Billie Livingston’s first collection of short fiction exhibits her trademark snappy wit while delving into the sadder aspects of life: mental illness, family breakdown, and abuse. The 10 stories in this collection are heartbreaking in their depiction of madness and marginalization.
Nine of the stories are told in the first person – a wise choice, because it forces readers to experience first-hand events and emotions they may not be familiar with. In “Before I Would Ever Hurt You,” for example, the narrator’s beloved uncle loses his grasp on reality, becomes increasingly paranoid in his attempts to live off the grid on Vancouver Island, and ends up committing a horrific act of violence against someone he loves.
Livingston excels at portraying complicated relationships. In “Candy from a Stranger’s Mouth,” the narrator, Lila, is a journalist writing a story about the Pickton farm. She meets a German writer named Petra, and they become friends. Petra is involved in a long-term affair, and the story examines the illicit aspects of sex by juxtaposing Petra’s experience with the horrors of the Pickton killings. Lila’s brother, meanwhile, has descended into the hell of alcoholism. He criticizes his sister for having “profited from the grief of others.” Lila, however, thinks otherwise: “But people crave witnesses, I want to tell him. I am sure of it now. We crave the eyes of others to know we are not alone.”
“Clown Lessons” focuses on fraternal twins, James and Clarisse, trying to hold their lives together. Both siblings suffer the loss of their mother, who died giving birth to them, and James, in particular, endures his father’s wrath. But they manage to persevere by relying on one another. A similar situation occurs in “Did You Grow Up with Money?” in which two young sisters are subjected to the unwanted attentions of Money, a friend of their father. The older of the two takes drastic steps to protect her younger sister, and Livingston is clear-eyed about the motivation and morality of the violence in the story.
The title story, the only one told in the third person, works perfectly. A performance artist plans to destroy a rat in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, which naturally provokes a huge outcry and demonstration. The term “greedy little eyes” can refer to so much in this collection, but it definitely relates to the human need for connections, recognition, and some form of love.
Livingston gets to the heart of human need, with all its confusion and messiness. And she does so with textured emotion and blistering prose.
Praise for Greedy Little Eyes:
“Dark, funny, graceful, witty: Billie Livingston's voice has an intense intimacy that evokes trust, almost confession . . . it only takes a few sentences' worth of the first story in Billie Livingston's collection, Greedy Little Eyes
, to trigger that wonderful feeling that comes when you know you're about to have a really cool reading experience. This collection is like a tray of treats that you can have one at a time, or gobble up all at once.” —The Globe and Mail
“Billie Livingston’s first collection of short fiction exhibits her trademark snappy wit while delving into the sadder aspects of life. . . . Livingston gets to the heart of human need, with all its confusion and messiness and she does so with textured emotion and blistering prose.” (starred review) —Quill and Quire
“The stories are often dark and disturbing, but Livingston's sardonic wit sparks moments of grace and hope amid the dark.” —Vancouver Sun
“This is smart writing in more than one sense: sharp, slick and hard-edged. It shows characters caught up in the maelstrom of modern urban life. . . . The prose dazzles. . . . The stories are vivid. They captivate with their suggestion that life easily spins out of control.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“The true geography of these stories lies in the tortuous pathways of the heart. Their adventures rouse our pity and fear — the classic formula of literary effectiveness."—National Post
“Reading—any kind of reading—wakes up your mind to the equal and opposite extent that TV puts it to sleep. And that’s especially true when what you’re reading is as eloquent and insightful as Livingston’s work." —The Georgia Straight
“It's a page-turning, heart-wrenching dynamic. . . . Livingston depicts not only the excitement, but the danger too, of exhibitionism. There's something about the voyeur that any book-lover can sympathize with. And Livingston's characters definitely strike a chord throughout, because, as one of Livingston's characters conclude: ‘People crave witnesses . . . we crave the eyes of others to know we are not alone.’" —Saint John Telegraph-Journal
“Ideal Summer Read: The characters in this collection of short stories are a disparate bunch who have in common a dark sense of humour and dysfunctional family histories. Livingston's style makes the reader seem like a voyeur to the significant moments in their lives, a fly on the wall.” —The Tyee
“Greedy Little Eyes
is an anthology of masterful character studies about the permutations of the abnormal — in the sense that all of us are a little off our beams. Livingston’s characters are gems of dysfunction, unassumedly flying their freak flags at full mast, but ultimately undone by their prosaic surroundings.” —The Westender
“The collection is made up of beautifully crafted stories that briefly delve into various lives, exploring the ambiguity, disarray, and occasional solace of familial relationships while skillfully revealing the nuances and subtleties of human mind and emotion. The violence is often contrasted with unexpectedly poetic lines: the gruesome and the beautiful dance a fine line, honestly presenting the stunning and affecting qualities that exist in both."—
“Livingston’s made a career writing about wonderfully messed-up people and she keeps it coming.” —Uptown Magazine
“Vividly wild yet cleverly constructed, confident and riveting. . . . As a storyteller Livingston rides the Tilt-a-Wheel, gets lost in the Tunnel of Love and she rides the gigantic roller-coaster. Never a dull moment.” —BC Bookworld
“Livingston leavens heartache with air and light, injecting the story of a daughter free-falling since her mother’s death with charm to burn. And her own little daughter, Dusty, is a particularly delicious creation.”
— Zsuzsi Gartner (on “Georgia, It’s Me”)
“Livingston’s writing is evocative and richly layered. Hers is a poetic voice, and each of her characters is deeply drawn with a minimum of words. Rather, actions characterize each, and those actions spring from what we feel is the essence of good writing: psychological and emotional truth.” — Other Voices (on “Did You Grow Up With Money?”)
Praise for Billie Livingston:
"Livingston's characters are scrappers. They're canny and sharp and share a dark streak of humour that comes from the love of family and the communal understanding of knowing who is the enemy."
— New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
"Livingston has made her rep as one of the most dangerous writers you will ever be lucky enough to encounter."
— Vancouver Review
"Livingston writes beautifully, even soulfully."
— January Magazine
"[Billie]'s a damn solid writer who will make your head spin and your knees buckle. . . . She has a way of capturing the push and pull of family dynamics, and demonstrating the way some fleeting events can linger with us like bleeding tattoos."
— Broken Pencil