All posts by Kathy

Evelyn, Harry and the Sick Rose

From the Ormsby Review:  Dear Evelyn, the 8th novel by Kathy Page of Salt Spring Island, concerns the courtship, love, and marriage of Harry Miles and Evelyn Hill from the tumultuous early days of the Second World War to their deaths decades later. I know of no contemporary writer who deals so convincingly with love,” writes Paul Headrick “Page consistently dramatizes the ways in which the feelings of intimate couples are puzzling mixtures of hope, lust, genuine caring, resentment, politics, and much else.”

Full text here  (does reveal plot)

The Two of Us: “the works of a master who seems to have tapped into ancient troubles bubbling up in our struggling world.”

The Two of Us

by Kathy Page

Reviewed by Paul Headrick in The Ormsbury Review

From Gallant to Kafka

In “The House on Manor Close,” the opening story of this collection, a woman recalls her childhood with an older sister who was obsessed with birds: “I began to think that when she grew up she would become not an ornithologist but an actual bird.” Her fanciful speculation isn’t actually implausible, for in Page’s work we can be in the territory of Mavis Gallant at one moment and Franz Kafka or even Ovid the next. Her characters manage to inhabit the subtly psychological world of literary modernism while also belonging to the unpredictable, shifting landscapes of much older literary genres.

Page’s previous book, Paradise & Elsewhere (Biblioasis, 2014), an astonishing collection of contemporary folk-fairy tales, brought this ancient/modern element into relief, but it’s present as well in these stories, which are more realistic, at least on the surface.

Several that begin the collection are about elderly parents and their adult children. The parents need help that their offspring mostly fail to provide, burdened as they are by old, generosity-killing resentments. “Why are we like this,” asks the narrator of “Snowshill,” after a failed outing intended to cheer her enfeebled father and passive-aggressive mother. “Why can’t we all see how little time there is left?” The grudging reconciliation that follows seems dependent on shared self-deception.

In “The House on Manor Close” the mother exercises a weird tyranny, in part by feeding each of her three daughters differently, rewarding and punishing with dishes they like or despise. When her girls grow up and leave, alienated and angry, she and her husband indulge their passion for gardening, succeeding with plants as they never could with their girls: plants have potentials but not wills. The individual troubles here are entirely convincing while at the same time evoking the force of archetypal generational conflicts.

“Different Lips,” one of the strongest of these enthralling stories, is a variation on The Beauty and the Beast tale, which Page has explored before with startling effect in her novels. The character needing redemption in “Different Lips” is Beauty, not Beast. Jessica is a self-centred, damaged young woman who long has traded on her looks but who finally discovers herself desperate, out of money and friends. She travels across town to see an old lover whom she knows still yearns for her, and she hopes for sex, her only way of making connections.

A funny and cruel reversal greets her, no redemption at all, as her former lover’s lips are grotesquely swollen from an allergic reaction. After their wretched encounter, she struggles to make a last attempt to reach out to him and to save herself. The narrator pauses to describe the scene that Jessica passes:

The cheap restaurants and pubs nearby were filling up. People spilled out on to improvised terraces or else just leaned on walls, glass in hand. A few parents pushed slack-faced, sleeping children homewards, the older siblings, occupied with bright coloured drinks and ice creams, trailing behind.

The carefully chosen words — “cheap,” “improvised,” “slack-faced,” “trailing” — establish a continuity between the alienated main character and the failed world she inhabits, winning the reader’s recognition and deep assent in a way that contributes to the power of Page’s work.

The exceptions in these stories, the characters who are able to love, still feel a pull toward self-interest, but they choose to resist. In “The Right Thing to Say,” Don and Marla wait to discover whether she has inherited an incurable disease and to decide, if the news is bad, whether she will have an abortion. Don knows that he will also need to decide whether he is even capable of staying with Marla. The story echoes a fine Page novel, The Find (McArthur & Co., 2011), in which a couple faces a similar revelation.

In both cases, in the manner of the most gripping of folk tales, the tension-filled situations dramatize a choice that on some level we all must make, with the same ultimate consequences. (The story also gracefully alludes to Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” and it’s a mark of Page’s accomplishment that this move doesn’t seem at all audacious.) Don’s eventual response, which forms the resolution of “The Right Thing to Say,” is a brilliantly fitting surprise.

