Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Short stories about online interaction addictive

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Toronto-based author and critic Shawn Syms serves as editor and contributor to this Winnipeg-published collection of short fiction focused on the changes to daily life (and literature) brought about by our addiction to the Internet and social media.

While it may seem that constant exposure to digital technology is at the very root of the perception literature and the printed word is on the decline, these engaging stories explore technology and its effects in interesting ways.

Some stories use texting, emails or Facebook as thematic elements or major plot components, like Steve Karas's Sixteen-hundred Closest Friends, which is about boyhood acquaintances who reconnect over Facebook.

Others use these elements to experiment with the very form of the narrative, such as Noughts & Crosses: An Unsent Reply by Steven Heighton, the premise of which is clear from the subtitle, or Textana by Christopher Woods, which is told through back and forth text messages between characters referred to only as "1" and "2."

Perhaps the greatest strength of the collection is its broad range. There are 27 stories in all, from well-established writers as well as newcomers, hailing from Canada and the U.S., and some that now live much farther abroad.

There is no tired or overused subject matter; each story finding an interesting and different facet to explore. Syms has chosen an excellent and varied lineup.

Most of the stories are quite short, giving the collection an addictive quality. Readers may find themselves saying "Just one more story, then I'll stop," only to plow through three or four more without a break.

A few stories stand out above the others. Deletion by Robert J. Holt is an intriguing meditation on how people continue to use social media even after the intended recipient has died.

SO MUCH FUN is told through descriptions of photographs taken during a rowdy girls' night out, some posted to Instagram, while others are kept unseen.

Heather Birrell's powerful No One Really Wants to Listen is about a woman using an online forum for expectant mothers. The story manages to show the complex motivations of that kind of online interaction -- sharing too much information with strangers but somehow feeling a profound connection with people you'll never meet.

One common thematic element in many of the stories is the possibility and allure of having an online persona different than your actual one. Some of the characters say things online they would never dare utter in person, while others are so deluded as to believe their online personality is more important than the real-world one.

Many of the authors here fully recognize technology and social media are here to stay, but there is still an anxiety about what the long-term effects might be.

The big thing to take away is these stories prove technology is not an enemy or rival of good literature. In fact, it is intriguing and loaded subject matter.

Whatever technological advances or changes to how we communicate in the future may hold, we'll always have good stories to tell about them.

Winnipeg author and teacher Keith Cadieux couldn't help but check his Facebook page while writing this review.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2013 g6

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