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Country of Cold

by Kevin Patterson

Country of Cold is the first fiction offering from Kevin Patterson, author of the sailing memoir The Water in Between. The collection’s 13 stories follow the lives of a group of small-town Manitoba graduates as they leave high school, explore the world, fall in and out of love, and limp home for a class reunion. There is Lester, growing fat as a bartender, and Cora, Daphne, and Paul, who become doctors. Robert moves to Montreal, has a brief affair in Paris, and marries and divorces before coming home.

“The world wears us all down,” Robert concludes after he has dragged himself back to Manitoba. “This is improbable but potent solace.” It is a mood that may sustain one story, but is fatal to a collection. The characters meander across the map, struggling to find a point to their lives, and the stories reflect this too well: brief epiphanies are overwhelmed by pointless detail and a general lack of insight. Character development is buried under great heaps of exposition – about boatbuilding, artillery rounds, medical trivia – that struggles toward metaphor before finally collapsing under its own weight.

The most successful story is “Boatbuilding,” in which Carol rebuilds her life after leaving her husband and daughter. More typical is “Insomnia, Infidelity, and the Leopard Seal,” in which Robert ruminates about the connection between insomnia and depression, watches late-night animal documentaries, and alludes to infidelity.

The stories are not arranged chronologically, so each one ends with the line: “This was in (year).” It’s an annoying device that undermines any sense of drama and gives each story the feel of anecdote. The collection predictably ends with a class reunion, an epilogue that doesn’t function as a story in itself but merely ties up loose ends. If there is solace, it is cold comfort in this chilly country.