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Debut short-story collection a stunner

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Victoria, B.C.-based Eliza Robertson has been making a big name for herself in Canada's literary community. Last year alone she was a finalist for the 2013 CBC Short Story Prize, was shortlisted for the 2013 Writer's Trust Journey Prize and won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her story We Walked on Water.

It's safe to say the release this month of the twenty-something's debut collection of short stories, Wallflowers, comes with some high expectations -- expectations that, happily, don't disappoint.

The aptly titled collection is written in such a way that Robertson invites the reader into her 17 stories. The reward here is that these are not stories that are simply told; rather, the reader can feel a part of them. They're stories where the reader plays a character in the background, silently watching and observing as the events unfold.

-- L'Etranger shows the relationship between incompatible roommates who go to great lengths to avoid awkward exchanges, but whose relationship ultimately comes to a slimy head.

-- Missing Tiger, Camels Found Alive (inspired by an actual CBC news brief from 2010) sees a unhealthily infatuated man steal a tiger and two camels from the parking lot of a motel because he believes the woman he's with to be the Queen of Central Ontario, and that royals must own exotic pets.

-- Roadnotes follows the letters of sister Sidney to brother Spencer as she travels by car from Montreal down through the U.S. eastern seaboard in pursuit of autumn. Each letter reveals a little more than the last about a dysfunctional family past.

-- Sea Life (originally published by the great and underrated online journal Little Fiction) finds a woman in the aftermath of a car accident, the loneliness she feels, and the companionship she finds in a neighbour's family dog.

-- We Walked on Water, Robertson's Commonwealth Prize-winning short story, is a dark, almost eerie, story about two teenage sibling triathletes as they train for the Iron Man competition in British Columbia.

-- Worried Woman's Guide tells the story of a woman who ends up in the care of her ex-husband's son (a man whom, until then, she had never met) after forgetting to change some crucial contact info. The man ends up caring for the woman as she recovers from her oophorectomy, and the pair form a brief bond over the trapping and tagging of hummingbirds.

The collection doesn't rely on cheap tricks such as gimmicky twists and turns for the sake of shock value, but instead focuses on the little decisions people make, how they shape us, and how we connect and relate to the human condition.

To quote fellow Canadian short-story writer Trevor Corkum: "(Robertson's) stories are ambitious, intimate and possessed of an almost poetic compression of language and image."

This collection isn't simply held loosely together by a select handful of award-nominated and award-winning stories either; rather, Wallflowers contains great story after great story after great story.

In other words, Wallflowers is proof that this up-and-coming writer has finally arrived.

 

Adam Petrash is a Winnipeg writer who enjoys people-watching.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2014 G6

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Updated on Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 9:10 AM CDT: Formatting.

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