An honest and unaffected collection of human experiences that deftly tackles themes of grief, loss, missed opportunities, and the pain of letting go.
The stories in Michael Melgaard’s poignant debut collection, Pallbearing, offer candid snapshots of life in a small town, where the struggle to make ends meet forces people into desperate choices. In “Little to Lose,” a son confronts his mother over the crushing prison of debt created by her gambling addiction. The aging divorcee in “Coming and Going” spends her days in paranoid pursuit of evidence with which to incriminate her neighbours in the derelict trailer park where she lives. And in “Stewart and Rose,” lifelong friends find love after their respective partners die — and then face loss all over again.
With deceptively spare prose that carries outsized emotional weight and pathos, Melgaard brings his characters to life in sharp-edged portraits and all-too-human dilemmas, creating engaging stories that resonate with honesty and depth, and linger in the imagination.
About the author
MICHAEL MELGAARD is a writer and editor based in Toronto. His fiction has appeared in Grain, the Puritan, and the Antigonish Review. He was a regular contributor to the National Post’s book section, and he has written articles and criticism for the Millions, the Torontoist, and Canadian Notes & Queries. Pallbearing is his first book.
Excerpt: Pallbearing: Stories (by (author) Michael Melgaard)
The coffin was awkward to carry; the weight threw off the pallbearers’ balance, and their closeness to each other caused them to walk in a short, shuffle step. Jonathan was surprised by the weight; it seemed heavy, at first, but a few steps later, he wondered if maybe it was actually lighter than it should be. The wood was, after all, quite dense. But by the end she had been so thin, something he then tried not to think about. He decided that he had no basis for comparison. There was no reason to think the coffin was either heavy or light; experientially, it was exactly the weight all coffins he had ever handled weighed.
Jonathan tried to counterbalance by throwing one arm out to the side, but then thought having one arm flapping maybe looked disrespectful. Instead, he put it across his body and used it to help with the weight. The others struggled too. The natural burial field was riddled with little holes and clods of dirt. He wondered again why they hadn’t lifted it up on their shoulders. He was sure that’s what they should have done, but it was too late to do anything about it.
Then they were coming up on the hole in the ground. There were wide, canvas straps across it, the straps wrapped around a metal frame so the coffin could rest over the grave. The pallbearers walked on either side and stopped. A pallbearer opposite Jonathan shifted his grip, the coffin rocked and when it stopped, something inside kept moving for a moment. Jonathan tried not to think about that while they lowered the coffin into place.