All posts by Kathy

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/

A Good Start: The Two of Us nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize

It’s over a week since I heard from  Dan Wells at Biblioasis that my short story collection, The Two of Us, had been short-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. It was a delicious surprise and is  a great  honour and, but since it happened, I’ve been too busy to post here, and have only been only shocked into action by the Giller Prize tweeting an invite to my website yesterday.  giller-screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-10-14-17-amThis is rather like having your parents visiting unannounced, and a bit of belated house-keeping seems in order, so here I am,  – delighted, too, with the first review from Quill and Quire:    http://www.quillandquire.com/review/the-two-of-us/

My previous collection of stories, Paradise & Elsewhere was  long-listed for the same prize in 2014. The two books are very different,  so this adds to the pleasure of the current nomination in that I feel both sides of my writing personality and interests  have been in some way endorsed. It’s also great  to be  part of what looks to be a very strong and diverse list.  

Many thanks to this year’s jury, Lawrence Hill, Jeet Heer, Kathleen Winter, Samantha Harvey, and Alan Warner – and also to my editor, John Metcalf, and publisher, Dan Wells for all their skilled work and dogged faith in my writing.

kp-twoofus-sq

 

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page

Storytellers

A Tale of Four Storytellers

In this thoughtful and illuminating essay posted on AllLit Up,  https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2015/A-Tale-of-Four-Storytellers,  Poet Zachary Wells asks whether Canadian culture is old enough to  make a literature of fantasy, and  concludes with an affirmation that yes, it is, provide we  have an elastic definition of what Canadian is, and can overcome the traditional prejudice against work that breaks out of realist bounds.  Wells includes Paradise & Elsewhere in his survey of  recent fabulist short story collections, which also includes work by  Sean Virgo, Mike Barnes, Molly Peacock and Stuart Ross. Here’s what he says about Paradise  & Elsewhere:

Kathy Page, originally from England, is best known for her realist fiction. Her recently republished prison novel, Alphabet, has been praised for its gritty fidelity to the prisoner’s experience in the English penal system. Page’s editor, John Metcalf, admitted to her that he has a McEwanesque “prejudice against non-realistic writing,” and was therefore reluctant even to read the manuscript of Paradise & Elsewhere (Biblioasis), which Page had submitted at the same time as a collection of more conventional stories. When she prevailed upon him to give the fabulist book a chance, it turned out that he liked it a great deal.

Wells_3

As have many readers and awards jurors, perhaps because of the very archetypal nature of the collection’s tales. Tolstoy, who looked to the art of the peasantry for models, famously said that “all great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” The latter plot is crucial to Page’s dark fables. The place where the stranger arrives is not usually a town, per se, but the settings of Page’s stories tend to be hostile, isolated, inhospitable zones. If these are not always “the places where things begin,” as the book’s cover copy proclaims, they are certainly the sort of place, like the Galapagos, where things, be they species or languages or stories, mutate into unique, heterogeneous forms—the sort of place where a stranger’s arrival means trouble.

Indeed, one of the book’s most trenchant themes is the troubled interpenetration of the modern and the pre-historical. In “G’Ming,” the book’s first story, the narrator is Aeui, a teenager on an impoverished island who bilks tourists of money in exchange for “authentic” exposure to village life. While Aeui disdains the gullibility of his marks, he is also contemptuous of his shaman uncle who “sits by the river all day. It seems to me he has no obligations.” The next story, “Lak-ha” is the very brief origin myth for a community that clings to life on an exposed, stony peninsula, supported by the Hetlas tree, the fibrous wood of which, it turns out, is very good for making rope. A chance visit from a foreign ship brings commercial exchange to Lak-ha. The rope trade affords a measure of prosperity to the people, who now “have television, internet, iPod, cellphone, denim jeans, Barbie doll, same as you.”

As in Barnes’ and Virgo’s books, the nature of storytelling, its origins and its future, the imperatives of “objective” journalism or science in conflict with myth, feature prominently. In “Clients,” a fable set in an unspecified future time in which the rage for expertise has infiltrated all aspects of society, a couple hires a professional conversationalist who “doubt[s] that [they] would enjoy a home-grown conversation.” They decide to give it a go regardless and the story ends with them as an Edenic couple, speaking to each other haltingly, making the first hesitant, unmediated forays into language, “a new country, vast, intricate, ours.”

The article is very much worth reading in it entirety. https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2015/A-Tale-of-Four-Storytellers

Dan Vyleta’s Walrus review of Paradise & Elsewhere

A huge pleasure to have this review from Dan Vyleta in The Walrus.

