I asked Random House for a review copy of Sleeping Funny for the most ignoble of reasons–I figured my neighborhood would appear in the book. Miranda Hill lives a few streets away from me. I once saw her at my local Shoppers Drug Mart. If you live in the sort of city Hollywood would pick for the alien invasion, you’re probably inured to this particular thrill, but seeing as I don’t, I do request books based on the recognition factor. But when I began reading, I realized that I had it all wrong. Yes, my hood was indeed portrayed in sumptuous detail, in a most illuminating light, but reading this book for those reasons was like visiting the Taj Mahal because I was looking for some shade.
Sleeping Funny is a collection of nine stories, one of which won the Journey Prize (Canada’s top prize for short stories) last year. Hill essentially examines how people react when confronted with the unexpected, but the latter précis does little justice to the wondrous variety of events and characters in this book. A smug middle-class neighborhood of professional women is shaken when a beautiful, bohemian artist moves in. A teen girl attends sex-ed class to find herself witnessing the conception scenes of all her classmates. A young widow plants a garden to deal with the death of her pilot husband in World War II. A woman maintains a hospital vigil for a man who jumped off a high-rise rooftop.
I was perhaps most struck by Hill’s generosity as a writer in giving the reader many points of entry for each story– through character, through humor, through story titles with multiple interpretations, and most importantly, through the truths lurking on each page. A character recalls the first time her husband hit her. “I couldn’t even remember Cy’s fist on me. It was as if something had pushed its way out from the inside like a latent cancer. ‘This is how I look as a beaten woman,’ I said. I tried it on like a uniform, and felt it settle on me like something I was always meant to wear.” Hill writes with uncanny perceptiveness, and she knows just how to inject the telling detail that’ll infuse a scene with depth and texture. Here’s a woman at neighbor’s house, serving plastic glasses of wine “as if they were her mother-in-law’s good crystal.” A child is so neglected that “his nails developed a rim of grime until, despairing of ever being told to clean them, he did it himself.”
So there was no way I’d miss the official release of this book or the chance to meet the writer. The launch, on Monday night, was hosted in inimitable style by Kerry of Bryan Prince Books, a store whose virtues I have long lauded on this blog. The room was packed, but my friend and I came early, and besides, we strategically deposited our handbags onto the good seats. (Men, I guess, slough off their jackets?) Hill read excerpts from three stories, and answered questions from Jeanie Macfarlane on her choice of form and her genesis as a writer. And yes, about her (our?) neighborhood. She also kindly signed my book with a personal inscription. In green ink. Given this book, I expected nothing less.
And here are pictures from that night, courtesy writer Ania Szado (check out her work, do).
Miranda Hill interviewed by Jeanie Macfarlane