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Pickle Me This

February 4, 2015

Keeping the Peace by Colette Maitland

keeping-the-peaceI was having trouble paying attention to Colette Maitland’s short story collection, Keeping the Peace, as I was waiting for Harriet finish her dance class the other day. A couple behind me were having a discussion about her ailing mother, now in the hospital, her father with dementia and unable to process what was happening, and how she keeps having to drive back and forth to their town to help take care of things. I’d stopped reading the book, but it didn’t feel as though I had, and I realized then that the appeal of Maitland’s stories are the access they offer to life’s most private corners, that to read them is to be eavesdropping just like I was.

Like the cover design suggests: these are ordinary people, and there’s just something about the light, and the angle is just a little off-centre.

The collection begins with “Shoot the Dog,” about a woman whose financial manager husband has fleeced the whole town and taken off with her Volvo, who finds solace in the company of a lonely neighbour. The story ends in an act of violence and a moment of uncertainly coloured by that violence—it is a striking and powerful note to start on. Death and violence remain in the background of many of the stories that follow, the domestic scene certainly no idyll. In terms of theme as well as place, the best of these stories reminded me of those in Bronwen Wallace’s People You’d Trust Your Life To, which I’d recently reread. Although Maitland is more effective at capturing characters at a remove from the world, alienated from those around them. Moments of intimacy were not as convincing and there was a hollowness to some of the dialogue.

Part of the problem, I think, though, is any collection with 19 stories in it is going to lag a bit in places. This collection trimmed down would have been stronger, with more moments of bite and punch like the first story sets us up to expect. Even still though, Maitland has presented her readers with a whole world to get lost in. The collection was recently shortlisted for the ReLit Award, and it’s deserving of such celebration.

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