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Oh, My Darling

by Shaena Lambert

Shaena Lambert’s second collection of short stories continues to exhibit the narrative prowess of her previous collection, 2002’s The Falling Woman, and her novel, Radiance. With a subtle but consuming strength, the 10 stories in Oh, My Darling examine the complex and fraught domains of family dynamics, friendship, love, betrayal, and loss, featuring characters on the verge of being unsettled as they seek to understand themselves and their roles in often strange and devastating circumstances. Fulfilling the promise of her debut, Oh, My Darling proves that Lambert has earned a place in the tradition of talented Canadian short-story writers.

In the title story, Vanessa contemplates her role as a mother and wife while unexpectedly facing her mortality. Lambert’s bold and risky choice of a second-person point of view pays off, providing an immediacy and intimacy that reinforces the narrative. The main character in “Crow Ride” is surprised to find herself drawn to an itinerant young man while struggling with the loss of her own son to a drug overdose. In “The Wind,” my favourite among the stories, a woman visits an old friend and her family, intending to help out during a difficult time, and instead is confronted with the disastrous consequences of her actions.

Given the terrain and themes of her fiction, it’s inevitable that Lambert’s stories have been compared to Alice Munro’s, but Lambert’s voice is her own – strong and invigorating – and her work never feels derivative or eclipsed by this comparison. Oh, My Darling delves unflinchingly into both the beauty and ugliness of humanity, and the ways we relate to one another. The author displays a skilful control of pace, creating just the right amount of tension. In all of these stories, Lambert pulls the reader in with deft and seamless prose, complex characters, insight into our often contradictory emotions, and the originality of her voice – a combination that results in an absorbing and vivid book.