The Short List

Book jacket courtesy of Biblioasis

Paradise and Elsewhere
Kathy Page

Toward the end of Paradise and Elsewhere’s longest and structurally most intricate story, “The Ancient Siddanese,” an enigmatic tour guide to the ruins of a desert city invites the group to “close your eyes and explore Sidda by touch.” The narrator, an inhabitant of a near-future in which the sun has become humanity’s enemy, accepts the invitation and finds an unexpected perspective in his fumbling: that of a hypothetical interstellar tourist who discovers the dried-out planetary lump that was Earth and wonders at the creatures who left their marks on the dead world.

The whole of Kathy Page’s beautiful, daring collection can be read as an invitation to seek out new points of view, with all the discomfort implicit in the act. The opening story, “G’Ming,” stages an encounter between what we so confidently call the “developing world” (as though its primary marker were stunted modernization) and the “developed world” from the point of view of a village boy, whose close observation of tourist behaviour is as shrewd as it is disconcerting. Like all the stories in Paradise and Elsewhere, “G’Ming” remains elusive about its precise setting, sabotaging the reader’s yearning for certainties. It sets the tone for a collection that moves seamlessly from realist accounts of the here and now, to dispatches from our imminent future, to the timeless worlds of myth and dream. It makes for giddy reading: each story’s opening paragraph an unlabelled door that may lead anywhere at all.

In “Low Tide,” we find ourselves deep in Angela Carter territory, where fairy tales are reunited with their latent sexual content to take soundings of the treacherous depths of desire—Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” reimagined as an abusive relationship between a lighthouse keeper and the creature of the sea he seeks to possess. The next story, “My Beautiful Wife,” is a realist portrait of an eastern European intellectual who is unsettled to find that the democratic revolution has brought in, among its stock of fresh ideas, emancipation; he witnesses his wife becoming other to him, despite his love.

Attempts at communication across lines of gender, wealth, and even species; sudden changes in points of view and their implied reshuffling of certainties—despite the book’s many shifts in genre, protagonist, and setting, the collection has a startling coherence. Like children at a sleepover, tucked beneath shared covers, the stories whisper to one another, providing a thematic richness to the book that far outstrips its page count. As with all good fiction, Paradise and Elsewhere helps us to see more clearly (though clarity is not without its dangers: in “I Like to Look,” the narrator literally observes her sister to death).

The result is a collection that, while neither flawless nor comfortable, is always intriguing, often dazzling, and—for all the bleakness it unearths—immensely fun to read. Page has rebelled against the provincial assumption that we readers care only about the familiar and understood. “We must learn to talk to each other differently now,” Liia tells her husband in “My Beautiful Wife.” It is the awareness of this need that sets this fine book apart from so many others.

Dan Vyleta

https://thewalrus.ca/the-short-list/

Spring Readings on the West Coast

 The snow has long ago melted (or never really settled) here on the West Coast, and the nights are longer, yet not so warm that you want to stay  out gardening: a perfect time for literary readings. I’m taking Frankie Styne and the Silver Man to some great local libraries and bookstores. 

29th March, 7 pm,  Kathy Page reads with poet Alexandra Oliver at Book Warehouse on Main in Vancouver

5th April, 7 pm, Kathy Page reads with  Douglas Gibson at Cowichan Library, 2687 James St, Duncan

6th April 7.30 pm, Kathy Page reads with Douglas Gibson at Russell Boooks,  734 Fort St, Victoria

23rd April,  Kathy Page reads in Sechelt

27th April, 7.30 pm, Kathy Page  reads with  Tricia Dower  at  Mulberry Bush Books, 28o Island Highway, Parksville

29th April,  10 am, Kathy Page on air with Sheila Peters on CICK 93.9

 

An Evening with Douglas Gibson (Across Canada by Story)

& Kathy Page (Frankie Styne and the Silver Man)

frankie-styne-cover-sqrFrankie Styne and the Silver Man

When Liz Meredith and her new baby move into the middle rowhouse on Onley Street – Liz having lived for years off-grid in an old railcar – there’s more to get used to than electricity and proper plumbing. She’s desperate to avoid her well-meaning social worker and her neighbours Alice and Tom, who, for reasons of their own, won’t leave her alone.  And then there is her other neighbour, the disfigured and reclusive  John Green, better known to the world as Frankie Styne, the author of a series of violent best-sellers. When his latest novel is unexpectedly nominated for a literary prize and his private life is  exposed in the glare of publicity,  Frankie plots  a gruesome, twisted  revenge that threatens others who call Onley Street home.  Frankie Styne and the Silver Man is unforgettable: a thrilling novel of literary revenge, celebrity culture and the power of love and beauty in an ugly world.

           “A fierce writer; her relentless imagination and pure writing skills bring a broken, nightmare world fully to life.”Kirkus Reviews

            “Page’s monsters display a more complex relationship between inner and outer ugliness and find redemption in responsibility.”The Globe & Mail

            “Frankie 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.”

