on October 29, 2012
A man with a hard decision to make about the neighbour’s boy. A woman who tries to sell health products to her friends. Two couples entangled in infidelity. A woman writing a letter to her estranged husband’s mother. A young woman in love with a man… and his ex-girlfriend. A fire in the candle factory.
These are a few of the stories in Sarah Selecky’s This Cake Is for the Party, nominated for the Giller prize in 2010.
I read this book because I’m currently taking Sarah’s Story is a State of Mind e-course, and I wanted to know where she came from as an author.
I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not especially fond of short stories; I’m more of a sprawling multiple story lines kind of person. I like expansive, complex books that reflect the complexity of human life.
These short stories, in a way, achieve that. Sure, it’s about a certain type of people–working-class, sometimes entrepreneurs and people who make a living out of their garage. They are about moments in time or short periods of time (an evening, a weekend, an hour). But the variety of emotions and situations represented really made me feel like I was plunging in an unknown world.
From “A Thousand Wax Buddhas”, my favourite of the collection:
I wish I’d just asked her about the mileage. I could have just said it: What do the numbers mean? Why is ten o’clock important? I could have asked her. She would have let me in. But I was too afraid.
These stories are exquisitely crafted. They are fragile like insect wings and yet strong like reeds. They were mostly sad, it’s true, but sadness is not something we should shy away from. Life is full of it. I felt strangely invigorated after reading them.
Each story is about 20 pages, a nice pace if you’re reading in the bath or during your commute. They are perfect little nibbles of stories, a set of 10 cupcakes to be relished slowly, not devoured in one sitting. There is both wit and wisdom in them–a sign that both can go together.
I especially admire Selecky’s control of her craft. Each word is there for a purpose; there is nothing superfluous. The descriptions are exquisitely evocative and there is not a single image that won’t strongly impress itself on your mind. I could easily see, feel, hear and smell each of the tiny little worlds she constructed.
If I am even half the writer she is, I will feel proud of my work.
Sarah Selecky's debut fiction collection explores the themes of lack, destruction and nostalgia. But, even though her stories depict profound emotional and physical volatility, Selecky looks beyond sorrow and regret and finds joyful beauty in the midst of crisis. Ultimately, each selection in This Cake is For The Party shows that vision requires the ability and willingness to look again, to find the cake among the crumbs and scattered shards of shattered porcelain