Sheila Heti's The Middle Stories
is a pillow book for fashionable young urban sophisticates. The flitting stories in this collection of faux fairy tales and contemporary fables are told in an intelligent, coy voice, echoing the sort of English children's book that recounts the adventures of young aristocrats-to-be named Cyril or Enid. The Middle Stories
are, however, modern and squarely North American, replete with drink, casual sex, postmodern ennui, and bouts of consumerism. Some of The Middle Stories
fall into a fairy-tale universe, mixing princesses and talking frogs with luckless, depressed plumbers. Others roam through more pedestrian settings like house parties, campuses, and too-small apartments, but these stories, too, read like fables or even cautionary tales, and one almost expects to find a moral appended to one or two of them.
Heti's contemporary grown-up bedtime stories bear more than a passing resemblance to Douglas Coupland's more playful moods, particularly some of the stories told by the characters in Generation X or the pieces collected in Life After God. Heti's stories represent a younger generation, though, and have no truck with Coupland's dread and pathos, donning a veneer of unconcern instead. Heti is at her best when she allows the satirical undercurrents of her fables to dominate, and in stories like "The Poet and the Novelist as Roommates" and "The Miss and Sylvia and Sam" she can be wickedly funny. The Middle Stories is not a book to be read cover to cover--the persistently ingenuous voice makes this impossible--but it is a pleasant and witty dabbler's pastime. --Harvey Cornell
Praise for Sheila Heti:
"Her prose is brilliantly crafted and everything about her stories is surprising and yet rings true." -- "Hour"