September 13, 2016
Winter Wren, by Theresa Kishkan
I’d been reading Theresa Kishkan’s novella for a while, the first release from her imprint, Fish Gotta Swim Editions, whose books are designed by the talented Anik See (and oh, this little book is so lovely). And I thought I’d found an error. The book takes place in 1974, and there is a reference to the protagonist being born in 1915, and I thought, “No, wait.” A typo, I figured. She’d been born in 1945. And I still don’t know why I was so insistent on the error, that Kishkan’s character could not have possibly been 59 years old, except for the fact that I rarely encounter a woman in fiction who is 59 years old. And if I do, she is peripheral, or her identity is wrapped up in being somebody’s wife or mother.
Of course, I’ve met old women in literature, characters at the end of their lives, unravelling—Hagar Shipley. And there is no shortage of women in their twenties, thirties, forties, but there seems a paucity of women characters in their fifties. In general, I mean, and perhaps these books are out there and I’m just not reading them. But I’m not reading them, which is why the idea of a 59 year old woman still exploring, growing and transforming seemed remarkable to me. And then it became not remarkable at all, and I became aware that what was remarkable was this literary gap.
Winter Wren is the story of a woman, an artist, who returns from decades in Paris and the end of a love affair to Canada after the death of her mother, and makes a place for herself in an isolated cabin on Vancouver Island. She becomes preoccupied by the view from her window, and with the man who’d lived in her home before she bought it and who she visits in a home for seniors. He too is preoccupied by the view, and wishes she’d paint it for him.
Bring me the view at dusk.
Kishkan’s protagonist, Grace, is a character in one of her earlier novels, The Age of Water Lilies—Kishkan writes intriguingly of her novella’s genesis here. This book is a beautiful meditation of transformation and of place, and the line I loved best was, “Every morning I awake and am filled with a kind of quiet joy to realize where I am.”