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Spare, elegant stories highlight humanity

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An Unrehearsed Desire
By Lauren B. Davis
Exile Editions, 255 pages, $23

WHAT happens to our unfulfilled desires? And what if they differ from our needs?

In her second collection of short stories, Canadian literary writer Lauren B. Davis tackles these questions, exploring the emotional landscape of fear, anger, loneliness and betrayal.

Though the situations she describes are commonplace, Davis's passion for her characters make them achingly real.

Thematically, her fourth book marks somewhat of a departure from her previous focus on mental illness. Her 2002 debut novel, The Stubborn Season, deals with a young woman in 1930s Toronto whose mother suffers from depression.

Her followup, The Radiant City (a 2005 Rogers' Trust Fiction Prize nominee) centres on a journalist suffering from post-traumatic stress after postings in several war zones.

Born in Montreal, Davis currently lives in Princeton. N.J., where she serves as the writer-in-residence at Trinity Church. Both her parents both grew up Winnipeg.

These stories, written in spare, elegant prose, feature a variety of protagonists, male and female, young and old.

Several stories centre on marital discord. Gestures tells about a Canadian couple living in Paris. The wife is forced to examine her marriage after she and her husband spend a disastrous evening with clients.

Reprised from Davis's debut collection of the same title, Rat Medicine is a powerful and suspenseful tale describing the efforts of a First Nations woman to extricate herself from her marriage.

In the title story, a menopausal housewife shoplifts at a love boutique and gets more than she bargained for. Other stories focus on the stormy relationships between children and their parents.

It Could Be Serious describes a socially inept teenager who spends weeks at home with scarlet fever, only to endure taunting by her classmates when she finally sees them again.

In Dirty Money, a 10-year-old girl loses her innocence over the course of a summer as a result of her aunt's visit and several chance encounters with pedophiles.

The six-year-old narrator of In the Memory House receives a coming home gift from her father, and confronts a lie about it many years later.

Throughout the book, Davis writes with a stunning clarity and economy of words. Her keen ear for dialogue is also evident. Her fly-on-the-wall accounts scratch beneath the surface, revealing each character, warts and all.

In the words of the late American writer David Foster Wallace, "fiction is about what it is to be a human being." Davis does much to affirm that statement.

 

Bev Sandell Greenberg is a Winnipeg writer and teacher.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2009 D4

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