This week, the shortlist was announced for one of Canada’s most exciting literary awards. The Danuta Gleed is exciting for its specific focus: new voices in short fiction. The $10,000 award is given to the best first book of short stories by a Canadian author.These year’s jury was composed of Candas Jane Dorsey, Russell Wangersky, and a previous winner of the award, Ian Williams.
Here’s what that jury had to say about Théo’s book, “Sharp and accomplished, the stories in Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility don’t read like a first collection: they read like the work of an accomplished author already comfortable in her skin, and in her characters’ skins as well. They ring with a sense of place and a carved-out space in your mind. You don’t jump towards the unlikely – you simply read and believe that what you read has happened, curving into your head like memories you’d experienced yourself but had forgotten until then. There is a real art to building an experience a reader has never had: Armstrong has that art.”
Armstrong’s book also had the honour of being the inaugural title on Anansi’s new short fiction imprint, Astoria. It’s an imprint Anansi has spawned to help celebrate Canada’s talents in the short story form. Theodora was a fitting choice to launch this new short story imprint. She’s a fresh new voice in Canadian short fiction, but a fresh, new voice that’s already proven her to be a force in the form. Not only has she been published in many of Canada’s finest literary journals, she’s been acknowledged by some of the country’s best-regarded short story awards as well. She’s won a Western Magazine Award, and was a Journey Prize finalist a few years ago, for “Whale Stories,” which appears in this collection.
“Whale Stories,” like every story in this collection, elevates everyday life to a level that shows us how extraordinarily complicated our ordinary lives really are. The story features a single mother running a B&B, in which her two children live. To the people staying in their B&B, they might seem like a simple and happy family, but through the eyes of the boy narrator, we know where the mother goes on her after-supper walks – to cry alone on a beach. We know the boy’s beloved father is out of the picture, and we know the boy is troubled by his father’s absence. More importantly, we know the boy’s not the innocent little kid her mother might think he is.
The strong title story is about an air traffic controller dealing with his first failure to prevent a crash. In the opening story, “Rabbit,” a young girl narrates the story of a community in which a young woman has been abducted. The story of the abduction runs parallel to the little girl’s homelife, focussing mainly on her troubled brother. He’s a drifter, going on twenty, but getting what he wants from a girl in junior high. We observe this character through his sister’s eyes, including a scene where a man outs her brother as a “pervert,” yet the mother tells the daughter not to believe the rumours about her brother. Stories like Armstrong’s leave you wondering how much of our lives wade in denial or hope.
How frail are our strongest relationships? How Misperceived? How frail are we? How misunderstood? Armstrong’s stories can raise questions like this in a way that’s not heavy handed, and perhaps not even intentional. Armstrong also presents her stories in an unadorned manner that exudes both confidence, and a style of calculated minimalism fans of Raymond Carver will enjoy.
Every Friday we’ll suggest a worthwhile weekend read from a Canadian author