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As In Music 

Kathy Page



"
Looking can strip skins, drain blood. Looking can abolish the other. There's a power in looking. I've discovered it over the years and that day in the garden was the first day when I realized what I had, and the only time I dared its use."
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Reviewed by Carol Reid

This collection begins and ends with very different but equally powerful stories. The first, I Like to Look, contains themes reminiscent of Classical Greek mythology and artifacts as superficial and contemporary as shiny red cars. This portentous opening paragraph immediately captured my interest- 

"I hadn't seen or heard of her for fifteen years. No one had. We sat in the garden, spaced equally around the circular table; she to my right and Bill, the man who brought her, to the left; in the middle a jug of lemonade. Their big red car gleamed in the drive. I wouldn't let them inside the house." 

An unnamed narrator endures the return of her adventurous and globetrotting twin, Dee, who has brought with her to the old family home her lover, Bill. He is a filmmaker who intends to shoot footage of the place for a documentary about Dee's odyssey through life. This horrifies the narrator, who has stayed at home, first caring for their mother and now for their Idiot Brother. Somehow, her lack of an outside life has given her a terrible power, which she has never dared use. Now, faced with losing the only things that have remained hers alone and yearning to catch and hold her sister to her, she finally allows herself to use her power. This is a chilling and oddly moving story. 

The final and eponymous story, As in Music, also presents a situation involving a mother and daughter, but here the main character runs away en route to visit her dying mother. The title seems to refer to the "rest", the space between bars of written music in which absence or silence is an active event. This is my favorite of the collection, perhaps because it offers some possibility of simple affection between the protagonist, Ruby, and the old farmer in whose house Ruby takes shelter. The earth in this story may still be fertile and arable, where in the other stories it tends to be stony, blasted and barren. 

Of Romance is a sparse, fragmented story of the various ways, frank and deceptive, in which people gather and struggle against sexual experience. Romance, in this story, seems to mean a sort of inveiglement which is wholly undesirable.

Lambing is a bleak, beautifully written winter's tale of deprivation, and the ways in which survival depends not only on the fittest but the weakest of the flock. This is an unflinching and harrowing depiction of the lengths to which a mother will go to protect her children and herself. 

In The Silver Man Page again focuses on a parent-child relationship, here between a young mother and her profoundly handicapped infant son. The way in which the young woman speaks to her unresponsive child is almost unbearably poignant, especially in counterpoint to the conversations she has with her self-absorbed neighbors, who are trying desperately to become parents themselves. This story is the precursor to Page's 1990 novel, Frankie Styne and the Silver Man, which is now available in a new Canadian edition. 

A barren emotional and physical landscape is the background for all the stories in this collection. So much has been lost to Page's characters and opportunities for solace and any kind of redemption are few and far between. There is a pervasive post apocalyptic atmosphere, but the details of the event are never made clear. In its wake, humanity has turned in on itself and broken its collective heart into rubble. 

There are moments of dark and absurd humor in some of the stories. In The Reason for Geese the protagonist achieves fleeting fame by charming sparrows into feeding out of his hand but is outdone by an interloper who attracts pigeons with cornflakes. Tragicomedy ensues. 

The placement of As in Music as the final story in the collection was a wise choice, I think. Page leaves us in a landscape a little less bleak, where, "a huge and beautiful silence seemed to gather…" at the close of this unusual and haunting collection.

Read one of the stories from this collection on Kathy Page's website

Carol Reid has recently completed a collection of thirteen stories set on the coast of British Columbia. She is an assistant fiction editor of Sotto Voce magazine.

Carol's other Short Reviews: "Crimini: The Bitter Lemon Book of Italian Crime Fiction"   

"Passport to Crime: The Finest Mystery Stories from International Writers"

Richard Matheson "Button, Button: Uncanny Stories"

Andrew Porter "The Theory of Light and Matter"

Fran Friel "Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales"

 

PublisherPhoenix Books

Publication Date: June 2008, Canadian Edition (First published 1990, by Methuen London, UK)

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Kathy Page has written six novels and is also an accomplished writer of short fiction. Her story, The Second Spring After Liberation, won the 1994 Bridport Prize. Her most recent novel, Alphabet, was nominated for the Governor-General's Award in 2005. She has taught writing in Estonia, Finland, the U.K and Canada and now lives on Salt Spring Island (Canada) with her family.

Read an interview with Kathy Page


Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Author's website: KathyPage.info (signed copies)

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If you liked this book you might also like....

Kelly Link "Stranger Things Happen, stories" 

Charles D'Ambrosio "The Point & other stories" 

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