Kathy Page

“Open Water,” the final story of The Two of Us and the longest, creates both the most realistically detailed world and the most impressive dramatization of the way that for Page realism and myth are one. Mitch, a swimming coach, gets a big break — out of nowhere, Tara, a prodigy. Mitch must proceed cautiously in order not to put off the girl’s parents, who are unenthusiastic about the extreme time commitment required by competitive swimming. He also needs to be cautious when Tara, on the verge of elite success, considers quitting swimming altogether.

Once again the story is about parents and children. In some ways Tara becomes closer to Mitch than to her mother and father, who are preoccupied with their other children, and with their own conflict — they separate when Tara is in her teens. We learn through flashback of Mitch’s childhood and his own mother and father, familiarly self-absorbed. “‘It’s tough having parents who ignore what you are,’” Mitch tells his wife when recounting his past.

The decision that Mitch helplessly awaits — Tara’s decision — isn’t as life-and-death as the impending news in “The Right Thing to Say,” but still it’s elemental, as the story consistently draws the reader’s attention back to the importance of water and the image of a person moving through it. “‘What the hell is it about?’” Tara’s mother asks Mitch of her daughter’s swimming life. “‘Being in the water,’” Mitch replies.

Earlier, Mitch recalls his lonely childhood at a boarding school that was precisely wrong for him, and the moment when he discovered the school’s unused swimming pool: “He remembers how his heart lifted, how he almost cried when he saw it. Just the sight of the water, the thought of being immersed.”

So Tara’s choice takes on that special Page quality: will she live on land or in water, choose realism or myth? How will Mitch, her proxy father, straddling both of these worlds, respond? With exquisite timing the answer confronts us with the immense stakes for Mitch and for all of Page’s characters in these stories, the works of a master who seems to have tapped into ancient troubles bubbling up in our struggling world.

 

Link to original review:

#297 From Gallant to Kafka

 

Alphabet

What will she be like? he thinks. I don’t know.
Who will I become? Ditto. A leap in the dark…

“…a wonderful book, peculiar, intense, revealing, challenging, exhausting and above all riveting…I kept saying to myself, how could she know this?” Guardian (UK) columnist Erwin James (author of A Life Inside)

Simon Austen is serving a life sentence for murder. Intelligent but illiterate, charming but also damaged and manipulative, he admits to what he’s done but his motives are far from clear, even to himself.

Then Simon learns to read and write. From his high security prison he begins an illicit correspondence with a series of women. The more he learns – about them and about himself – the higher the stakes become. Simon finds himself on a perilous and unpredictable journey as he stumbles towards self-knowledge and redemption.

Alphabet is not just highly readable, but one of the strongest, most eloquent, most tightly constructed novels of  the year…It is a measure of the quiet artistry of Alphabet that, out of material that would have been at home in the blackest of black comedies, Kathy Page has celebrated, with rare deftness, the resilience of the human heart.” Sunday Telegraph

“Sometimes novelists go too far – and sometimes they manage to demonstrate that too far is the place they needed to go.” Time Out

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, UK, in July 2004 UK; released October 2004 in Canada by McArthur & Company. Finalist for a Governor General’s Award in 2005.  First published in the USA by Biblioasis, 2014.

Alphabet by Kathy Page, US jacket by Kate Hargreaves“A moving novel about knowledge, self-awareness and the power of words, set in the purgatory of prison. This young man’s life demands our attention and refuses to let go.” Kirkus starred review

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kathy-page/alphabet-page/

Reviews and Comments

Purchase Alphabet from Munro’s Books

Continue reading Alphabet

Frankie does time travel

450px-Street_of_terraced_housingI  began work on Frankie Styne and the Silver Man in Norwich, in 1990, and it was inspired by both my  interest in  monsters and my living situation at the time: a terraced house, as it is called in England (row housing), with very thin walls.  Most of these houses were built in the late nineteenth century as housing for railway workers and other working class people. Little thought was given to privacy, and  just a single course of bricks and a  skin of plaster  divides one home from the next. I could hear  a great deal  of my neighbours’ lives – and they mine, no doubt, though I was fairly quiet, due to writing so much. It was sometimes hard to reconcile what I had overheard with  our polite exchanges in the street or over the fence. I began with the  characters,  and they, especially former runaway Liz and her baby Jim,  came quickly to life.

