In Warren’s debut collection of short stories, people find that life often conflicts with their own inner worlds as they attempt to navigate the tangle of love, parenthood, aging, joy and disappointment.
While the protagonist of “Like Pearls” must deal with a stubborn father and a diagnosis of breast cancer, the sociologist narrator of “The Possessed Palace” contends with her teenage daughter’s boyfriend and the Skate Gang that he hangs out with, not to mention her own conflicting feelings about age and conformity. Other standouts include “The Fulgurite,” which examines the stormy conflicts that can occur between mother and daughter; “Drowning Worms,” a starkly funny consideration of people’s innate depth and shallowness; “It Was Sometime Between Budweiser and Coronas When Seafood Houses First Hit Calgary,” a stream-of-consciousness piece about friendship and disappointed love; and “The Caring Day,” which takes a sarcastic, pained look at the nature of faith and nosy neighbors. Themes of family and disappointment weave throughout, unifying the collection. Each story, however, has a distinct, memorable bent. “The Woodcrafter,” the penultimate story in this collection and the most overt example of magical realism, is memorably weird and showcases Warren’s talent for blending graceful language with absurd situations, such as when the titular character’s hand sinks into a wooden box as if it’s nothing out of the ordinary. His fingers slip “inside the grain, sinking deeper until the entire length of his fingers disappeared inside the pine, his wide knuckles rubbing against its waxy surface.” Like the boxes of “The Woodcrafter,” each entry is crafted with care. Characters nudge up against each other, but they never fully enter each other’s orbit, leaving the reader with the feeling that there is much more to everyday occurrences.
A bold, contemplative, literary collection.