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April 27, 2014

7 Ways to Sunday by Lee Kvern

7-ways-to-sunday“Wild verus farmed,” begins Lee Kvern in the acknowledgements which precede her short story collection, 7 Ways to Sunday. “….I am of the latter variety. Wild. Largely unschooled… I learned the liar’s craft by hell and bent wheels, trials and multiple errors in good story judgement.” Her collection too is wild instead of farmed, 20-some years of stories gathered together for the first time instead of a carefully curated collection that was always going to be a book. And the collection works first because of its wildness, of the characters themselves, of the stories which place the reader in all kinds of situations, stories steeped so in their language and atmosphere so that the reader has to find her bearings every time, finds herself somewhere altogether new, the characters’ situations and fortunes shifting in a way that makes the book’s Snakes and Ladders cover so absolutely perfect. The collection works too just (just !) because Lee Kvern is a fantastic writer. When you’re this good, your 20-some years of stories were probably born to be bound.

I loved this book, hooked by the first story, “White,” in which a woman arrives with her husband and two young sons at an ice-fishing party in the middle of nowhere. It’s a dodgy scene: “We pass a running Plymouth, the windows dressed in rime. Inside: two steamy, half-dressed teenagers ravaging one another. My husband raises a brow at me. Avert, avert, I want to say my boys… Avert your eyes, turn away, this knowledge is not for you.” It’s an idea that runs through the book, parents failing to protect their children from the world, children seeing things they shouldn’t have seen, characters failing to avert their own lines of vision from painful revelations as to the realities of their lives.

In “High Ground,” a mother trails her son from party to party, sitting outside abandoned warehouses behind the wheel of her Camry, as he falls into drug abuse after an injury ends his career as a student athlete. “I miss his bare arms poking out of his Varsity jersey… rather than the tainted ticker tape of his blue tattoos telling the world–here is who he is now.” In “This is a Love Crime”, a woman married to a controlling husband whose behaviour borders on abuse drifts farther and farther from his sphere of influence as she grapples with a problem at her supermarket HR job with a checker who insists on violating the dress code with her hijab. “Detachment” is one of a few stories in the collection that take place on rural RCMP detachments; in this one, a complicated mother-daughter relationship plays out against a dangerous backdrop.

Similar is “In Search of Lucinda”, a 1970s set-piece whose garish colours are strikingly evoked as is scent and atmosphere. In this story, the father’s associates bring home two women whose appearance on the domestic scene is quite incongruous, and the situation (and the woman) is delivered redemption through the guilelessness of a little girl. In “Pioneer”, a mother struggles against love and fear for her son whose gender difference is becoming apparent. In “The Night Doors 1987”, a family arrives at the hospital to be with their ailing father as he dies, the story a devastating, haunting and beautiful portrayal of the last moments of a life, of the parts of life that nobody ever talks about, or at least not this vividly. And I loved the title story, in which redemption is once against delivered almost just past just in time, but leading up to that is the most gut-punching (and cringe-making!) spiral of a life heading out of control. It starts off kind of a funny, a guy so reprehensible that all he has for company are the Jehovah’s Witnesses who show up at his door every week, but instead, Kvern makes us care about him, and the oft-mocked door-knockers are offered literary redemption as well, to be people rather than punchlines. By the end of this fantastic story, I wanted to champion every single character.

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