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Closer Apart: The Ardara Variations

by Gayla Reid

The cover of Gayla Reid’s Closer Apart shows a tree viewed from somewhere near the base. From this perspective, it’s impossible not to recognize one’s own relative height and to marvel at the branches – how they join, and the many directions they reach into the sky. It’s an obvious but appropriate reference for this collection of stories that traces one Australian family tree along three generations, examining how the characters are related, and how many times removed.

Reid’s short stories have won numerous awards, including the 1993 Journey Prize, and her first novel was published in 2000. This current work is a hybrid of the two forms. Each story is a separate entity, with a variety of fresh supporting characters, but the impact and beauty of each piece is enhanced by the accumulated knowledge that interlaces the fragments of a family.

In “Living with Heroes,” a child recovering from polio looks for heroes in her midst, and misses the sister who masquerades as her mother. An illegitimate granddaughter referenced briefly in “Almost Touching” unwittingly returns as a lover in “The Three of Them, Laughing.” With well-examined details and the timely revelation of secrets, Reid brings the reader into the family’s confidence.

Like the collection’s final protagonist, Bernadette (who also appears in Reid’s novel All the Seas of the World), Reid has one foot in Australia and one in Canada, where she has been living for 30 years. If Reid’s Australian territory is foreign to Canadian readers, it will quickly take shape through her vivid description of the brilliant colours of the land and the blue borders of sky and sea. The intense relationship of the characters to their rugged landscape should make readers of Canadian literature feel right at home.

Reid is certainly not making any new pronouncements about the relationship of the individual to family and place. But in Closer Apart, she gives us a beautifully rendered take on one family’s version of a universal theme.