I plotted out the basics  of the story on  flip chart paper. Once I began to write (on my  Amstrad PC with its grey screen and blurry green type)  the story unfolded at a fair pace.  I was soon deeply into  themes that have always interested me: how people  use language to connect (or don’t), how the mainstream culture deals with outsiders, what makes us human,  the complications of sexuality, how we depend on stories to make sense of our lives,  and so on.  I  had a lot of fun writing  Frankie Styne. It’s a literary novel,  but there are elements of horror and touches of speculative fiction throughout, and, to my mind at least, large doses of a dark humour.  I write in both a realistic and a  more fantastic mode, and in this novel, I was able to combine both. I was also able to pay homage to Mary Shelley and, less directly, Fay Weldon,  two literary heroines of mine.  Frankie Styne came out in the UK in 1992 to great reviews, but quickly vanished in the publishing upheavals of the time. I always wished it had had more of a life and  so I was both  delighted and just a little apprehensive  when, over twenty years later,  Bilbioasis proposed to publish it for the first time  in Canada and the USA.

This meant that I had to read it. Reading my own books is something I, like many authors,  tend to avoid.  By the time a novel is complete, I  virtually know the text by heart and am heartily sick of it.  The passing of time helped with this. I read Frankie Styne and the Silver Man, and  even though (or perhaps because)  I am in by now in many ways a different person to the one who wrote it, I did enjoy it.  Still,  I had to ask myself whether  it was it still relevant, and did it matter that the characters use landlines and watch  television, that a crucial scene would have been  different if  Viagra had  been invented, and so on? How much to revise?  I’d written this novel,  which features a mother and baby, before having children of my own,  and while it  was mostly well imagined, there were places where I had things to add, and there were  several  important scenes I wanted to improve, but I left the era and as it was, and  decided I was not the best judge of the book’s continued relevance.

Early reviews, see below, have answered that question.  I’m delighted that Frankie Styne and the Silver Man  is  now finding  such enthusiastic twenty-first century Canadian and American readers.

frankiestyneARCcoversmallFrankie Styne and the Silver Man is dark and funny, painful and uplifting, marvellously satirical but never cynical, and thoroughly invested with good faith. Kathy Page is a marvel. This is the very best book that I’ve read in ages, and if I read another half as good in the next few months, that will constitute an extraordinary literary year…     Read more: http://picklemethis.com/2016/02/10/frankie-styne-and-the-silver-man-by-kathy-page/

“Page (Alphabet, 2014, etc.) builds layers of meaning into her exquisite writing. Her favored themes are here—the stark dichotomies of life, the power of language, the way the social system tries and fails to help people, and how saving grace can come from unseen places.” Kirkus starred reveiw

“Frankie Styne and the Silver Man by Kathy Page is a fantastic novel. Character driven, claustrophobic, and deeply weird, it has a haunting, discomfiting quality that lingers with a reader….”   Read more: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/2016/02/08/kathy-pages-frankie-styne-excellent-oddball.html

frankiestyneARCcoversmallFrankie Styne offers a terrific showcase of Page’s singular style (with its attractive high-low mixture of genres), quirky unexpected invention, and attention to the nuances of psychology. Mere words on a page, her creations linger in the mind long after the reading’s done….” Read more: Frankie Styne in Vancouver Sun

“Five years before The Post-Modern Prometheus aired, Page published her own twist on the Frankenstein story in her native Britain (Page moved to B.C’s Salt Spring Island in 2001), now published in Canada for the first time. In her novel, Page draws on similar pulp material – monsters; aliens; an unhappy, childless marriage – and takes her characters to equally dark places. What’s different is how Page’s monsters display a more complex relationship between inner and outer ugliness and find redemption in responsibility….  Frankie Styne still holds up almost 25 years later.”  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/review-new-fiction-from-gemma-files-kathy-page-and-more/article28743088/

frankiestyneARCcoversmall“Kathy Page’s imaginative and crisply written  Frankie Styne and the Silver Man is one of the creepiest novels I have ever read.” Largehearted Boy

