The stories in Farnsworth’s The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind explore what it means to be a woman in the modern world, struggling against circumstances that are often unfair, inexplicable, and destructive. The women in this book don’t always behave in ways that are sensible or advisable or, for that matter, likely to result in success, but there’s a warped logic to what they do and the reasons they do it are intrinsically human. These women have nothing in common except that they all find themselves trying to find their footings, preserve their sanity, and just generally survive in circumstances they never thought they would encounter. They don’t always do it gracefully. Occasionally alcohol or firearms are involved. Just like in real life.
The twenty-eight stories in the collection vary in length, intensity and impact. The short pieces that fluctuate between flash fiction and apologue are interspersed with events where women explore how to pick up a man, with more surreal episodes that deconstruct office reality, or even experimenting with rainfall with God and the devil. The longer stories in The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind stray into the deep and dark territories of women’s suffering, guilt, and survival. In these tales, anxiety, restlessness and volatility are tapped like raw nerves, and the dangers and menace of events only mitigated by Farnsworth’s savvy use of black comedy and irony. Here women go toe-to-toe with chronic liars, dead grandfathers, beleaguered sons, mysterious voices, unfaithful husbands, midnight callers, spiteful sisters, and hallucinated clowns. Husbands go crazy or wayward or missing. Life hits walls and somersaults and does breathless, tactless things. The end result is fascinating inventive fiction.
About the author
Vanessa Farnsworth's literary fiction has been published in journals across Canada and in the United States, including The Dalhousie Review, dANDelion, The New Quarterly, PRECIPICe, Qwerty, and Reed Magazine and she has published more than 100 columns and articles in national and regional publications, including Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living, Cottage, Garden Making, The Creston Valley Advance, The Grower, Harrowsmith Country Life, Kootenay Life East, Route 3, and Vitality Magazine. She holds a degree in English from Toronto's York University, a diploma in print journalism from Oakville's Sheridan College, and she studied creative writing at The Humber School for Writers.
Excerpt: The Things She'll Be Leaving Behind (by (author) Vanessa Farnsworth)
Bob gave Kate a marble for her twenty-sixth birthday.
“Then why is it brown and square?”
“Because that’s what they look like these days. Marbles have evolved since we were kids, you know. No one plays with the round ones anymore. No one.”
“This is a bouillon cube, isn’t it?”
“Now before you go ballistic, just ask yourself this: ‘Has anyone ever given me such a unique gift before?’ I think we both know the answer.”
“I’d rather have the marble.”
“No one would rather have the marble.”
“I would and do you want to know why?”
“Because when I shove this hunk of crap down your throat, there’s the off-chance it might dissolve before you choke to death.”
That was the last conversation Kate intended to have with Bob although, by rights, the first conversation she ever had with him should’ve been the last. It happened in a strip club a dozen or so blocks from where Kate worked. She was in the club because her car’s engine had blown a bearing and she needed to call for a cab.
And a tow truck.
And possibly a pizza.
The reason Bob was in the club had nothing at all to do with his car.
“I can give you a lift somewhere.”
“I’m a lot cheaper than a cabbie and I speak a language that closely resembles English.”
“You’re sure? It could be a long wait, you know, what with that meteor about to plough into the downtown core.”
“The one they were getting themselves in a knot about on the evening news. Surely you’ve heard about it. It’s all anyone’s talking about.”
“It’s not all I’m talking about. Or at least it wasn’t until you showed up. Look, you’re not actually expecting me to believe any of this, are you?”
“Not actually, but if you let me take you home, it’ll give me time to come up with a reason why you should.”
“It’s spectacularly difficult for me to imagine you get laid much.”
“We can discuss that, too.”
So Bob gave Kate a ride home and six months later he was still there. It turned out that he was a pretty decent fuck and a pretty decent fuck was just what Kate needed.
But there was something about Bob that offended Kate in a fundamental way.
The bouillon cube was a fine example.
It wasn’t so much that he thought a bouillon cube was a good birthday gift that bothered her. No, it was that fact that he’d told her it was a marble.
He was always telling her shit like that.
Like when his father died.
