The Archive Carpet, Michael Hetherington, 117 pages, Passfield Press, passfieldpress.ca, $19.95
In 1995, Michael Hetherington embarked on a pretty ordinary task for a short story writer — to jot down one story fragment, usually no longer than two or three sentences and mostly off the top of his head, per day. More than 6,000 days later, he has distilled his fragment collection down to one-tenth of its size in The Archive Carpet; compiled, it’s an airy glimpse into a many-angled whole.
No two characters ever recur (and neither do their names — part of the joy of reading The Archive Carpet comes from Hetherington’s seemingly endless store of character names), and plotlines never continue, but themes are repeated: domestic or quotidian scenes made absurd by an otherworldly event, or a character’s neurosis or a situation that seems so mundane it becomes absurd. A case in point is “The Stick: Daphne believed he would put a stick in the hole. She watched him every day. Finally, he put the stick in the hole.” Or “Welcoming the Slug: A slug crawled out of the bucket and across the path toward the garden. Immediately upon the slug’s approach, the flowers began to conspire a welcome.”
Though many of the pieces — and their titles — could fit comfortably into a single tweet, the stories don’t feel fractured. They seem to insinuate more, in the way that a really talented artist can sketch a half-moon and suddenly you imagine a cheek. Hetherington has mastered the art of creating potential action in micro-fiction: through lightning strokes of irony, sudden absurdities, gaps in time or the juxtaposition of little characters with grand schemes, evil characters with kind ones or wild expectations with sad realities.
Some of the lesser pieces can seem formulaic, but the sheer volume of Hetherington’s output ensures that they are quickly forgotten and what remains are worlds left to the imagination. (Ashleigh Gaul)