lands and Forests survey the emotional landscapes of women and men whose lives, though rooted deeply in the land and their small communities, are still rocked by great cultural change. These are raw, honest character studies reminiscent of the work of Alexander MacLeod and Lisa Moore, but with a style and energy all their own.

Why we're taking notice: Because this is a collection that comes with an endorsement by Alexander Macleod, who writes, “Warning: There are floods and fires in here. And life and death struggles. And long journeys. And near misses. The weather, like love, is always uncertain. But there is no need to fear. Andrew Forbes will get us through. He knows the way. These stories are elemental, wise, and beautiful.”

Echolocation, by Karen Hofmann

About the book: In these provocative short stories, Karen Hofmann creates characters who struggle to connect, or disconnect from entanglements and relationships. With ironic accuracy and sensuous imagery, Hofmann considers a range of human foibles: a newlywed couple who transform into feral beasts during a research expedition; backbiting faculty members who strip down during a post-conference BBQ; an heretical nun who explores the possibility of a new life by imaginatively excavating the fossils of BC's Burgess Shale; and an ambitious bylaw officer determined to make her mark on the city's streets.

In Echolocation, Karen Hofmann sounds the depths of the human heart. Her accomplished stories recall the work of Guy Vanderhaeghe (Daddy Lenin and Other Stories) and George Saunders (Tenth of December).

Why we're taking notice: We've been huge fans of Karen Hofmann since two books ago with her fiction debut After Alice, for which she made the delightful recommended reading list "Barefoot Girls and Wild Women." Her latest, Echolocation, lived up to our high expectations. 

*

The Forbidden Purple City, by Philip Huynh

About the book: A man returns to Hoi An in his retirement to compose a poem honouring his parents. Two teenagers, ostracized in a private school, forge an unlikely bond. A son discovers the truth about his father's business ventures and his dreams of success. A young bride, isolated on a remote island with her new husband, finds community in a group of abalone divers.

Taking the title for his debut collection of short fiction from the walled palace of Vietnam's Nguyen dynasty, Philip Huynh dives headfirst into the Vietnamese diaspora. In these beautifully crafted stories, crystalline in their clarity and immersive in their intensity, he creates a universe inhabited by the deprivations of war, the reinvention of self in a new and unfamiliar settings, and the tensions between old-world parents and new-world children. Rooted in history and tradition yet startlingly contemporary in their approach, Huynh's stories are sensuously evocative, plunging us into worlds so all-encompassing that we can smell the scent of orange blossoms and hear the rumble of bass lines from suburban car stereos.

Why we're taking notice: For those of us who got our first taste of Huynh's work in The Journey Prize Stories 30, the arrival of this new book is exciting. 

*

Winning Chance, by Katherine Koller

About the book: From the author of Art Lessons, a finalist for the Robert Kroetch City of Edmonton Book Prize and the Alberta Readers' Choice Awards! In the stories in Winning Chance , Katherine Koller explores second chances, how we find them, and how we find the courage to take them. Whether they are contractors running into an ex while on the job, a busy mother pursuing community theatre, or a family building an illegal ice rink after an environmental collapse, Katherine Koller has created empathetic portraits of characters searching to connect.

Why we're taking notice: If the acclaim for her first book wasn't enough, we absolutely love the sensibility she reveals in her wonderful recommended reading list "Stories of Second Chances." 

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Dead Flowers, by Alex Laidlaw

About the book: An anonymous writer stays up late into the night penning personal and inappropriate letters to a local public official. A new father and cook at a Montreal café chronicles the tyrannical rise of a new manager. An eccentric young student, in trying to carve out a space for herself, deals an existential blow to her roommate. Dead Flowers is a collection of stories featuring characters who have become estranged from the trajectory of their lives, yet must grapple with youth, love, isolation, drugs, friendship and the changing of seasons. These are stories of peripheral tragedies, moral ambivalence and compromise, chance and how we are shaped by what finds us.

Why we're taking notice: We love Laidlaw's description of his book as "Narrative prose from a writer more often prone to play the typewriter as a percussion instrument." 

*

This Wicked Tongue, by Elise Levine 

About the book: In moments of exile and self-exile, exodus and return, Elise Levine’s uncanny narratives lay bare the secret grammar of their characters’ psyches. An ill-tempered divinity-school candidate refuses to minister to a dying man’s wife; a couple fails to connect as they tour an ersatz cave in the south of France; holy women grieve in medieval England, and a pregnant runaway hitches a ride with a Church leader of dubious intentions. Propelled by their longing for pasts that no longer exist, these reluctant Adams and contemporary Eves confront the unspoken, the maligned, the abject aspects of their inner geographies, mining them for gems that glint and scatter in the light. Uncompromising and honest, lyrical and wry, This Wicked Tongue dares to tell the truth about the places we have come from and the new ones we might find.

Why we're taking notice: Levine is a celebrated and award-winning short fiction writer, and this is her first collection in 25 years. 

