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We Could Stay Here All Night

by Debbie Howlett

Reading We Could Stay Here All Night, a collection of 12 linked stories by Montreal writer Debbie Howlett, is like consuming a designer martini – it’s small and flows like silk, but packs a punch.

The stories capture the formative years of Diane Wilkinson, a young girl growing up in a Montreal suburb in the 1970s with her mother, alcoholic father, and bossy older brother. Through Diane’s perspective, the world is a complicated place: Her adored father begins disappearing for long stretches before his alcoholism causes him to leave home for good; her mother dates a series of salesmen from the department store where she works; her brother shifts from her childhood ally to the world of grown-up men too quickly; and her well-meaning best friend Patty tries to initiate her into the secrets of sex and womanhood.

Howlett deals with serious domestic issues – alcoholism, infidelity, abandonment, and promiscuous, needy sexuality – without the hamfisted earnestness of a less skilled writer. Like Raymond Carver or Bobbie Ann Mason, Howlett’s literary realism creates a world that feels as authentic as the room around you. Despite her sometimes chaotic environment, Diane’s universe does not consist of a series of melodramatic scenes, but rather of small epiphanies: “I could see then that my father was never going to be able to stay sober, and that my mother was going to be a bad driver the rest of her life, and that I was going to go on eating bologna sandwiches until I looked like one.”

We Could Stay Here All Night is far from epic in its scope, and not for readers who like their family dramas writ large. But Howlett’s well-crafted evocation of time and place, from Pierre Laporte’s kidnapping to a Brownie meeting, create a world that is hauntingly familiar.