“An amazing and unique read from beginning to end, Frankie Styne & the Silver Man by Kathy Page is a deftly crafted work of truly memorable literary fiction that is especially recommended for community and academic library Contemporary Fiction collections.” Midwest Book Review Bookwatch

 

 

 

 

Kathy Page at Banff Writing Studio Spring 2018

For some time now I’ve had to turn down requests to  work with other writers on their MS, but here is a wonderful opportunity:  Banff Writing Studio.  I’ve taught at Banff before and  can’t wait to return: dedicated students, gorgeous environment, and no distractions—other than the great hikes and delicious meals.

“This program is designed to offer the freedom of unstructured time in accordance to each individual participant’s needs and desired outcomes, in addition the opportunity to work with our esteemed faculty mentors during the five-week program.

Writing Studio also features a weekly reading series, as well as one-on-one sessions with a voice and relaxation instructor to help participants develop their public reading skills.”

https://www.banffcentre.ca/programs/writing-studio

 

Reading and Workshop at Blackburn Lake

As part of  Canada 150 celebrations at Blackburn lake, Salt Spring Island, on 2nd July  at 10 am,  Kathy Page will be reading from her story “We the Trees” and and talking about the inspiration for the story, as well as  offering a nature-writing workshop. This is part of a two day program of arts and nature events organized by the Salt Spring Island Conservancy. All welcome, free event.

Art and Nature Fest

 

Stories of Intimacy: Amy Reiswig interviews Kathy Page for Focus Magazine

http://focusonline.ca/node/1124

Kathy Page’s new collection of short stories explores the transformative power of one-to-one encounters.

IN THE GLOBAL VILLAGE, our world has grown so big. Our care and concern is called on by people from around the planet, and we are mentally and emotionally stretched in endless different directions. Locally, too, as Focus showcases, there’s no shortage of capital “B” Big issues to be aware of and involved in. Being engaged is one of the great parts of living in a vibrant community like Victoria, but it’s sometimes easy to lose one’s boundaries and bearings amid the tide of so much outward pull. 

So I found it incredibly refreshing, especially as I was planning my wedding, to take time to breathe deeply within the covers of Kathy Page’s new book The Two of Us (Biblioasis, September 2016). In this collection of short stories, Page invites us to settle into a series of closer relationships, more homey twosomes, and to expand our awareness inside that smaller and deceptively simple dynamic by questioning who we see, who we are and what we might become.

Tucked away on a winding Salt Spring Island road, Page’s peaceful home is the perfect spot to talk about (and experience) the power of the one-to-one. Attention focuses, stories unfold, and the pattern of listening and responding teaches you something about the other and yourself. That transformative kind of intimate interaction is at the heart of Page’s stories in this 200-page collection, each of which relates to what she calls “the most fundamental thing”: the relationship between the self and another. Whether it’s a father and daughter exploring a cave, a visiting professor negotiating culture and communication with her contact in a foreign country, a hairdresser and client who is facing cancer, a young girl and a dog “big as a wish,” spouses, squatters, strangers, Page’s characters find themselves in pairs—some momentary and some lifelong—in which there is an opportunity to change one another and be changed.

“How relationships work fascinates me,” Page tells me: “How a relationship is structured and built, and what that does to you.” Originally from Bromley, England, Page has published seven novels, including a Governor General’s Award finalist and nominee for the Orange Prize, as well as the short story collection Paradise & Elsewhere, nominated for the 2014 Giller Prize. 

But she has also, she says with a smile, had to improvise her day job and is trained as a carpenter and joiner as well as a counsellor and psychotherapist—drawing on an interest to know how she came to be who she was. She has worked in settings that vary from Vancouver Island University to Estonia, a men’s prison and a therapeutic community for drug users. What she has developed is a sharp-eyed and open-hearted curiosity about self and others.

