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Silent Girl

Tricia Dower

For the first time she wanted to speak to them, ask them what it was like. Wanted to kick them for not knowing English. Pound them with her fists for knowing something more important. Maw-Maw could decide any day that Matsi was ready for go-go. She had to convince her voice to trust Lionel."

Reviewed by Kim Junker

Silent Girl explores universal themes-racism, domestic abuse, rape, etc.-and the impact these issues have on women’s lives. Dower’s stories capture the essence of the battle women face in being true to themselves - Should they remain silent and keep their secrets or speak out and share their truths? What power do their words have? And what power their silence? How can they find a balance between being trapped and being free, and what responsibility must they take in creating that balance? 

Dower writes in an easy-to-read style that immediately draws the reader in and connects them with the characters, as if one is glimpsing the lives of a neighbor up the street or one of their closest friends. Her descriptions are brief but powerful: "It hurts less if I think of her as Faye" to describe a character’s relationship with her mother or “…wrong history on my skin” to explain a white woman’s view of the chasm between her and her black husband.

The stories conclude naturally enough, allowing the reader to draw from their own experience and create their own progression of events past the written word. However, because the women’s struggles are ongoing, there really are no endings to the stories, just natural places to pause and reflect before resuming the activity of living. 

My favorite, Nobody; I, Myself, describes the effects of racism and social isolation on one interracial couple during the Vietnam Era, but particularly its effects on the Caucasian wife. Traditionally empowered by virtue of her skin color, the nameless narrator (perhaps knowing her name is unimportant because the reader is only meant to see her through the lens of that time) feels trapped (“…my shoulders ache from carrying his mood around with me.”) and makes a decision leading to a devastating conclusion. This woman was effectively silenced by the crushing weight of her cultural inheritance and what she saw as an inevitable ending. 

Another favorite of mine is Deep Dark Waves, an intense and disconcerting glimpse into the “other” side of domestic abuse. As a guest speaker to raise money for women’s shelters, a woman tells her story of abuse and the kidnapping of her daughter by her husband. What she shares with the audience versus what she shares with the reader will leave the reader questioning their understanding of domestic abuse as well as the “stories” women tell regarding their relationships and the secrets they keep even from themselves. 

Dower has written an entertaining, thought-provoking and sometimes disturbing collection of short stories chronicling the lives of various women as they come to know themselves. The stories are inspired by Shakespeare plays and, as an added bonus, Dower has included a Glossary of Terms for each story as well as a study guide which includes two sets of questions - one for those with knowledge of Shakespeare and the other for those without- to stimulate reflection and discussion. 

Although a brief summary of the Shakespearean play and the story it inspired is included in the Study Guide, it is necessary to have more than a rudimentary knowledge of the play to answer the "If you're into Shakespeare" questions. If you are a lover of the bard, you will appreciate the opportunity to delve into the parallels between the stories. Luckily for the reader, Ms. Dower's stories stand alone and provide questions for "If you're not" into Shakespeare that will also stimulate discussion and reflection.  I would recommend this collection to anyone who values a woman’s complexity.

Intrigued? Read excerpts from the collection on chapters.indigo.ca.

Kim Junker enjoys writing poetry and short stories in her spare time and has enjoyed reviewing stories on Zoetrope. She particularly likes the short stories of Chekhov. This is her first opportunity to review a newly published work and she finds it very challenging and rewarding.


PublisherInanna Publications

Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Tricia Dower has published her fiction in several journals such as Room of One’s Own, The New Quarterly, Hemispheres, Cicada, NEO, Insolent Rudder and Big Muddy. She lives in Canada.

Read an interview with Tricia Dower

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Inanna

Author's recommended booksellers:
Small Press Distributor (SPD) Books





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