The veteran Canadian novelist and poet follows up her American debut (Tracing Iris, 2003) with stories that show narrative aptitude, a degree of experimentation, and a proclivity for the poetic turn.
The centerpiece is the title novella, really more like a collection within the collection, following a pair of sisters through five pieces, some of which appeared individually in literary journals. In “Versions,” family stories about younger sister Claire being held dangerously out a window by older sister Marcia achieve the mythic in their various retellings; in “The Savage God” (vide A. Alvarez), both girls are in Sylvia Plath mode, and they eventually head for a lake with a boy who might not return; “Family Reunion” recounts a dinner when the sisters are much older, when all that old self-destructive behavior provides material for members of the family to humiliate each other; “Inside Editions” follows Claire as she visits Marcia in early middle age, on the occasion of Marcia’s first extramarital affair; and eventually the family (“Thicker Than Water”) gathers once again for a final vacation on the occasion of the parents’ 45th anniversary. Gunn demonstrates versatility throughout the rest of the collection, though some of her smaller short-shorts might be more accurately described as false starts than actual prose poems. “Los Desperados” is perhaps the finest of the bunch, about a couple on the rocks who return to the place of their original happiness, a honeymoon in Mexico, only to find that the place is as changed as they are, and to happen upon a swinging Mexican general with designs to pry them apart for good. Another winner is “Fugue,” about a dead relationship that finds its best metaphor in its seemingly musical repetition of a cat torturing a mole on a balcony.
Inventive if not always complete.