Wallflowers Hardcover – Sep 16 2014
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Confirms her as a significant new talent â ¦ The ordinary and everyday become imbued with a strange significance, albeit with a feather-light touch; Robertson's prose is never weighed down, even as it imparts a sense of uneasiness, anticipation â ¦ Robertson lets images vibrate with possibilities. Almost every story, individually, is sharp, illuminating
About the Author
Eliza Robertson was born in Vancouver, Canada, and raised on Vancouver Island. She studied at the University of Victoria, then pursued her M.A. in Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia, where she received the Man Booker Scholarship and the Curtis Brown Prize. In Canada, she has won three national fiction contests and been a finalist for the Journey Prize and the CBC Short Story Prize. She most recently won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and is currently at work on a novel.
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Top Customer Reviews
While working on her MA, the Victoria writer earned a Man Booker Scholarship and the Curtis Brown Prize for best writer. She received the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for "We Walked on Water" and "L’Etranger" was a runner-up for the 2013 CBC Short Story Prize. Not surprisingly, Robertson includes these stories in her bold and diverse collection, which reads with both a youthful tone and a polish expected of life-long writers. The author displays a keen command of language, pushing and challenging her readers while disquieting them in the most satisfying ways.
"Where Have You Fallen, Have You Fallen?" includes eight short scenes that unfold in reverse chronological order, effectively building narrative tension. "The Art of Making One’s Self Agreeable: A Handbook for Ladies" reads like an etiquette manual to tell a story of violence and subterfuge within a marriage. "Ship’s Log" uses its titular form as imagined by a little boy to gradually reveal a story of loss and heartbreak.
The stories might differ in form and approach but they unite in human emotion: despair, hope, loss and, above all, heartbreak. And, by having to read in unexpected ways, the audience allows the emotional impact of the stories to creep in. Ultimately, everything comes together with a powerful, devastating and rewarding effect.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This collection reads like Raymond Carver rewritten by Zoey Deschanel.
The stories are full of quirky, off-beat events – a swimming contest that plays classical music underwater, circus animals stolen from a car park, a young boy’s ‘voyage’ down a hole to China. But these New Girl sub-plots are grounded by tragedy that – conveniently – is so great it cannot be properly articulated by the characters.
This quirkiness can be a bit much. “Have you decided a name yet?” “Yes Jaime. Because on paper it reads like J’aime.”
Poor J’aime. When Jaime smiles, “she thrusts her chin at you like a goat.” I’m sure this is a vivid image if you are a goat farmer. Poor Jaime.
This is creative writing workshop writing so fresh you can still smell the tutor's cardigan.
In one story, a young man, serious swimmer, semi-pro, slouches over a seat. What is the seat made of? Velour. Does he know its made of velour? Of course he does. Thinking about his dead sister: “When I imagine my sister, I do not see Ophelia.” His grief is too-conveniently literate, too self-aware to be properly distanced from the author's own voice. His voice is Eliza Robertson’s voice, the same as all her characters: “I visited Morocco for two weeks, when I came home, the gastropods had harvested” – “the tea was so prized that the provinces boasted tri-annual tea festivals” - "our car wore a Darwin fish."
It is a kind of writing that demonstrates a great appreciation of it being creative writing, but demonstrates little appreciation of the described characters.
Everything is sacrificed – character, plot, depth – for the pretty writing.
Plots are wafer thin; conflict is sparse. One story sees a young woman feed a cat, talk to a neighbor and then there is a flood. The story wants to have weight with the iceberg effect - all the emotion, all the weight is submerged, hidden. For me, the effect didn't work. It feels lazy.
There are themes – family, reproduction, the fragility of the human body, grief – but there’s a difference between constantly talking about a subject and having something to say on a subject.
If you like this sort of thing, stick to Lorrie Moore or Karen Russel.
"Roadnotes," perhaps my favorite, is a series of letters from a young woman to her sister (I think, but the genders are not clear) written on a road trip from Mont Tremblant down the eastern seaboard of the US to follow the fall foliage, but behind it are painful memories of their mother, who has just died. "Ship's Log" is the hourly progress report of a couple of children digging through the earth from Ontario to China; it is wonderfully oddball in its period setting, but it too has a recent bereavement in back of it. "My Sister Sang," another favorite, contains the notes taken by the transcriber of the cockpit voice recorders after a plane crash, but those open a window onto the world of his sister who, like the one person killed in the crash, was a professional singer.
The best of these work because when Robertson manages a perfect balance between the container story and the emotional content. But not all the stories come so perfectly into focus, when the everyday aspect and the container do not quite match. "Who Will Water the Wallflowers," for instance, begins: "The day before the flood, the girl slices lemons into a wide-mouthed mason jar." There then follows a beautifully-observed portrait of the lives in a few neighboring houses in a residential subdivision. But by the time the promised flood comes, one is not quite sure what the point has been. Or, at the other extreme, the wonderfully titled "Thoughts, Hints, and Anecdotes Concerning Points of Taste and the Art of Making One's Self Agreeable: A Handbook for Ladies" is a brilliant riff on old etiquette handbooks concealing a story about spousal abuse, but one that strays a little too close to melodrama for my personal taste.
But all the stories are interesting, and astonishingly varied in manner. "Electric Lady Rag" begins as a story about a young stripper, but expands backwards into the history of three generations of women in the sex trade: the girl, her mother, and her grandmother, a refugee from Nazi Germany. "Where have you fallen, have you fallen?" is literally told backwards, in chapters numbered from 8 to 1. Set in some First Nations community in Western Canada, this contains elements of magic realism, but Roberston is equally prone to include magical elements even among the bizarre grunge of a story such as "Missing Tiger, Camels, Found Alive." And then you get tantalizing links between stories, such as the number of times that pain au chocolat is mentioned, or the curious image of live birds tethered by strings to the hand.
Asked in a Globe and Mail interview why she writes, Robertson replied: "Because I love short stories. Because I have never read a novel that can be playful and grim and rambunctious and quiet and surreal and realist and spare and dense all at once." You will find all those adjectives here. Or you could just look at the cover photograph; it is a perfect teaser for this highly unusual collection.