When Danila Botha burst onto the scene in 2010 with the story collection Got No Secrets, she was hailed as an emerging literary talent. Her voice was fresh, raw, and honest; her debut quickly established her as an author who was unafraid to tread into sensitive territory, writing in ways that felt so confessional it was sometimes difficult to remember that we were reading a work of fiction, not a memoir.
Following the release of her first novel, 2015’s Too Much on the Inside (Quattro Books), Botha returns to short fiction with For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known, a collection that might be her most triumphant work to date. Botha has tightened and refined her style without having lost a bit of her edge. Some artists grow and evolve throughout their careers while others go through a series of hits and misses: Botha is clearly part of the first camp. For All the Men has Botha delivering smart prose that seamlessly balances humour, disappointment, and dysfunction.
“Society’s definition of love is too narrow,” Botha writes in “Wolf Eyes.” “I mean, look at the movies we watch. They never tell you what comes next, after you fall madly in love with someone. They fade to black at the real test of anything.” This observation also serves as the crux of the book itself: the collection features individuals who are struggling for love and affection, sometimes in conjunction with misplaced intentions or dysfunctions that they have yet to become aware of.
In addition to sharp and perceptive characterization, Botha’s writing is perfectly paced. The reader repeatedly discovers moments in which everything seems to fall together: a character pulls you in, a beautiful scene is set, and before you know it, devastation unfolds.
There are so many secrets in this book, so many failures and shattered expectations. There are addictions and regrets, affairs and unrequited loves. But Botha is consistently sympathetic to her characters’ experiences. She never shies away from their ugly sides, but doesn’t fetishize them, either.
Botha is an incredibly fresh voice in Canadian literature, and this remarkably visceral and unforgettable collection feels like it’s only setting the stage for much more to come.