Michael Christie’s debut collection of nine linked stories is dazzling. Drawing on his experience working in a homeless shelter in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Christie explores the intense humanity of people living on the margins of society. His characters include addicts, homeless people, hospital patients, and those who interact with the city’s outcasts.
That these stories are so compelling is due, in part, to Christie’s ability to describe the broken lives of people who are often the architects of their own suffering. In “Emergency Contact,” a woman calls 911 because she thinks she is in love with one of the city’s paramedics. Perhaps she is, but her loneliness and need for contact are painfully evident. And Christie makes clear that just because she is troubled, she is not without insight into the human heart: “If someone tells you they love you for you, it means they will love you as long as you act like who they love – that is who they want to love.”
The stories eschew wrist-slapping retreats into tidy morality. Christie manages to create sympathy for his characters, no matter how damaged or drug-addled. In the title story, a man’s marriage unravels and he befriends a panhandler who has been incarcerated in a mental hospital for most of his life. Several characters engage in begging and dumpster diving; in “Discard,” a man leaves food in dumpsters for his homeless grandson to find.
Employing straightforward, disarming prose, Christie gives voice to the disaffected and unwanted figures in our society, forcing readers to pay attention to a class of humans they would most often ignore.