“He was skydiving over a Hutterite community in southern Saskatchewan when he struck a flock of geese.”
“Exactly. He’d jumped from the plane seconds earlier when bam, no more dad. He didn’t even have a chance to open his chute. It all went downhill from there.”
“You’d think the geese would’ve moved to avoid a falling, wingless creature. I mean, they do have survival instincts.”
“But they don’t have brakes. I’m sure I’m not the first one to think that was a terrible oversight on God’s part.”
It was at the funeral that Kate learned Bob’s father had succumbed to a heart attack while walking to the convenience store to purchase a pack of smokes.
Not that she was all that surprised.
She hadn’t really bought the whole goose thing. She just didn’t want to argue with Bob since the end result would just be another lie.
What did surprise Kate was that mere moments after she found out the old man’s real cause of death, she discovered that Bob’s name wasn’t really Bob.
It was Ted.
“Why did you tell me it was Bob?”
“We were in a strip club. You didn’t really think I’d use my real name in a place like that, did you?”
“I used mine.”
“Novice or not, that was months ago. At no time did it occur to you to correct me?”
“I thought that after a while, you’d figure it out. It’s kind of weird that you didn’t.”
The reason Kate was thinking about Bob now was because Garth was standing in the middle of her living room brandishing a gun. He was wet and greasy and looked like a college student who’d been dipped in an oil-slicked ocean. Kate would’ve told him so except he’d whipped out the gun before they’d had the chance for proper introductions. She only knew his name was Garth because it said so on the front of his T-shirt for no reason she could determine.
“And you have no idea where he is?”
“I said that already.”
“Stop asking me that.”
“But I really need to find him.”
“I gathered that, but Bob didn’t leave a forwarding address. At least not one that referenced Earth.”
“Why do you keep calling him Bob?”
“Because Rat Bastard was already taken.”
“No you don’t. May I ask why you need to find him?”
“Because I need to kill him.”
“I’m familiar with that need.”
With that, Garth started to cry. Kate placed her hand on his sleeve, thinking that she should probably comfort him or at least make sure he wasn’t some sort of a mirage. This so startled Garth that he accidentally shot her basement.
“Take that outside.”
“What, the gun?”
“The gun, the tears, the entity that is you. All of it. Outside.”
“But it’s cold out there.”
“It’s about to get rather frosty in here, too.”
It turned out that Garth had a good reason for wanting to kill Bob. Actually, he had several, but when you consider the main one was that Bob had disappeared with a toaster-sized chunk of hash that Garth had already found a buyer for, the rest of the reasons seemed piddly in comparison.
Kate nodded as she processed this new information.
Then she told Garth a few things that made him feel better.
“A bouillon cube? Man that’s one fucked up excuse for a birthday present.”
“You sure it wasn’t hash?”
“I didn’t have it in my possession long enough to find out.”
“Because if it was hash, that would’ve been a really great present.”
“Then it wasn’t.”
Kate agreed to guard Garth’s gun while he took a shower. She guarded it by going into the kitchen and pretending it didn’t exist. While she was at it, she made two mugs of hot cocoa. When Garth returned, he was more wet dog than oil-slicked student, but either way he was grateful for the cocoa.
“Excuse me for pointing this out, but you suck as a criminal.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“What are you going to do if you can’t find Bob?”
“It’s more a question of what’s going to be done to me.”
“We left it vague.”
“So then you could use a partner.”
“Or a beer. I’d rather have the beer.”
“Too bad. You’re getting a partner whether you like it or not.”
Garth didn’t like it, but as long as he was allowed to keep his gun, he was happy enough to let Kate call the shots. And she did. All the way to Tobermory where they caught up with Bob who was about to board the ferry.
“Garth’s got a gun.”
“It’s probably not a good idea to be pointing it at my head like that.”
“Point it at his dick, Garth.”
“I meant, people will see.”
“See, yes. Intervene, no. Human nature is funny like that.”
“Won’t be so funny when you’re in jail.”
“I’m not the one pointing the gun. Give Garth your knapsack.”
