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December 13, 2010

On "discovering" Bronwen Wallace

I read Bronwen Wallace’s People You’d Trust Your Life To this weekend, and I’m still a bit overwhelmed by the experience. As a first book, it reminded me of Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting (an anchronistic reference, I realize, but humour me)– a writer who has been saving up the goods, writing that is remarkably assured, and doesn’t have to even try. A collection of short stories and not a dud in the bunch. I suppose if one had to publish just one book of fiction in one’s life, it would be tremendous for it to be this one. But then how tragic for a reader to get to the end and realize it’s all there is. (Wallace died shortly before the book’s publication in 1990.)

Not that there is not enough, no. There is everything here, a web of characters and relationships, and the stories become illuminated by moments of connection, between characters, and between the reader and the work. These connections so acute that, for example, you will be reading this book in line at the crowded supermarket on a Sunday afternoon and the cashier closes her till and you’re left standing there with your groceries, and you won’t even notice and, moreover, you won’t even care.

Funny, these are stories of their time (references to Michael J. Fox on television, girls with bright green hair clips, when Swiss Chalet waitresses had to dress like Swiss milkmaids [which I’d forgotten]), which serves to locate them but not to date them. Probably due to the universality to the experiences they depict– mother/daughter relationships, the anguish of having a child with food allergies, negotiating terrain with a new partner, processing nostalgia and what we’re to do with memories we’re holding on to.

I loved the stories of Lee Stewart, which recur throughout the collections, and whose whole life we come to understand, her childhood, early motherhood, life post-divorce. I loved the recurring image of her enormously pregnant, floating in an inflatable pool and sipping a beer. I loved the Carol Shieldsian illuminations of the lives of ordinary people. I loved the multitudinousness and contradiction the collection embraced, and once I got to the end, I reread the epigraph, and I completely understood, and I was stunned by the solidity and coherence of Wallace’s message and this collection.

From Adrienne Rich’s “Integrity”: Anger and tenderness: my selves./ And now I can believe they breathe in me/ as angels, not polarities.

2 thoughts on “On "discovering" Bronwen Wallace”

  1. Steph says:

    Will look for this, you’ve made it sound irresistible, Kerry.

    1. Kerry says:

      It’s just so solidly good. You will love it.

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