What's Left Us?

by Aislinn Hunter

Published by Raincoast Books

187 pages, 2001


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This For Us

Reviewed by Andrea MacPherson

 

What's Left Us is a collection of short stories and a novella in which Aislinn Hunter explores intimate relationships in Vancouver, Dublin, London and Southern Ontario to comment on love, loss and memory in the lives of ordinary people.

In the short stories we meet characters such as Sophie, a devout Catholic who believes it is her calling to work at a triple-X theater, and who, unknowingly, changes the life of James, a young man willing to forsake God for her; a nameless narrator visited by a banshee while grieving the loss of her sister; a woman feeling equally overwhelmed by the city she is in and the man she is involved with. With graceful prose and keen observation of human nature, Hunter comments on the slight moments that encompass everyday life. The characters encountered in these stories are quirky and unique, yet they feel like people we might meet on the street ourselves. They might be our neighbors, our mothers, our best friends. By turns wise and comic, the prose gracefully engages the reader in its immediacy, creating a tangible experience.

That day, two Saturdays ago, Nora first saw Lily. A slight girl with her hair bundled up on her head smiling as she cracked open the door to take the medium half-slip out of Nora's hand. "Do you need a large to try as well?" the pixie asked, puckering her Really Red lips while examining them in the changing room mirror. The carpenter at the front of the store leaned over the counter. Nora disliked her before she'd even really caught on. An airiness about her, as if she was as insubstantial as a light breeze that raises the hair on the back of your neck before vanishing entirely. That girl, obviously still in her early twenties, was as vacant as the three-by-three cubicle in which Nora stood. What was there to her, anyway, save for some lingerie strewn about inside and a few tightly screwed in hooks opposite the door. "No, the medium's fine." And that was it, aside from a vague notion of excitement on the carpenter's behalf as he paid the giddy clerk who, giggling, handed him back his VISA and then carefully wrapped the half-slip which Nora, most often in her housecoat, has yet to wear.

In the novella, Hunter explores a week in the life of a young, pregnant woman returning to Ireland in a cathartic journey. Her pregnancy is the result of an affair with a married man unwilling to leave his wife. The narrator is compelled, as her due date looms closer, to retrace her family's past in search of understanding and closure. With short, episodic chapters the narrator's past and present are interwoven to create a luminous depiction of her life. She is a sympathetic yet flawed character, and we are instinctively concerned with the arc of her life.

Once, you watched Adam for two days straight with out sleeping. Followed him from the office to his house in Clara's old Saab, its cylinders misfiring all the way. Spent the night wrapped up in your sweater, parked between street lights. Considered climbing the trellis to look in the windows.

The previous morning he'd come out with it, said, "with someone," corrected himself, cleared his throat, said, "married." You'd slipped out of bed, looking across the pillow at his left hand. Had you missed the ring? Nothing, not even a pale band of untanned skin. You left him lying there in your apartment, went out wearing only dungarees, boots and a peacoat. Took Winston but forgot to put on his collar even though you had the leash. The next morning you were both on a train. Winston, out of sorts, lifted his leg against someone's luggage; they complained. The conductor, all of twenty and pimply, asked you to stand in the junction between cars. At Clara's you handed over a bag of fresh scones, mostly crushed, and asked to borrow the Saab.

Hunter seems equally comfortable using Canada and the UK as settings for her work; details about Dublin's streets and London's underground ring as true as the small shops on Dunbar Street. Her familiarity with the cadence of Irish dialect lends an air of authenticity to the prose.

What's Left Us is a compelling debut by one of Canada's most talented new writers, lending her energetic voice and sly wit to her fiction. | September 2001

 

Andrea MacPherson is a Vancouver-based writer who recently completed her first novel. Her work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, The Glow Within, Chameleon and Descant. She is the poetry editor for Prism International.