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Foreigners

by Stephen Finucan

Stephen Finucan’s second book of short fiction offers readers a paragraph from Emerson’s Self Reliance as an epigraph. The paragraph includes the famous lines: “Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places.” These lines are paraphrased in the penultimate story, “To Have Not,” by a character who spent his youth looking after his mother, and, orphaned at mid-life, spends his days on a beach dreaming of being a writer but producing nothing.

He is one of a host of characters who are on various journeys or settled in foreign locales, living blocked, meaningless, or unresolved lives, but doing very little to improve their situation. Despite their inaction, the characters are transformed in small but profound ways, which Finucan illustrates in the their changing relation to the surrounding people, objects, and landscapes. These environments are constructed with patience and tremendous subtlety.

In the title story, the protagonist, retired and living alone in rural western Canada, returns from his routine walk to discover an aimless traveller pressing her face against his window. After he begrudgingly lets her stay the night, the greasy smudge she’s left on the window punctuates the annoying intrusion on his ritualized existence. However, when a two-day dance of conversation and storytelling forms a poignant, if tenuous, bond between the two, Finucan revisits the same stain on the window, now vividly transformed by the weight of the narrative and the changes within the character himself.

In each of these carefully conceived worlds, it is only at the end that we discover the true weight of the characters’ transformations, or lack thereof, forcing us to look back at our prior perceptions. Finucan’s powerful stories about struggling with inertia force us to consider the consequences of our own inaction.