Kate Sutherland’s new collection of short fiction is like rifling through snapshots of emotionally poignant moments in the lives of various white, educated, Canadian, working-class women. The stories weave together an interesting array of landscapes and backdrops, moving from the starry-skied prairies of Saskatchewan to cobblestone Parisian streets and Scottish highlands and from pretentious dinner parties to Country Style Donut parking lots and AC/DC concerts. The characters in Sutherland’s stories have active inner-lives which awaken a sense of sympathy, identification and affection no matter what the age of the protagonist. Some of the most memorable moments are the encounters of young Lou on the catty grade-school jump-rope scene in the namesake story, the purchase of a new bra by the insecure and unappreciated Doris in “Measuring Up,” and the romantic ups and downs of an unnamed crossword-puzzle lover in “Making Love While the Kettle Boils.” Central themes of these and other stories include grappling with social pressure to conform, the destructive impact of interpersonal pettiness, the changing nature of relationships over time, the importance of exploring one’s familial history and alcohol abuse.
I was put-off by Sutherland’s failure to provide a critical-race perspective when issues of affirmative action are raised in “Aerial View of a Dinner Party”, a story that is otherwise honest in its portrayal of the shallowness that ruins opportunities for real human connections. Likewise, in “Peeble’s Hotel” I felt there was only a tokenistic attempt to address racialization and racism. This is done through an anonymous main character who “weave[s] a family mythology” with her mother as a “proletarian hero,” leaving the racism inherent in her mother’s tale largely unaddressed and characterizing her own meagre protestations as “trying to pick a fight”. Despite these significant oversights, however, Sutherland’s collection is a well-written and touching portrayal of various white, female, working-class experiences definitely worth reading. (Corrie Sakaluk)
Fiction, 149 pgs, by Kate Sutherland, $15.95, Thistledown Press, 633 Maine Street, Saskatoon, SK, S7H 0J8, thistledownpress.com