Connection and enlightenment are sought and occasionally experienced in a first collection from Canadian poet and Giller Prize–winning novelist Skibsrud (The Sentimentalists, 2011).
Relationships remain unexpressed or rest in not-quite-connected small family knots in Skibsrud’s dreamy yet searching fictions—e.g., “The Limit,” in which an absent father reaches out to his stranger-daughter. Reminiscence features often, as in "Clarence," recounting a newspaper photographer’s use of a childhood episode to revive his subject, the oldest man in the county. The stories offer glimpses of France, Canada and the Midwest, yet the landscapes seem desolate and are often visited by death, like the suicide of a son in “French Lessons” or the casually mentioned murder in “Signac’s Boats.” These two stories are also connected via the character of Martha, an American in Paris who falls in love there, but even on this subject Skibsrud’s approach is cerebral, almost abstract. "Cleats," another story in the Martha/Paris sequence, is more concrete, tracing the feelings behind an abandoned marriage, although it too is driven by the ineffable. And the closing tale, “Fat Man and Little Boy,” is one of several striving to capture a flash of understanding for which words seem scarcely adequate.
Skibsrud’s economical, poetically aware stories reveal a writer comfortable with the form, and one who requires her readers to think.