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When I Always Wanted Something

Carole Glasser Langille

" “That was the big mystery? He was married once and now he isn’t?” Carla asked. “That’s what was so hard to put into words?”…"

Reviewed by Frances Gapper

A friend criticised a reading I'd recently given. The first story was excellent and had gone down well with the audience, she said, but the second... Why had I chosen that one, the only dud story in the book? Nobody could understand a word. I said, but that particular story makes more sense to me every time I look at it. So that's why I love to read it aloud. Well, don't, my friend said. And another thing, she hadn't wanted to tell me this, but my first collection, frankly, was uneven. Some stories were good, some not so good. I replied, but isn't that true of all short story collections? And true of albums, too – my friend is a singer-songwriter – but I only thought of this afterwards, too late to draw the parallel. 

The quality of writing in this collection by Carole Glasser Langille, a Nova Scotia-based poet and university teacher, seems to me pretty consistently high. The first story was difficult to get into, but caught me with its dry observations: 

"My father was convinced that everyone in his life would disappoint him and he worked hard to set up situations so they did." 

"To talk with Ma you have to be willing to continually relocate to the bright side of the street." 

The narrator is having a conversation with his mother, while reflecting on family relationships. The point of it all isn't immediately clear, but then the story zeros in on Lori, the narrator's much younger wife. What's gone wrong in their relationship? She appears detached, hostile, and they've stopped sleeping together. The mother reveals what may be the explanation; something quite startling. Lori herself compels attention, while remaining hidden, filtered to us through her husband's perceptions, his sadness and over-readiness to give up on the marriage. 

The likely progress of Glasser Langille's storylines is never obvious, although they are uncluttered, clearly drawn. She conveys the tugs of feeling between people, of simple or complex connection. In Monhegan Island, for instance, a girl's attachment to her friend Anne's glamorous-seeming family, especially her unconventional older sister Kit, and her shock at Anne's later-life betrayal of Kit. Or how Lindsey, the unlucky-in-love writer protagonist of Sisters, comes to view her friend Carla's rebellious 14-year-old daughter Ava as a lifeline, a moral touchstone. 

These stories may at first give the impression of being calm and circumscribed – even parochial, insular – but they engage deeply with the lives of their various and varied characters, are unafraid and risk-taking. My Mother and my Neighbour takes the very considerable risk, like Lorrie Moore's novel Anagrams, of including an imaginary character – in this case one who, it's eventually revealed, actually died some while back. Much suspension of disbelief is required from the reader, even before this point. Elsewhere in the book, too, Glasser Langille employs certain storyteller's tricks which verge on being too tricky, over-artful, though her sleight of hand and ease with language produce moving effects. 

Some of these stories, then, are better than others. But isn't this the case with all short story collections?

 The Tiny Key, Frances Gapper’s booklet of flash fiction, was published in July 2009 by Sylph Editions, as part of the Ellipsis series. Her story collection Absent Kisses was published in 2002 by Diva Books. She has also written a children’s novel and one for grown-ups, and a gardens guide.
Frances' other Short Reviews: Oscar Wilde "The Model Millionaire"

Peter Hobbs "I could Ride All Day in My Cool Blue Train"

Publisher: The Mercury Press

Publication Date: Nov 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Awards: Longlisted, 2009 ReLit Award (short fiction) 

Author bio: Originally from New York City, where she studied with the poets John Ashbery and Carolyn Forche among others, Carole Glasser Langille now lives in Black Point, Nova Scotia. She has published three poetry collections and two children’s books. Several selections from her most recent book of poetry, Late In A Slow Time, have been adapted to music by Canadian composer Chan Ka Nin.

Read an interview with Carole Glasser Langille

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