I’m very late posting this. Give me slap on the wrist, please, because I ate up this collection on VICTORIA DAY when real, honest-to-god sunshine was just starting to exist again. I didn’t know how badly I needed that warmer weather until it was halfway through the weekend. My whole body finally relaxed, coaxed into a slothy laziness I hadn’t experienced in a long long time. Thankfully, the summer has been an ongoing stretch of lovely weather, but at the time I really needed that reminder of summer simplicity: a camp fire, a barbecue, a patio, Peterborough and cottage country (aka: home). I got all of that on Victoria Day weekend, and just happened to be carrying Andrew Forbes’ new short story collection from Invisible Publishing along for the day. What You Need was the perfect compliment for this kind of beachy weekend, though it’s much more of a layered, visceral “anti-beach read” meant to make you stop and let it all sink in.
Andrew Forbes‘ debut collection begins like you’ve just asked the quiet guy in the corner to tell you a story, and he does, without fanfare or flourish, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. He just let’s the words unfold, and it’s somehow the most interesting thing you’ve heard all week. Forbes is a quiet, humble dude in the corner, and his thoughtful stories seem to flow effortlessly from him (this is also probably a solid nod to Invisible’s excellent editorial team). These stories are well worth hearing.
I need miniature heartbreaks and little bursts of high school nostalgia (I Was A Willow). I need bold reminders of my small town (Jamboree). I also need (love and appreciate) more stories that don’t assume I’m a total moron who won’t “get it” if the moral of the story isn’t flashing in front of me in neon lights. And – cue publishing geek-out moment – I need more beautiful little books from Invisible, whose style and substance never let me down. Honestly, Leigh, if you wanna send me your front and backlist, I’d happily dedicate a whole shelf to those beauties.
Heather O’Neill is the perfect weirdo. She’s just the right mix of offbeat that makes you want to be her best friend, but it kind of scares you a bit too. Her imagination has the ability to be simultaneously quirky, tragic, surreal, and mysterious, while maintaining a precise control of her storylines. Heather O’Neill, author of the award magnets: Lullabies for Little Criminals and The Girl Who Was Saturday Night demonstrates this ability in her newcollection of short stories, Daydreams of Angels.
At first Daydreams of Angels sounds saccharine and a little cliche for a title, but since it’s Heather O’Neill, you know she’s going to underscore that whimsy with those sharp little jabs of tragedy and realness we’ve come to expect. Her novels tend to go for the sucker punch to the feels, but this collection of (fairy) tales stays put on the whimsical side of things than the narratives that befell Nouschka or Baby in their own stories. While her novels featured Magic Pixie Dream characters caught up in the real world, the contents of Daydreams of Angels are straight up fables for adults where everything is extraordinary.
What was Jesus like as an elementary school student, as told by an 11-year-old Mary Magdalene? How does the protagonist of a child’s story feel when that story is left unfinished? How about the history of a small town inhabited by clones? Somehow the stories read as both classic and contemporary, incorporating tufts of inspiration from just about everywhere. They are like stories you would want tell over a bonfire when you’re feeling warm and filled with wine. They’re perfect in a setting when you can forget reality or expectation and just enjoy the ride. You may not remember what you read the next day, but you’ll remember the experience fondly.
Sara Taylor has tapped into the very ugly side of girlhood in her novel Boring Girls. At times relatable and other times deeply unsettling, it’s a dark, bloody, and ultimately very sad coming-of-age story demonstrating the awful power that can come from emotional suffering.
Rachel has a lot going for her. Supportive family, good grades, creativity…but she has difficulty making friends at school and starts to get bullied for being weird and different. Classic, right? Not exactly. The anger Rachel feels after a particularly embarrassing confrontation with the token mean girl starts to fester inside of her. I think everyone can remember those moments of feeling so utterly vulnerable, weak, and powerless, it made you sick. Taylor perfectly captures this mindset in Rachel, but where it takes her is somewhere truly darker and more off-putting than I was anticipating. As most teens do, Rachel eventually discovers something to give her a kind of escape from all the crap in her life: metal music. Serious, screaming, graphic metal music (with some of the most creatively gross names i’ve ever heard). She meets Fern who shares her interests and they become fast friends. Wholly inspired by the metal music scene, they start a band and begin to break into the biz, but soon Rachel and Fern realize that the music industry can be just as traumatic and unfriendly to women as high school. When shit goes down, shattering their illusions, Rachel and Fern don’t shrink away from it all, they do the exact opposite. And it is a murderous mess.
This book won’t leave you warm and fuzzy in any way. Taylor takes you on a violent revenge spree of these two girls, who are (obviously) anything but boring. The first paragraph teases a massacre, and they aren’t exaggerating. The girls’ vulnerability and rage leads them on a destructive path towards retribution. It’s actually pretty badass as a fiction story, and also very horrifying when you think about how the actions that take place are (and are a result of) some pretty realistic situations encountered by women all over. Nonetheless, Taylor tackles the tough subjects here with unrelenting prose, and the result is a debut novel that is sometimes hard to swallow but even harder to put down.