A radiant debut
Snappy stories glow with distinguished dialogue
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/08/2021 (570 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
This first book from Toronto’s Sofi Papamarko is a varied collection of a dozen short stories, and most of them are blessed with lively first-person narration and scintillating dialogue.
Take, for example, this observation by the narrator of In Heaven, Everything Is Fine: “The ancient Greeks loved stories about rape. Especially as perpetrated by the gods, because they were righteous and untouchable — not unlike today’s athletes and politicians.”
Most of the characters in these stories are intriguing and yet a lot like people you know, and the situations are in most cases engrossing.
Papamarko’s opening story, Margie & Lu, is told in alternating first-person passages by two 17-year-old sisters who are literally joined at the chest cavity. “We share most vital and reproductive organs,” Lu says. “We’re conjoined twins.”
Margie is an extrovert and Lu an introvert, and their contrasting viewpoints — in their dialogue and their thoughts — make for an engaging and oddly funny narrative, but the reader is given little information on how they actually function and how they look to other people.
The snappy little story The Pollinators is told by Min about the dinner party she and husband David host for David’s business partner Stuart and his wife Camelia. Min gets turned off by Stuart’s blather, such as “Global warming is a scam by leftists and social justice warriors! It’s fake news.” David stands by his loutish buddy, to the detriment of David’s relationship with Min. She counters minutes later “Did you know that David can’t get me pregnant?… Good at stocks, bad at storks, aren’t you, darling?”
Everyone You Love Is Dead presents Rosie the matchmaker, whose shtick is to go to funerals to pick out widowers for dates and line them up with wealthy widows who pay her well. At the funeral that opens the story, Rosie shows her technique, meeting the widower and telling him how she knew his wife (usually a lie), and conducting the same old exchange:
“ ‘I’m sure she would have been touched by your presence here, Mrs. … ?’
“ ‘Oh, I’m not married,’ I’ll say.
“ ‘Attractive young lady like you?’ they’ll say. ‘Why on earth not?’
“ ‘I was engaged once,’ I’ll say. ‘Everyone I love is dead.’
“ ‘Me too,’ they’ll say with downcast eyes. Then they’ll look back into mine, searching. And I’ll know I have them… That’s when I go in for the kill.”
The title story presumably takes place in the 1920s when an American radium company has invented “Undark,” a luminous substance that is painted on to clock and watch dials and numbers.
The young women who apply the paint — with a brush brought to a sharp point by their lips — are called Radium Girls.
One of these is narrator Elda Morrelli, who is amazingly good at painting watches, and the girls use radium paste to highlight other surfaces, like a bride’s teeth.
The man who developed Undark visits the factory and warns the women against touching the paste with their mouths, but after he has left, their boss says there’s no problem. What amounts to a dark twist is the increasing illness of the workers, while Elda thrives — or, rather, glows.
Though some of these short stories seem to cry out for more polished endings, Sofi Papamarko must be praised for her natural spontaneity.
Dave Williamson is a Winnipeg author whose lone collection of short stories is called Accountable Advances.
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