Quill and Quire


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by Nadine McInnis

The 14 stories in Nadine McInnis’s Quicksilver are linked by a spectrum of characters somehow experiencing revelations in the midst of suspended lives. Mercury, the rare metal also known as “quicksilver,” is a recurrent image, pointing to the “unpredictable temperament” that results when the physical world acts upon the mental constitution.
In “Bloodlines,” a woman who exposed herself to hepatitis and HIV by helping an injured baby is unprepared for the introspection the crisis affords her; in “The Lotus-Eater,” a wife and mother who regrets having rejected the advances of her married neighbour indulges him upon his deathbed in an imagining of their unconsummated tryst. McInnis further plays upon these contrasts by juxtaposing the Canadian landscape against suburban and urban backdrops. Donut shops are contrasted by rivers; church gardens and animal farms are pitted against power plants, paper mills, and hospitals.
Irony is also a strong undercurrent throughout the stories. In “Auguries,” a man who once believed that love was disposable is predisposed to pick up his loved ones’ garbage, and a woman with a lump in her breast encounters a sound she hasn’t heard since childhood, now portentous: the bell-tolling of a cart-driven knife-sharpener. Less successful is McInnis’s insistence in one story on referring to characters with gender-indicating pronouns until the story reveals their respective relationships to one another. Doubtless an attempt to encourage reader-character identification, the technique results in some initial character confusion.
The stories remain accessible despite being rife with literary allusions (Donne, Tennyson, de la Roche). McInnis’s prose is galvanized by deft dialogue and imagery that keens with a poet’s sensibility, and her recurring themes are hauntingly conveyed without lapsing into excessive grimness.