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by Annabel Lyon

What’s happening in Vancouver? The availability of high-grade espresso may be responsible, but the city’s newest fiction writers are certainly subverting the regional stereotype of West Coast mellow. The past couple of years have seen sparky debuts from Zsuzsi Gartner and Anne Fleming; now comes Annabel Lyon’s blazing collection, Oxygen.

“Black” opens the book and sets the tone, with its spiky language and vertiginous leaps through time and mind. It presents a knot of relationships that the reader slowly unravels, as a young man hosts a party in celebration of his mother’s impending death. What begins as a dark comedy about an eccentric family gradually turns into something else entirely: an unnerving tale of mental decline and loss. It’s a bravura performance, one that flirts dangerously with being too elliptical. But Lyon’s certain grip on the emotional truths behind the story sustains its power.

Not all the stories in Oxygen are as experimental as “Black,” but they share a cinematic quality, in both visual keenness and extremity of character – teenage thrill killers, elderly Nazis, and obese stalkers. Lyon replaces personal history with telling detail, leaving psychology open to speculation. Still, she manages to make her characters’ very obscurity intriguing. Lyon’s people are stylized, yet human and convincing.

But it’s the prose, vivid and unpredictable, that pushes Oxygen above the merely offbeat. Lyon’s dialogue crackles even in repose. A babysitter tells her daughter, “You’re just in time…. We’re going to shellac some gourds.” A distracted young man exclaims, “The brain is some fancy meat.” While a few of the stories do edge into an annoying verbal precocity, for the most part Lyon manages to combine invention and discipline: a rare combination, especially in a first collection.

Rarely too, is minimalist fiction so lively, funny, and impassioned. Oxygen is caffeinated writing, in the best sense.


Reviewer: Lisa Godfrey

Publisher: The Porcupine’s Quill


Price: $16.95

Page Count: 160 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-88984-212-4

Released: May

Issue Date: 2000-5

Categories: Fiction: Short

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