“I’m interested in difficult characters, in when I run up against a difficult person. I find it surprising,” she explains with a lock of her intense but serene sky-blue eyes. “I’m interested to explore them without judgment.” That non-judgmental curiosity not only saved her from resentment when partnered with a somewhat stony carpentry mentor back in England but has made her a writer that pairs probing insight with gentle but direct handling. 

For instance, she tunes into the kind of prickly honesty of thoughts and feelings many of us would feel guilty admitting and would never have the guts to say out loud. She presents an older woman who both loves and is bored—even appalled—by her husband and his now slowness in just putting on his shoes. And a husband, awaiting his wife’s genetic testing results, asks himself: “What if there is bad news? How will I be for her? What will I do, what will I say to her as she turns to me?” He wonders if he will change himself into what is needed or just run. 

Page reminds us of the simple but important truth that we are mystery. We are always more than one thing at a time, and who we are and how we get there isn’t visible at the surface. “From the outside, no one would guess any of this, not in a thousand years,” one young man thinks while reflecting on his various abilities. In another story, a nervous, tongue-tied man turns out to be a surprising lover—“in the flesh, so articulate.” In a short two-pager, a child considers dragonfly nymphs, how “inside, they produced glittering wings, lungs, and enormous eyes” before splitting their skin and emerging new. She wonders: “Suppose we were just the beginning of something else?”

Skills, sorrows, incredible transformations—Page reveals the hidden and encourages us to look for it, to look differently at the people in front of us or beside us in our own lives, to understand, to forgive, and to wonder about our own new beginnings. A trip into her world is, as one of her characters says, “a day for seeing things.” 

Sometimes, Page explains, she begins with just a person or a predicament, other times with something as simple as a staircase. “With short fiction you can improvise,” she says. “It’s freeing. Novels sweep you up in momentum. Short fiction is more like a plunge into the lake” where, Page hopes, you come up and out with a bit of a shock. “You can then sit back and keep the whole thing in your mind.”

Her swimming image recalls a description of free diving in the book’s final story, centred on a swim coach and his prized protégé—a description that applies perfectly to Page’s own writing: “Depth is about the water pushing in on you and separating you from the familiar.” Page’s skill lies in separating us from the familiar by taking us deep into the everyday, making the seemingly typical or unremarkable newly remarkable, from the clink of milk bottles against a step to the slightly moldy smell of damp summer towels and the lake’s response to its swimmers: “The thick green water breaking into golden streaks and swirls with each dive, then resealing itself, perfect each time.” 

“All those things suggest human life,” Page says passionately, “and every human life is full of stories. Everywhere you look or listen, there’s a whole rich story.” 

A plunge into the intimacy of The Two of Us, Page hopes, helps readers to feel they’re in a different place in the end, even if it’s just a change in what we’re able to notice as we come back up for air ready again for the wider world—“more alive,” she says, “and aware.”

Newly married writer, editor and musician Amy Reiswig is extra appreciative of having a new perspective on the power of pairs.

The Two of Us a Best Book of 2016

 GLOBE and MAIL FICTION

THE TWO OF US

BY KATHY PAGE

“One of the most talented short-story writers working today delivered yet another knockout collection that is both darkly funny and terribly sad.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/the-globe-100-the-best-books-of-2016/article33132356/

The Writers’ Trust  Best Books of 2016 recommended by Canadian writers

Deborah Campbell
 
“Strife. Division. Tears in the social fabric. As journalism collapses, leaving fake news and social media to compete for our attention, books are one of the last places where complex conversations still take place. Kathy Page’s 2016 Giller long-listed The Two of Us is a collection of stories that explores relationships between pairs of people (not necessarily a couple). She has a dark side and knows how to throw a grenade into expectations…”
 
 

QUILL & QUIRE

The Two of Us

Kathy Page
Biblioasis
Following her 2014 collection of fantastical tales, Paradise and Elsewhere, Kathy Page’s newest story collection is notable first as a demonstration of the author’s remarkable versatility. But The Two of Us stands on its own merits: a group of emotionally resonant, poignant examinations of life and love and – most piercingly – death. Page is a highly skilled miniaturist, capable of pulling off powerful effects by way of simple (though never simplistic) prose and a keen eye for human fallibility and ambiguity. –S.B.

