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Pickle Me This

April 10, 2011

On Jessica Westhead's And Also Sharks

Once upon a time, so long ago that Harriet was merely a giant protrusion in an unflattering blouse, I went to see Jessica Westhead read at Pivot, fell in love with her short stories, and ever since have been looking forward to her new book And Also Sharks. And because Jessica is my friend, and because I read her stories with joy, with such utter abandon, I can’t possibly post a straightforward review, but I can say this: my friend Jessica Westhead’s new book And Also Sharks is wonderful.

The book met my litmus test for hilarity on page 3, which is that I started laughing hysterically and woke up my husband to read him the line: “I don’t know if I would’ve said before all this that she was nice enough to give you the shirt off her back, but when you stop to think about it, that’s a lot to ask from anyone.” This from the storyWe Are All About Wendy Now, about how a group of office colleagues rallies around one of their own when she becomes ill. Eunice, the narrator, tries to be magnanimous about her colleagues, who are not always that nice to her, and about their intentions towards the sick woman (Wendy), but the story belies her true feelings. Eunice also lives alone with her sick cat and subsists on a diet of ham sandwiches, but she has a solidity to her that the other characters lack, a sense of herself. What she doesn’t have much of is a sense of humour, which makes this absurd story as delivered through her voice so perfectly deadpan, hilarious.

The pathetic are rendered with sensitivity here, and embued a sense of worth and purpose not apparent to the outside world. There is virtue in understatement, in reserve, in being a misfit. And though Westhead’s touch is light, her stories aren’t– the world through these characters eyes is the world as it is, and these strange and wonderful characters take it it on everyday, brave, weird, and ever-unflinching.

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