A dazzling debut collection from award-winning journalist and New York Times Magazine contributor Mireille Silcoff.
Inspired by the real life medical struggles of the author, this stunning debut collection opens with a gripping portrait of chronic illness in a series of linked stories about a woman in her mid-thirties, who is trapped in her elegantly accoutered Montreal townhouse — and in her own mind and body. As she struggles with her health, amongst an increasingly indifferent husband and volatile mother, she encounters unimaginable depths of loneliness and realizes that, even after she recovers, her life will never be the same.
As the collection progresses, it picks up the threads of other people’s lives that have also been abruptly upended –- through death, divorce, illness and estrangements –- leaving them shocked and disoriented as they try to navigate their lives in new directions. A Montreal cookbook author remembers her stepmother's exquisite taste in dinner parties, and her failed marriage — both of which she seemed to inherit. An abandoned wife catches her glamorous author friend stealing from an old, billionaire widower. A woman loses her daughter to suicide while her architect husband, in the grips of Alzheimer’s years later, sits on a subway platform day after day, drawing hearts for all the young women he sees.
Silcoff’s stories are sophisticated, detailed, and infused with humour, intelligence and touching emotional insights into the human condition.
Mireille Silcoff is the founding editor of Guilt & Pleasure Quarterly, a magazine of new Jewish writing and ideas, and is the author of three books about drug and youth culture. She is a lead columnist with Canada's National Post and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazineand other publications. She lives in Montreal, and in addition to completing this collection she is working on a memoir about her rare chronic illness.
Silcoff’s languid and satirical authorial voice evokes another big Montreal talent, Mordecai Richler. Like Richler's work, her fiction is poignant, hilarious and trenchantly observant about contemporary urban life, both in the detailed depictions of its inanities and its splendours. The linked-stories are told from the point of view of a woman in her mid-thirties, a secular Jew recovering from a spinal cord malfunction, who recounts her interactions with the people in her life with a mixture of sympathy and savvy wit. Silcoff holds a mirror up, letting the reader see how ridiculously human are the lives of the characters in her stories.
Mireille Silcoff’s “Chez L’Arabe” is an impressive debut short story collection by any measure.
…a consistently pleasurable read…Silcoff’s keen observations…are laid down on the page like little gems of uncommon brilliance and depth.
…Silcoff’s stories remain unruffled, polished and mature, as smart and elegant as the characters they depict.
Silcoff captures the profound insight that comes when life is pared down to what is essential: the fierce and sometimes absurd ephemeral beauty that can bloom unexpectedly, even when one is grappling with physical agony.
These are beautiful stories very much about beauty itself and about the meticulous care Mireille Silcoff's characters take in making their world as beautiful as they can, even as time and fate frustrate their efforts. These stories of Montreal are imbued with wisdom, grace and, often, a great deal of humour and one hears in them the echo of Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, and even Mordecai Richler.
Chez L'arabe is a deliciously unwholesome mixture of physical disorder and family secrets and sexual obsession and Montreal. Toxically intoxicating.
[Chez L’arabe is] one of the most impressive literary debuts in years. Its eight stories display a remarkable range of tone and voice while hanging together as a coherent reading experience, linked by themes of recovery, separation and confinement — both literal and psychological.
Silcoff’s wonderful descriptive observations have, unsurprisingly perhaps, a pensive, unrushed quality…these stories feel generous, expansive.
. . . [a] dazzling debut story collection . . .
Silcoff is adept at illuminating the singular truth that can be found in suffering, and in recognizing the redemptive potency of beauty.