This locally penned collection of short stories contains beautifully evocative portrayals of women who find the strength to deal with the challenges life throws their way.
What You Get at Home is about family, relationships and home, about having to leave home and start all over again to create a new one.
It is the third work of fiction from Winnipeg-based Dora Dueck, and a few of its 15 stories deal with similar Mennonite subject matter as her 2010 novel This Hidden Thing, which won McNally Robinson book of the year award at the Manitoba Book Awards.
Dueck's stories are reminiscent in style and imagery — and focus on strong women — of Margaret Laurence, whom Dueck regards as one of her inspirations.
Many of the stories here are set in Winnipeg. Some take place in Russia and Paraguay. Many of the characters are Mennonites. The struggles of the women and the themes of home, family and relationships transcend these specifics, however, for such things are common to many women.
Dueck paints pictures with her precise, carefully chosen words in such detail that the reader is drawn into the landscape of the stories and can easily see and feel the unfolding of events.
There is also a cadence and poetic rhythm to her sentences that only enhance the vivid imagery.
This is especially true of the story My Name Is Magdalena, in which an elderly Mennonite woman living in Winnipeg looks back on her life and tries to tell her heart-rending story in a brief series of notes.
She writes of her children, three of whom died, three of whom disappeared and one who survived. Her husband cheats. She flees Russia (or what is now Ukraine) because of the Second World War and much later finds refuge in Winnipeg.
"I was like Hagar, despised and cast away," Magdalena says. "I was part of that long furrow of women and old men and children before the German army, retreating. Groaning out of one homeland and into another."
In The Village of Women, Ava's grandmother decides to tell Ava, who is gay, about parts of her life she has kept secret. The Mennonite woman had fled Russia during the war and ended up in Paraguay in an arid region called the Chaco, "a green hell ... except when it was dust-covered and dry."
There, she has an experience with "one of the precious so-called widowers, his wife and children like coins spilled through a hole in his pocket in an earlier life." She wants to pass the story on to her granddaughter so that, she hopes, she can learn to hold her head high.
These are beautiful, wise stories of loss, of suffering and of fleeing one home for another, but many are also about survival, family and love.
The "Liese Stories" consist of seven short stories that focus on a young woman who was born and raised in an isolated Mennonite settlement in the Paraguayan Chaco. Liese dreams of leaving and at the age of 21, she sets out for Winnipeg where she has distant relatives.
The stories follow Liese as she settles in Winnipeg, marries, has children and struggles to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings.
Her relationships and the ordinary struggles of everyday life are the focus here.
Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg writer.
What You Get at Home
By Dora Dueck
Turnstone Press, 178 pages, $19
West Kildonan community correspondent
Cheryl Girard is a community correspondent for West Kildonan.