Book Review: Mother Superior

Calgary’s Freehand books is the new imprint from Broadview Press, and is already garnering media darling status in the industry. There’s nothing wrong with that. One of the reasons of course, is Melanie Little, the imprint’s tireless editor. Choosing titles for your debut publishing year is in of itself an anxious process. Having to rely on these titles to get you to year two, can be a risky process. But I think it’s going to be okay.

One of the first things you notice when you pick up Mother Superior, the debut fiction collection from Montreal writer Saleema Nawaz (beyond the slick typeset and design package) is the author’s self-discipline, and ability to never overcrowd her stories.

Her proximity to her subjects is something remarkable; never taking an overbearing stance or overstating her purpose, Nawaz’s prose and approach come out in natural clumps, regardless of who she’s describing. “Sandy” a story about a prostitute, who is such a story onto herself, finds temporary shelter with a group of anarchists. The characters seem to sit around in alchemic reflection in a natural way which makes the work more enjoyable than the simple first person moan is me approach.

This story stood out to me as the most daring in terms of construction, but not necessarily the most compelling. What was more fun was imagining how the author finalized the multitude of narrative directions and asides in “Sandy”. In ‘The White Dress’, a nostalgic story told with a tight grip on the memory banks of childhood mythologies and memories. ‘Linnie liked to leave the window open. She thought the night air would make us healthier, our lungs bigger, our skins thicker. It was like what Garek said the Spartans did with their babies, bathing them in wine instead of water to make them tougher, to root out the weak ones.” Combining the old with the new world, Nawaz’s characters seek out but don’t necessarily always achieve a deeper life beyond the standard urban go to phraseology that has destroyed us all. Nawaz writing inhabits modern apathy, but tries to eclipse it in a highly elegant, accessible collection of debut fiction. I recommend this to anyone who wants to read good short stories. (Nathaniel G. Moore)

by Saleema Nawaz, $23.95, 296 pgs, Freehand Books 412815 1st St. SW Calgary, AB, T2P 1N3