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What We All Want

by Michelle Berry

Michelle Berry’s two short-story collections are informed by a sharply mordant edge, their haunting characters anything but typical van-owning suburbanites. Her skilled first novel continues to dig over that terrain.

What We All Want is built around the death of a mother – a chain-smoking, agoraphobic mother, but a mother all the same. Death, Berry eloquently conveys, means not only loss but release and renewal, bringing together family members who haven’t seen fit to talk to each other for some time. Hilary, in living with her dying mother, has become distinctly peculiar, filling the house with dolls and turning the living-room floor into a beach with thousands of pebbles. Her two brothers haven’t visited in years, though Billy, the alcoholic (secretly unemployed) one, lives in the same town. Thomas, the handsome, successful (secretly gay) one, has settled across the country and is terrified of flying. Death also brings together old friends, notably Hilary and the funeral director who was once her childhood companion.

Berry, who lives in Toronto, builds her tale like a dark Shakespearean comedy. In place of the standard wedding scene wrap, she serves up a stunningly non-standard funeral rite, equal parts slapstick and tour de force. Although Berry takes on some discomfiting material that resists easy solutions or happy endings, at other times What We All Want feels a little too enjoyable to be Great Art. Her characters’ quirks and habits make them the kind of folks an Anne Tyler fan would embrace. It’s clear, however, that this is a writer who is spreading her wings.


Reviewer: Maureen Garvie

Publisher: Random House Canada


Price: $32.99

Page Count: 256 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-679-31077-0

Released: Jan.

Issue Date: 2001-1

Categories: Fiction: Novels

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