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
"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
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.
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
Some of these stories, then, are
better than others. But isn't
this the case with all short story collections?
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.
Awards: Longlisted, 2009 ReLit Award (short fiction)
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.
with Carole Glasser Langille
this book (used or
Publisher: The Mercury Press
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