Death and dissatisfaction pervade Jacqueline Honnet’s narratives. In “Funeral Stories,” a husband torments his wife with questions about what she would do if he were to die. They trade stories about the funerals they have been to. “Picture This” is about a grandmother’s funeral, told with the aid of photographs taken by Pretty Cousin (so named with the tiniest hint of contempt). Death brings the family together and this reunion, rather than the loss, is Honnet’s focus. Far from being morbid, she uses funerals to expose family dynamics, which are by turns humorous, exasperating, sad and endearing.
Most of Honnet’s women are married, and being married is at the forefront of their thoughts. They are very different women (although she effectively uses the same characters over several stories) but all share the unsatisfying struggle between their own independence and the responsibilities of married life and family. In “Limbo” a woman from the Bahamas tries not to resent her husband for keeping her in Canada. “Conversion Classes” ends ambiguously, leaving the reader to decide whether the protagonist stays for her cousin’s baptism, or leaves her husband to explore the places she has dreamed about from her collection of maps.
Honnet also manages to articulate the deep understanding that exists between daughters and their mothers. It’s hard to grow up and face your mother as an adult, and as the exasperated protagonist in “Conversion Classes” complains: “I’m becoming my mother.” Anyone who has ever worried about this should read this book. (Sarah Nelson)
by Jacqueline Honnet, $17.95, 148 pgs, Turnstone Press, Artspace Building 607-100 Arthur St., Winnipeg, MB, R3B 1H3, turnstonepress.com