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Traplines: Stories

by Eden Robinson

Remember the name Eden Robinson. You will be seeing it again, on other covers.

Born on the Haisla Nation Kitamaat reserve in British Columbia, Robinson, 27, is a writer of startling promise, someone with unique material who needs more practice controlling the tone and voice of her stories. That she has talent is indisputable: she has already won such top literary honors as the Canada Journey Short Story Prize and the Prism Award.

In Traplines, Robinson delivers three short stories and a novella-length piece of fiction called “Contact Sports,” a wrenching tale about a teenager named Tom who is terrorized by his apparently psychopathic cousin Jeremy. “Contact Sports” is at times excruciatingly painful to read, so faithfully does Robinson recreate a dysfunctional family being destroyed from within. Only in the last third of the story does Robinson’s control of narrative tension waver so that her writing fails to exact the maximum impact from Tom’s attempted revenge upon his sadistic cousin.

Of the collection’s other three stories, the title piece is the most memorable. In “Traplines,” the protagonist is again a teenage boy, this time named Will, also trapped in a destructive family.

For the most part, Robinson’s stories are stark, deadpan, unvarying in tone. If there is humour, it is bleak, sardonic. She wastes few words on “fancy writing,” but when she does interrupt her interior and exterior dialogue long enough for description, it’s memorable. In “Seven and Counting,” a young female narrator is haunted by memories of her mother, a serial killer. The story is surreal, over the top, but Robinson captures Lisa’s internal reality through powerful imagery: “‘Wearing my blue dress, I walk calmly into the lake. The pebbles on the shore are all rose quartz, round and smooth as Ping-Pong balls. As I go deeper into the lake, my dress floats up around me. When I am in up to my waist, I see the moose surfacing. It rises out of the water, its coat dripping, its eyes and ears filled with dirt. It towers over me, whispering, mud dribbling from its mouth like saliva. I lean toward it, but no matter how hard I try, I can never understand what the moose is saying.”

Traplines portrays a world totally bereft of both childhood innocence and adult protection. It is an enclosed yet compelling place, and Robinson gives no quarter in telling of it.