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The Traveller’s Hat

by Liza Potvin

Liza Potvin’s second book marks a change in genre for the Nanaimo resident; her first book was a memoir of childhood incest titled White Lies. The stories in her first fiction collection, The Traveller’s Hat, are framed by references to Hermes, trickster figure and god of travel. Accordingly, these stories all have something to say about transition and uncertainty.

Many of the stories shift back and forth in time; others incorporate the idea of travel more literally. The husband and wife in “Riding to Tibet” exasperate each other with different visions of travel and its possibilities. “You Are Here” describes an expat Christmas in Malaysia, then skips ahead to the characters’ scrambled futures. In “Ghost,” an ex-husband’s ghost makes regular visits to dance tenderly in the backyard with his former wife.

Potvin’s narrative situations are original and engaging, but opportunities to go deeper into character, probe a theme, or incorporate humour into the sometimes too-earnest tone are lost in ripe descriptive prose often bordering on cliché. The women in these stories are strong and independent, often in the process of healing. The men, however, are angry or selfish, or both, and their lack of dimension limits the insight into the relationships the stories describe.

A few pieces stand out.“Infant Colic: What It Is and What You Can Do About It” offers a wry and very believable 13-year-old narrator struggling with her self-image on a trip to a folk festival in the company of her exhausted ex-hippie mother. The husband in “Riding to Tibet” has real, if idealistic, needs. But lightened prose and more rounded characters would have made for livelier reading–in keeping with the spirit of Hermes.