Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Offbeat stories capture loneliness, uncertainty
CALGARY writer Naomi K. Lewis's offbeat collection of literary short stories features odd, insecure and sometimes desperate adolescents and young adults who stumble from one ill-fated, misguided experience to another, sometimes absurd, sometimes dangerous.
"My parents were always sort of gelatinous, just acquiring children and then squiggling into the background," states the adopted Bonnie Dey in Attachment, the title of which stems from a verbose, melodramatic and bizarre "attachment" to an email in which she applies to a soda company to pilot "the world's first self-contained extra-atmospheric rocket and skydiving device."
All of the parents are either physically or emotionally absent, leaving their children searching for connections with an odd assortment of people.
Flowing seamlessly from the tragic to the hilarious, the nine unusual tales set mainly in Canadian cities, are eccentric and original.
The scenarios, however, are believable, written as they are in a down-to-earth style that emphasizes the reality that people really are nuts.
I Know Who You Remind Me Of has been published by the literary imprint of Winnipeg house Great Plains Publications as its third annual Colophon Prize winner.
The book title isn't one of the stories' titles. None of the characters actually utters the words in the title, either. But because the stories are about young people, the title is suggestive of all of our struggles growing up, and that readers can see themselves in the characters.
In a particularly vivid depiction that presents the lunatic government office worker Arnaud in Flex, his sleep-deprived co-worker states that "Arnaud was dangerously obsessed with the flexible-hour system. He was obsessed with it like a gambler in a diaper is obsessed with the slots."
Lewis has a gift for delving into the anxious, self-absorbed minds of young people. Sensitively and comically, she explores the angst that, in the story Nix and Six, compels Tess to compose an ode to a blueberry muffin, in which she writes, apropos of nothing, "The sky is a cataract on the/ venomous eye of an arachnid/ with its legs stuck in a bowl of batter."
High school disloyalties and disappointments are sensitively portrayed, and though Lewis creates entertainingly directionless characters, she tells their eccentric stories without mocking them.
In Swear It, student Mia agrees to provide tutoring lessons to Hayato, a foreign exchange student as payment for his laptop; the problem is that the lessons threaten never to end.
This short story is emblematic of the collection in that it highlights the way in which all of the unique characters struggle with the unexpected consequences of their choices.
The longest story, Attachment, is a sensitive and funny portrayal of the aspiring female rocket-pilot's resentment and insecurity about her family and her place in it.
Ostensibly a resumé, the story's core is the attachment, in which Bonnie's potential employer is treated to the long version of her life story, complete with its moments of hilarity and disappointment.
Lewis's first book, the novel Cricket in a Fist was published in 2008 by the Maritime house Goose Lane Editions and, although most people are unfamiliar with her, it is not because she is untalented.
She conveys the loneliness and uncertainty of her characters engagingly and realistically. In scenarios ranging from the pathetic to the ridiculous to the touching, characters attempt to craft their identities and to form some kind of meaningful relationships, often to no avail.
Elizabeth Hopkins is a Winnipeg writer.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 13, 2012 J9
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