Quill & Quire Books of the Year

The Walrus Best Books of 2016

Canadian authors pick their favourite reads

Sonnet L’Abbé

On my bedside table are the books I’m dying to finish when I’m done marking: Kathy Page’s Giller-longlisted The Two of Us, Susan Juby’s Leacock-prize-winner Republic of Dirt, and Kamal Al-Solaylee’s truth-to-power memoir, Brown.

The Best Books of 2016

 

Psychologically rich & cinematic in the best way, the sweet agony of connection

This review  of  The Two of Us ran in the Ottawa Citizen and the Vancouver  Sun, probably elsewhere,  too.

“Word is, the publishing industry (a business sector conscious of market demand) doesn’t invest much in, or encourage, short story collections. Alice Munro-like exceptions exist, of course, but — word is — that literary genre is regarded as a money pit. In a Walmart world, apparently, any volume of short stories is artisanal, a hand-crafted labour of love: those who seek it out will cherish it, but the majority of fiction readers desire the engagement or satisfaction or dollar value that only novel-length storytelling is thought to bring.

Based on the evidence of Kathy Page’s The Two of Us and Clea Young’s Teardown, though, someone’s mistaken. These collections, 28 stories representing untold hours of art-making effort on their authors’ parts, invite us into captivating worlds. In ten-page allotments, admittedly, but still. Technically accomplished, they’re immersive, emotionally involving (the proverbial laughter through tears), and insightful.

If you’re a short story reader already, here’s another pair to seriously consider. If you’re not, maybe considering giving them a taste. They’re way more satisfying than kale.

For The Two of Us Salt Spring Island resident Kathy Page selected pieces that focus on pairs. Psychologically rich and cinematic in the best way, they showcase Page’s range of interests, clever setting choice, and singular eye.

Usually taking place in the U.K. (where Page once resided), the stories capture assorted moments in time. For instance, just four pages, “Johanna” features the reminiscences of a man whose philosophy decades earlier had been “love often” and “don’t count on me.” Settled now, he wonders if he’d want to meet one of the children he sired. Not quite two pages, “Daddy” relates just an instant in the day of a girl who is about to begin a caving adventure with her father.

Some stories envision intersecting strangers. A lovely scenario, “The Last Cut” portrays a hairdresser shaving the head of a last-minute client, a woman with cancer who then asks for his help in choosing the perfect hat.

Page often examines familial and romantic relationships. “The Perfect Day” follows shifting allegiances between interchanging pairs: a daughter taking her ailing elderly father to a historical landmark with her waspish mother in tow. Her vow — “I intend to keep smiling and move on through the kind of day I want us all to have” — proves difficult to uphold. That story twins with “The House on Manor Close” and “Dear Son,” where the subtle tensions and evolved dynamics of adult children with elderly parents are portrayed with both humour and finesse.

Showcasing lovers — squatters; worried expectant parents with problem DNA; former friends with benefits; an obese couple struggling with prejudice; and a marriage on the verge — Page hints at the myriad possible trajectories any romance might take. Altogether Page offers a master class in fun with numbers, in this case two. She has been longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for this collection… “

Brett Josef Grubisic, read in the Vancouver Sun.

It’s also a great pleasure to see this  student review in the McGill daily

 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2016/10/the-sweet-agony-of-connection/

To quote from it: “Sweet Agony is one of the shortest stories from the collection. Page proves that you sometimes don’t need to write a very detailed and long story to describe a loving relationship and evoke an emotional response. It describes two lovebirds making love on a hot day of summer while no one’s home. The story evokes the feeling of nervousness, confusion and awkwardness surrounding being intimate with one’s childhood crush.”

The Two of Us Globe Review

Short  fiction does sometimes garner short shrift in terms of review coverage. It’s a huge pleasure then, to read Steven W. Beattie’s review of The Two of Us  for the Globe, which takes the time to explore one of the stories in depth,  mentions their  “potent” emotional impact, and at the same time defends the genre.

“…Page’s ability to convey large swaths of emotion in just a few simple gestures; she runs circles around authors who work twice as hard for half the reward.”

Here it is, online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/review-kathy-pages-the-two-of-us-and-sex-and-death-a-new-anthology-of-short-fiction/article32283064/