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Other Stories and the Horse You Rode In On

by Dakota McFadzean

Montreal resident Dakota McFadzean was raised in Regina; his experience of growing up on the Prairies informs this superbly enjoyable collection of surreal short stories. McFadzean weaves the uncanny into his narratives, mixing familiar storytelling techniques with elements of the fantastic to capture emotions that are strikingly poignant and relatable.

McFadzean’s stories contain Gothic aspects, but his subjects are unique and odd: a child trapped in a hospital when his imagination comes to life, for example, or a man who must contend with birds nesting in the hole where his face should be. The weird elements, from ghost bunnies to garden gnomes, are rendered with the same careful brushstrokes as more realistic ones.

The stories follow a measured tempo, primarily employing a nine-panel grid that allows moment-to-moment beats. Throughout, McFadzean leaves room for the pregnant pause, the glance, the whisper.

If the collection has a shortcoming, it’s that the melding of the literary and fantastic results in stories that don’t know how to end. The longest entry, “Unkindness,” focuses on the loneliness experienced by intersecting characters in a small prairie town, counterpointed by the appearance of ravens acting in unnatural, yet not explicitly threatening, ways. The story is heavy with mood, but the final page offers only a symbol as conclusion – a circle stamped in the snow, a literal ellipse.

Of course, to dwell on the unsatisfying ending is to ignore the strange journey that brought you there. Other Stories offers a glimpse into a mind dedicated to opening up worlds of possibility just to see what might happen. Each story pits the limitless imagination and optimism of childhood against the realities of the adult world. Thankfully, the playfulness ultimately wins the day.