Women of the Short Story Tour

I live at a tantalizingly inconvenient distance from Toronto. The accursed highway that links me to literary activity is a perpetual jam; what should be a 45-minute drive takes two hours most evenings.  So a 7:00 pm Toronto event  means I have to start getting ready at 4:30, which is why I’m mostly wearing sweats and listening to The Art of Noise as I teach my son to fold laundry when I could be in THE COMPANY OF GIANTS.

But occasionally, there’s an event right at my doorstep that blows me out of the water, thanks to my local bookstore which happens to be one of Canada’s best indies.  Tuesday saw the Women of the Short Story tour (from Biblioasis) stop at Bryan Prince Bookseller, where Rebecca Rosenblum, Cathy Stonehouse, and Laura Boudreau read from their story collections. I’d only read Rosenblum’s book prior to the event, but I’m remedying my omission as I write this post.

It was a wonderful evening. Each of the writers had different styles and different strengths–Boudreau almost gave a performance (I’m guessing she has a theatre minor, or at least some sort of stage experience), for she captured the cadences and attitude of her protagonist, a twelve-year-old girl who’s figured out a way to buy cigarettes without getting caught, with pleasing exactitude.  Stonehouse’s delivery was more deadpan–she’d sneak in these great lines and I’d pause, wondering if I’d heard right–and it was perfect for a piece about a woman who discovers she can speak to a dog.  In Rosenblum’s case, I was most invested in hearing how she read what she’d written–it was fascinating to note what she chose to emphasize and what she didn’t, and how my interpretation stacked up against the author’s original vision.

Oh, there was wine, and some very nice cheeses, which I might call artisan if I had any European genes.

And what’s a blog post about a reading without pictures? Courtesy the affable Ray Boudreau, we have photographs! And thanks to me, you have excerpts, all manually entered for this post.

Rebecca Rosenblum

“The evening was much the same as any. He showered and checked his email in his bathrobe (his brother updating his birding life list; lawyer-joke forward from former colleague; thanks from the young turks at the office for projections he’d sent). Then he watched The National while sitting on the foot of the bed, until there was a story about Kim Jong Il’s plutonium stores. Laurence shivered, and flipped off the set before the human-interest story about llamas, which weren’t human anyway, and slept quietly on his side of the bed. He dreamt of kimchi, a food he had never eaten but was surely vile.

But it was only the next morning that things really started to go to hell.

He did seven crossword clues waiting for toast before recalling that Syl kept the toaster was unplugged for fear of electrical fires. Straight from the fridge, the butter was hard and punctured the bread. He forgot to make the tea until he wanted to drink it, and then the first bag he found turned out to be utterly not Earl Grey but something gingery that promised, upon inspection of the packet, to ease gas pains with natural effectiveness. He didn’t know what that meant or what this product was doing in his home.” —The Big Dream.

Laura Boudreau

“You look beautiful, someone says to someone else. And it must be true because there can be no lies on a patio where people are whole-face laughing about a punch line that goes, But I thought you were writing a novel! I look around to make certain, and sure enough, we are beautiful. Even the man in the rumpled brown suit who is spilling his glass of wine is beautiful. He pinballs around the party, bumping into chairs and bouncing off elbows, veering towards a woman in a short skirt and particularly freckled legs. I am a poet, he tells her, emphasizing the “am”. Yes, I believe you, the woman says.  She says it with the sort of kindness that only comes from concerned strangers and friends who have seen you naked.” — Suitable Precautions

Cathy Stonehouse

“When she left the bank, her plan had been to open an attraction, lay it out along the front lawn. Derek had just been laid-off from his job as station-master, now that the company had introduced self-serve: sleek, digital ticket dispensers that required maintenance only once a week. People pay money to view attractions and she still had her pride, was determined to provide Derek and herself with a source of income, albeit one that did not necessitate her leaving the house.  Her original goal, she admits, was over-ambitious: a scale model of England circa 1972. Since Derek left, she has scaled back, is focusing instead on three dioramas, each entitled The England That Could Have Been. She still believes she can find a way to display them. One can go in the hall, one in the living room, the third in the kitchen, with perhaps a tea-shop situated out back.  Tourists often stop off for meals, en route to the Lake District, and she could put up a sign on the motorway: Cream Teas and Miniature Propaganda.” —Something About the Animal.

I relish discovering resonances between a writer’s work and my own experiences, both as a reader and in life, and I struck gold this time around.  Towards the end of the evening, I made the connection that Cathy Stonehouse co-edited a book about motherhood that was gifted to me shortly after the birth of my child, back when I was in a losing battle with the fanged beast produced by the marriage of social expectations of parenting with my own inadequacies as a mother.  (I still struggle, but the beast’s claws have indeed blunted with time). Double Lives is an anthology of courageous, sympathetic,  unsentimental pieces about being a mother, and I’ve gifted many copies of this wonderful book to mom-friends. If you are interested in this topic, do check out Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood.

No pictures of the wine and cheese, alas. But you can see how lovely the store is, and if you ever visit my city, I promise to take you there, and let you buy me a book.