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Wallflowers

by Eliza Robertson

The debut short-fiction collection by B.C. author Eliza Robertson is carefully composed – perhaps too much so. The collection’s 17 stories – including “My Sister Sang,” which was shortlisted for the Writers’ Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize – offer rich characterization and a notable degree of formal experimentation. But the highly controlled prose is sometimes light in plot development, and includes descriptive diversions that detract from effective pacing.

Based on a news story about animals in rural Quebec abducted en route to Ontario’s Bowmanville Zoo, “Missing Tiger, Camels Found Alive” is a curious character study of a man who steals exotic animals as a quirky tribute to his lover. He quotes an Édith Piaf song and a William Blake poem, and considers overheard snores “plangent.”

“Where Have You Fallen, Have You Fallen?” addresses relationships between Canada’s First Nations and European settlers (not to mention humanity and its natural surroundings) through the lens of the emotional attraction between a young man and woman. The elaborately descriptive story uses reverse chronology, and the final sentence depicts a canoe discovered in the woods by the female character, Natalie. “Suspended in pine, the wood silvered, it looked like a vessel errant from Nod, swan nosed and lined with eiderdown, ferrying heavy lidded children between dreams.” This conspicuously freighted representation forms an overtly poetic, overly abrupt coda to the story.

Wallflowers closes with “We Walked on Water,” which won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. This sharply drawn tale features terse and vivid descriptions, and the immediacy that many of the other stories lack. Two teen siblings prepare for an Ironman event, their parents “staring out the window, buttering their scones.” After all their preparations, the day takes a tragic turn. The brother recounts: “I remember her in screenshots. Like she’s in motion, but my mind can only capture single frames. That’s how I imagine her in the lake.” This is a near-perfect portrait of aching loss.