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September 27, 2011

Suitable Precautions by Laura Boudreau

There was a period in which Laura Boudreau and I were both enrolled in the same creative writing program at UofT, though due to me being a hermit, we never met up that often.  So I must say that I know the stories of Laura Boudreau considerably better than I know Laura Boudreau herself– I remember reading “Strange Pilgrims” in The New Quarterly, the strange sad story of love with a mailman, and there was her Journey Prize-nominated story “The Dead Dad Game”, which I described as “a young person’s perspective on a broken world, and that world is realized with such humour, poignancy and quirky charm.”

So I thought I knew what to expect with Boudreau’s first book, the story collection Suitable Precautions, but it seems that Laura Boudreau writes to thwart expectations. Which I discovered when I read her book whose stories refused to be pinned down and be any one thing. Yes, we have “The Dead Dad Game”, which is just as good upon rereading, just your standard tale of two half-siblings lying on their father’s grave seeking out good vibrations (as the urging of the siblings’ one surviving parent), after which the creepy neighbour’s pot-bellied pig is maimed in a collision so that the siblings have to create apologetic chalk drawings.

For the first time here, I read her story “The Vosmak Geneology”, about the daughter of the daughter of alleged immigrants, whose mother becomes brain injured by a falling picnic table, loses the capacity for abstract thought or imaginings, then eventually creates a phenomenally popular series of children’s books, factually based upon the life of our narrator who spends her time doing homework in the window of a gypsy’s. “The Meteorite Hunter” about a divorced father who doesn’t quite rue his sorry past, but certainly ruminates upon it as he drives with his stranger daughter to visit a man who’s reported to be able to detect meteorites where they fall (and of course, what father and daughter find that their destination is not what they’d expected).

So what I mean by this is that Laura Boudreau’s stories are not “about” just any one thing, but rather they’re about story, about narrative, about the way a writer starts in one place and ends up in another. I mean, speaking of destinations not expected, that none of these stories will take you where you think you’re on your way to, that these are wild sprawling narratives, and yet Boudreau’s writing is so absolutely controlled. There is a tightness, a deliberateness to the way that she makes the jump from even once sentence to another a determined leap like, “I remember seeing a man in a paper gown masturbating in the hallway. We stayed for lunch.”

In terms of tightness, deliberateness, there is nothing else like Boudreau’s command of the first person voice, however. She does young people so well, in “The Dead Dad Game”, and also in “Poses”, which manages to be a story about a young girl posing for an internet pornographer but also be hilarious. I think my favourite story of the collection is “The D&D Report”, which is another of Boudreau’s stories that start somewhere and end up somewhere else, and manages to have years pass effortlessly as its narrator goes from slacker-lifeguard with a yearning for med. school to a doctor with a husband whose whole life is built on uncertain foundations.

Suitable Precautions is a curious book, the kind of book I had to talk about with somebody else as I read it, because there was so much to say. It’s the kind of collection that might appeal to another short story writer, Carolyn Black, who remarked in her interview with me, “For me, now, writing that explains everything requires a good deal of patience, if only because I’ve read so much of it; writing that resists explication seems beautiful and true.”

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