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Arrivals: Short reads for busy days

Arrivals: Short reads for busy days
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Russell Smith is among Canada’s best short-story writers, so he’s a fitting choice as the first guest editor of Best Canadian Stories since longtime editor John Metcalf took his leave last year. There are 16 stories, by new and established writers, drawn from some 20 litmags and Canadian writing communities. I defy you to read Smith’s introduction, in effect a State of the Literary Nation address, and not proceed to the stories that follow.

The Colours of Birds, Rebecca Higgins, Tightrope

Rebecca Higgins writes short short stories, which is how she manages to contain 23 in this volume of 143 pages. In the title story, Higgins imagines herself into the world of Maud Lewis, the Nova Scotia folk artist. In “Sensitive,” a woman and her houseplant (named Mim, short for mimosa pudica) have much in common. That’s typical of a Higgins story: small cunning portraits of the lives around us. Higgins came in second in the Star’s short-story contest in 2013 for “The White Stain,” which is included in this debut collection.

Waiting: An Anthology of Essays, edited by Rona Altrows & Julie Sedivy, University of Alberta Press

Rona Altrows hit upon the idea for this collection while waiting for a train. She teamed up with fellow writer Julie Sedivy. The two of them set forth and solicited these 32 essays from Canadian writers, who address the universal experience of waiting (patient, bored, frustrated, stoic, heroic, meditative, grateful and more). Some are well known (Sharon Butala, Weyman Chan, Richard Harrison, Aritha van Herk), others less so, including a pediatric oncologist, a former yarn-shop owner, a physicist and a handful of poets.

The Children’s War, C.P. Boyko, Biblioasis

C.P. Boyko has said he often finds novels too long and short stories too short. His Goldilocks solution is evident in his ambitious fourth collection, with stories ranging from 7,000 to 40,000 words. The theme binding these five stories is power relationships. The first, “The Purpose of the Music Club,” concerns Matt Roades, who loved high school so much he became a teacher, only to discover that kids like rules and they would never regard him as one of them. A quirky collection — in terms of story length, the omission of a table of contents and a blank titleless page preceding each of the stories, perhaps to encourage readers to think of the work as a continuous narrative.

Lava Falls, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, University of Wisconsin Press

Here’s just a taste of the diverse worlds enclosed within this riveting new collection. A woman returns after 35 years to her survivalist childhood on a remote river in the eastern Arctic. A gay couple sees an abandoned infant on a bus bench in Rawlins, Wyo., and take it home with them to Manhattan. Fifty-something sisters, one heartbroken, the other in the grips of existential angst, go on an Antarctic cruise. Fully realized characters; stories that stick to your ribs.
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