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Fidelity

by Michael Redhill

Michael Redhill’s literary trajectory from poet to playwright to fiction writer is a common enough pattern in this country, but his level of accomplishment is exceptional. Short-listed for a Governor General’s Award in 2001 for his play Building Jerusalem, in 2002 he won the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada first novel prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Martin Sloane, a novel that was also shortlisted for the Giller and Trillium prizes.

It’s also not unusual for stories to be packaged to catch the slipstream of an author’s acclaim, but Fidelity lives up to Redhill’s own high standards. These are wonderful stories, polished, mature, fresh. Redhill slips convincingly into many personae a devout, middle-aged Jewish man pondering vasectomy, a young female academic fighting off a panic attack. His characters rarely feel autobiographical, except perhaps for the poet in “Human Elements,” whose depression lifts during an encounter with a couple of frog researchers. The dialogue is deft, often funny, and keeps us listening closely.

A leitmotif is the yearning for a way to plot reality on a graph, to sort out the baffling web of relationship and life. In “Long Division,” a child burdened with genius tries to quantify his parents’ behaviour to assess the risk of domestic implosion. Families – couples, especially – are poignantly vulnerable in these stories, and all the openness, tenderness, and gaiety in the world are no protection against some seismic shift. In one of the most powerful stories, “The Victim, Who Cannot Be Named,” parents who pride themselves on an open, “healthy” attitude to sexuality discover a videotape of their 17-year-old daughter having sex with two boys. Her father, in his need to do something, to act where no action may be possible, risks all he has.

Again and again, innocence is lost, identity shaken by knowledge of a flawed moral core. But Redhill’s human beings are resilient, and even in the midst of crisis or debacle something is found.