Reviewed by: Nancy
3 out of 5 stars
These twenty superbly crafted linked stories navigate the difficult realm of friendship, charting its beginnings and ends, its intimacies and betrayals, its joys and humiliations. A mother learns something of the nature of love from watching her young daughter as she falls in and out of favour with a neighbourhood girl. An intricate story of two women reveals a friendship held together by the steely bonds of passivity. A chance sighting in a library prompts a woman to recall the “unconsummated courtship” she was drawn into by a male colleague. With trenchant insight, uncommon honesty, and dark humour, Elizabeth Hay probes the precarious bonds that exist between friends. The result is an emotionally raw and provocative collection of stories that will resonate with readers long after the final page.
I was at the McGill University Bookstore looking for something by a Canadian writer I hadn’t heard of. On the sale table, I came across this collection of stories by Elizabeth Hay, finalist for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Award, and the Rogers Communications Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Impressive.
Bethie is the narrator of the story. Was Bethie a fictional character or was the author revealing certain aspects of her life and personality through the main character? Maybe a little of both. At times Bethie seemed too real, too honest. I often felt like I was intruding on her private thoughts.
“And here was I, where I had wanted to be for as long as I had been away from it – home – and it didn’t register either. In other words, I discovered that I wasn’t in a place. I was the place. I felt populated by old friends. They lived in my head amid my various broodings. Here they met again, going through the same motions and different ones. Here they coupled in ways that hadn’t occurred really. And here was I, disloyal but faithful, occupied by people I didn’t want to see and didn’t want to lose.”
These loosely linked stories delve into women’s friendships – the difficulties, the joys, and how love, loss, marriage and children can change friendships over time. Reading these stories forced me to examine my own life and contemplate why I have difficulty maintaining close friendships. Maybe it started when I was a child, much too introverted and different to fit in. Or when I was a teenager, forced to leave my two closest friends behind when my parents wanted to leave the big bad city. These stories made me glad I keep people at a distance and manage to avoid the problems that can happen between friends. They also make me feel that I’m missing a vital part of life.
Also posted at Goodreads.