Bob gave Garth his knapsack and that was the last Kate saw of her partner. It was not, however, the last she saw of Bob who got on the ferry with her pressing a finger-gun into the small of his back. When they landed on the island, she told Bob the way things were going to be. Bob pretended not to understand what she was saying, but Kate ignored him. Then she made him get a job selling fish burgers to tourists and in the winter she made him chop wood.
“Can I die now?”
“No. We still need a fuckload more wood.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“Fuckload is specific.”
“I was afraid of that.”
Bob continued to hawk fish burgers and chop wood. He did this for six and a half years. Then, one day, Kate had a revelation.
“What kind of revelation?”
“The kind that has nothing to do with God.”
“No you don’t. Why are people always saying they see when they don’t?”
“We’re the only ones here.”
“I know that better than anyone. Don’t you want to know what my revelation was about?”
“Good. I didn’t want to tell you anyway. All you need to know is that I don’t need you anymore.”
“You mean I can go now?”
“Technically, you always could.”
“It didn’t feel that way.”
“It never does.”
Bob left on the next ferry and sent Kate postcards every Easter from places he’d never been. Kate took over his job at the fish shack and every winter she chopped wood. She chopped so much of it that the stack became a joke told by the pilots of local float planes.
Until the day the stack collapsed and crushed Kate underneath it.
Kate thought about Bob as the air leaked from her lungs.
Then she thought about God and wondered if he would be mad at her for saying her revelation had nothing to do with him when really it had.
God was the one who contacted her, after all. Presumably he knew what she was like before he popped a vision into her head. And in that vision Kate had seen herself lying crushed under an unruly pile of wood contemplating Bob, then God, as the air leaked from her lungs.
But she’d also seen something else.
She’d seen that she wasn’t going to disappear from existence like an insect whose entire life had gone by unrecorded. No, she was going to live on as a joke that turned into a legend passed down through several generations in this small northern town.
And there was something about that she liked.
The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind Review“The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind”, a collection of short stories written by Vanessa Farnsworth and published by Thistledown Press, is a riveting adventure of both the zany and the ordinary shown through the lens of interesting and realistic female protagonists. In our age of insipid, lazy, and cliché literature and filmography I found it truly refreshing to live the experiences of women with actual depth and character that extend further than either hopeless romantics who just need a man or vapid arm candy. Farnsworth crafts her characters with such care and insight that it was impossible for me to not to crack smiles as I read these misadventures. In each story I found myself relating with her characters, laughing with them or at them, and sincerely resonating with their emotions and struggles. I do acknowledge that from reading this as a male I may not have the correct perspective to fully appreciate this work, but did gain valuable insight from it that I hope readers of all genders can also reap.
After reading stories such as “The Canoe” and “Ten Reasons I Won’t Be Going To Heaven”, I continued forward with a secret hope that there would be sequels or continuations of these stories further on. The famous saying goes, “always leave them wanting more”, and Farnsworth certainly delivers on this front in the best way possible, and I still do hope that Farnsworth elaborates on these brilliant stories in her future work. All of that being said, each story was perfect in length and leaves the reader wanting more, yet satisfied with a complete story every time.
Although the stories are consistently high in quality and all have Farnsworth’s undeniably charming style, each story is also completely different. I never felt that I was reading the same story twice. Farnsworth’s range is beautifully demonstrated in this collection as her stories effortlessly jump from the relatively mundane to the extraordinarily bizarre. “The Beaver” is one of my personal favourites of this collection and the best example of how Farnsworth’s writing straddles these two ends of the spectrum with delightfully witty delivery. The story follows a crackpot scheme of two dysfunctional suburbanite drinking-buddies as they sip cocktails and discuss their plans to wreak havoc on those who have wronged them with a stray beaver who has made a home of one of their backyard pools. The story unfolds as the two lushes go from the best of friends to bickering over the slightest of perceived insults, and ends with one of the women hatching a new plan of betrayal.
In conclusion, I would highly recommend “The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind” to those seeking well-written, charismatic, and realistic female protagonists in literature, or to those who are simply fans of strong storytelling. I found the greatest charm in how realistic these stories can be. They detail the struggles, fears, and insecurities that women actually experience and showcase them to the reader through an entertaining adventure.
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