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The Falling Woman

by Shaena Lambert

Many of the stories in Shaena Lambert’s The Falling Woman are “domestic” in the best sense of the word: they reveal all that is odd and resonant about family dynamics. Like Alice Munro’s work, Lambert’s stories showcase intelligent women with complex inner lives negotiating the intricacies of relationships with lovers, children, and parents. In these tales, dinner-table dramas illuminate well-worn interactions and act as portals to the characters’ store of memories: “tangled thickets that existed all the time, just underneath, places that held their own kind of attraction.”

Both the title story and “Bare-breasted Women” explore the obvious links and legacies that bind mothers and daughters, but Lambert also pays close attention to those psychological states that resist articulation or seem to metamorphose moments after they crystallize. Her characters, like Munro’s, are often caught attempting to determine the precise warp and weft of their own experiences.

Lambert’s voice is entirely her own, though. It is a poet’s voice, sensual and evocative, particularly skilled at portraying such diverse settings as the Okanagan Valley and the edge of Toronto next to Highway 401, one of those “places that do not seem to want to exist.” She is also not limited to female perspectives or entirely naturalistic modes.

In “Terracotta,” she deftly renders the consciousness of a 13-year old boy whose sexual awakening spirals into wanton violence. The lush and creepy “Annunciation” explores the world of a beautiful young Toronto woman who spends her days working at Purlex Plastics, fending off strange hallucinations and the advances of her lecherous supervisor. Especially appealing is “The Chlorine Flower,” a surreal fable set in an industrial Saskatchewan suburb in which an exquisite, translucent flower grows from a chlorine vat, mesmerizing the workers. There are genuine emotions, striking images, and well-wrought wisdom here. The Falling Woman is an excellent debut.