*

Shut Up, You're Pretty, by Téa Mutonji

About the book: In Tea Mutonji's disarming debut story collection, a woman contemplates her Congolese traditions during a family wedding, a teenage girl looks for happiness inside a pack of cigarettes, a mother reconnects with her daughter through their shared interest in fish, and a young woman decides to shave her head in the waiting room of an abortion clinic. These punchy, sharply observed stories blur the lines between longing and choosing, exploring the narrator's experience as an involuntary one. Tinged with pathos and humour, they interrogate the moments in which femininity, womanness, and identity are not only questioned but also imposed.

Shut Up You're Pretty is the first book to be published under the imprint VS. Books, a series of books curated and edited by writer-musician Vivek Shraya featuring work by new and emerging Indigenous or Black writers, or writers of colour.

Why we're taking notice: From her conversation with Trevor Corkum: "I do think that writing about trauma, regardless of whether you relate to said trauma, does take a certain amount of guts and liberation, and I didn’t know I was capable of that. I feel confident and I feel free and I feel proud."

*

Meteorites, by Julie Paul

About the book: A collection of captivating stories that explore family dynamics and frailty, loss and atonement, faith and redemption.

A young man takes his father to Hawaii, even though he’s been dead for months. An organ player won’t let her newly amputated arm stand in the way of Sunday duties. A grad student decides to take the fate of a homeless man into his own hands. A couple of criminals, new to rural living, find their idyllic life in jeopardy when nature strikes back. A stepdaughter moves in, a brother goes missing, and twins fall in love with the same girl. In Meteorites, Julie Paul’s third collection of short fiction, characters are taken by surprise and must react and recover from what’s entered their lives unbidden. Ghosts, giant animals, artists, imposters—you’ll meet them here in these captivating stories of family dynamics and frailty, loss and atonement, faith and redemption.

Why we're taking notice: Julie Paul's previous collection won the 2015 Victoria Book Prize, and a very positive review in Quill and Quire for this new book notes that "[a] careful attention to...intertextual linkage... elevates Meteorites from a group of disparate, individual pieces to an intriguing, unified whole." 

*

Divided Loyalties, by Nilofar Shidmehr 

About the book: Acclaimed poet Nilofar Shidmehr’s debut story collection is an unflinching look at the lives of women in post-revolutionary Iran and the contemporary diaspora in Canada.

The stories begin in 1978, the year before the Iranian Revolution. In a neighbourhood in Tehran, a group of affluent girls play a Cinderella game with unexpected consequences. In the mid 1980s, women help their husbands and brothers survive war and political upheaval. In the early 1990s in Vancouver, Canada, a single-mother refugee is harassed by the men she meets on a telephone dating platform. And in 2003, a Canadian woman working for an international aid organization is dispatched to her hometown of Bam to assist in the wake of a devastating earthquake.

At once powerful and profound, Divided Loyalties depicts the rich lives of Iranian women and girls in post-revolutionary Iran and the contemporary diaspora in Canada; the enduring complexity of the expectations forced upon them; and the resilience of a community experiencing the turmoil of war, revolution, and migration.

Why we're taking notice: Poet, essayist, and scholar Shidmehr is the author of six books, including Shirin and Salt Man, a BC Book Prize finalist. She spoke to Trevor Corkum in January about her fiction debut

*

Moccasin Square Gardens, by Richard Van Camp

About the book: The characters of Moccasin Square Gardens inhabit Denendeh, the land of the people north of the sixtieth parallel. These stories are filled with in-laws, outlaws and common-laws. Get ready for illegal wrestling moves (“The Camel Clutch”), pinky promises, a doctored casino, extraterrestrials or “Sky People,” love, lust and prayers for peace.

While this is Van Camp’s most hilarious short story collection, it’s also haunted by the lurking presence of the Wheetago, human-devouring monsters of legend that have returned due to global warming and the greed of humanity. The stories in Moccasin Square Gardens show that medicine power always comes with a price.

To counteract this darkness, Van Camp weaves a funny and loving portrayal of the Tłı̨chǫ Dene and other communities of the North, drawing from oral history techniques to perfectly capture the character and texture of everyday small-town life. “Moccasin Square Gardens” is the nickname of a dance hall in the town of Fort Smith that serves as a meeting place for a small but diverse community. In the same way, the collection functions as a meeting place for an assortment of characters, from shamans and time-travelling goddess warriors to pop-culture-obsessed pencil pushers, to con artists, archivists and men who just need to grow up, all seeking some form of connection.

Why we're taking notice: Humour, love, lust, man-babies, aliens, a guy who accidentally gets his grandparents stoned and then takes them to KFC, and a game of tug-of-war that delivers the most delicious justice. This book has everything, but most importantly, it has Van Camp's rich and compelling narrative voice. 

May 21, 2019
Books mentioned in this post
Dead Flowers

Dead Flowers

edition:Paperback
More Info
Shut Up You're Pretty

Shut Up You're Pretty

edition:Paperback
More Info
Meteorites

Meteorites

Stories
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Moccasin Square Gardens

Moccasin Square Gardens

Short Stories
edition:Paperback
More Info
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