Janette Platana, 216 pgs, $21.95, Tightrope Books, tightropebooks.com
Although her stories have been published, nominated, shortlisted, and won awards across the country and beyond (including “Some of This is True,” here in Broken Pencil, and reprinted our anthology Can’tLit), only now has Janette Platana’s short fiction been collected in a volume all her own. It was the worth the wait.
Many of these stories are intensely internal and concerned with how things feel, but because of Platana’s talent for avid observation and her always-on ability to turn a witty phrase, her writing never seems claustrophobic or self-indulgent. Her protagonists are mainly women, and mostly mothers, and those stories are often very much about the female experience. Yet when she chooses to inhabit the mind of a middle-aged family man (“I am a Rich Man”), she portrays his perspectives and anxieties with absolute effectiveness and sympathy. Similarly, when her story’s protagonist is a child-free woman who simply doesn’t understand why she thinks she’s meant to feel guilty about having an abortion (“Feminine Protection”), or a 15-year-old trans boy writing a letter ta rock star (“Dear Dave Bidini,” winner of This Magazine’s Great Canadian Literary Hunt 2009), her narrative voice is all empathy – meaning she never falls into the all too common trap of sacrificing personalities for politics. Her humour and self-awareness are also on full display – for instance in this conversation between an aging-punk mom and her teenager in the aforementioned “Dear Dave Bidini”:
“Maybe punks and hippies aren’t that different,” I say.
“Oh my God,” she says.
“Like, nobody even uses those words anymore,” I say. “Hippie, anyway. And punk doesn’t seem to mean much. Or maybe too much. I don’t know.”
“Would you call yourself a punk?” she asks.
“No way,” I say.
She looks at me. I want to change the subject.
“The Clash – ” she begins.
“Weren’t even punk by London Calling,” I finish, and then there is a long, long pause.
“I guess you’re right,” she says.
So awkward. So funny. So perfect; so true. I really haven’t got one negative thing to say about this book. You should read it. Janette Platana is one of our best. (Richard Rosenbaum)