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The Truth Is

by Mary Soderstrom

Lil of “What Lil Remembers,” one of 14 stories in Mary Soderstrom’s new collection, The Truth Is, is desperate to find comfort. With one child hospitalized and her husband away providing medical aid in disaster zones, Lil finds temporary solace in a fling with Greg, an acquaintance from her daughter’s daycare. “The world is such a sorry place,” she tells herself, “that it can do with as much neighbourliness as you can offer.”

Like Lil, most of these characters live in a Montreal of nasty weather and nastier neighbours. Soderstrom’s version of Montreal isn’t an advertisement for tourists, which makes her characters’ attempts to be neighbourly brave and often foolish acts. Elaine, the boss’s kept girl, throws herself in front of a bus at Victoria and Sherbrooke, distraught over an unwanted pregnancy; Rosie worries that her daughter will get caught up in the world of the “shooting galleries” along Parc; Carole fears being assaulted by drunken passersby, only to be seduced by a less than neighbourly drunken friend.

In spite of the inhospitable climate, each character nudges their way to a tentative, if not better, understanding of truth. Soderstrom isn’t satisfied with simple revelations, though, preferring instead to undermine her characters’ motivations with questions and self-doubts. Midway through “What Lil Remembers,” Lil re-evaluates her memories, admitting that she might have used her desperation as an excuse to fall into Greg’s arms. And yet it is never entirely clear what she truly remembers, nor what she chooses to forget. This is the coy, delicious effect of Soderstrom’s stories, and also the source of their melancholy.