Vancouver Sun

           “This book has the trappings of great pulp … Page’s prose is vivid and alive, with nary a scrap of throwaway writing to be found.”Publishers Weekly

           “Frankie Styne is a taut examination of the complex emotional ties that bind, the methods we employ to distance ourselves, and our ambiguous powers of imagination.”Time Out UK

           “Fresh and engaging. Her writing is crisp and her insights into human behavior are acute.”

—Lynne Van Luven, Monday Magazine

 

 Across Canada by Story

Acclaimed McClelland & Stewart Publisher and Editor, Douglas Gibson, crossed “no man’s land” and entered authors’ territory when he wrote Stories About Storytellers in 2011. The memoir is a fond remembrance of Canada’s elite “literati”: Alice Munro, Alistair MacLeod, Hugh MacLennan, W.O. Mitchell, Barry Broadfoot, Mavis Gallant, Pierre Trudeau, and others. Gibson calls it “a cheerful personal memoir of working with 20 famous Canadian authors, some of whom are still with us.” Gibson’s 2015 title, Across Canada by Story invites readers on a coast-to-coast journey following the Scotsman as he tours the nation with a stage show telling more tales. Often witty, at times tender, and always amusing, the memoir paints a portrait of Robertson Davies, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Terry Fallis, Myrna Kostash, Trevor Herriot and others, with accompanying illustrations by Anthony Jenkins.

  His legendary stage presence radiates on the page and his wit, sincerity, and eloquence – a trait that earns him instant rapport with the reader – makes readers feel they are gossiping with an old friend returned from life on the road. Gibson absorbs the landscape, culture, and history of each province he visits, while treating readers to some amusing rendezvous with authors and other locals along the way: He rediscovers James Houston’s riverside distractions in Haida Gwaii; tastes the wine his wife, Jane, is partial to in Prince Edward County; munches succulent peaches and apricots on the Sunshine Coast; daydreams in the Deer Creek sunshine; goes bird-watching with Trevor Herriot on Last Mountain Lake; visits Anne of Green Gables sites in PEI; and you come along for the ride.

 

Frankie Styne and the Silver Man

frankiestyneARCcoversmall

“Page’s imaginative powers are electric. She has the ability to analyze the often nightmarish qualities of the human psyche and as a result, Frankie Styne is a taut examination of the complex emotional ties that bind, the methods we employ to distance ourselves, and our ambiguous powers of imagination. She is at once poignant and provocative, stomach-churningly distasteful and yet compulsively readable.”  Time Out

Page is a fierce writer; her relentless imagination and pure writing skills bring a broken, nightmare world fully to life.Kirkus starred review

 I’m delighted to learn that Frankie Styne and the Silver Man is due for release in Canada and the US in February 2016 and has already earned a Kirkus starred review  https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kathy-page/frankie-styne-and-silver-man/.

 I’m very fond of this novel, which  combines fantastic  elements with a (mostly) realistic narrative, partly because it is funny as well as serious, stomach-churning, etcetera.  It’s set in  a  terraced street in small town in the UK, where some very distinctive characters live side-by side and sometimes overhear  and/or try interfere with each other’s lives.  More details will follow, but here’s what the UK edition said: 

“Frankie Styne, the successful author of a series of gruesome killer novels,  has lived  at 125 Onley Street for many years. Meticulous and obsessive, he lives a life of isolation, managing to keep both future and past at bay.

Next door, live Liz Meredith and her new baby, Jim. Liz has been told by her social worker Mrs Purvis that Jim has a rare disorder, and will never be like other children. But Mrs Purvis can’t see, as Liz can, that Jim already knows things no ordinary person could. Besides, Liz doesn’t want any help from the social services, or from Tom and Alice, the couple at number 129 who seem to want to adopt her – or is it Jim they really want? In any case, Liz  yearns to be left in peace so that she can imagine her way out of how things are.

When Frank’s solitary anonymity is threatened, he hatches a real-life plot which, as he begins to enact it, unexpectedly changes not only his own life, but also those of Liz and Jim. Sifting through our collective nightmares, Kathy Page has written a novel that is powerful, humorous, tragic and thoroughly surprising…”

My recent novels, The Find, Alphabet and The Story of My Face, are suspenseful narratives about characters who struggle not only with circumstances, but also with their own natures.  It was in Frankie Styne and the Silver Man that I began to  explore questions about the nature of identity which have continued to animate my work, and to develop a fascination with  the inner lives characters who are marginalized, extraordinary or in some way “other.”

Exquisite writing .. Page is a fierce writer; her relentless imagination and pure writing skills bring a broken, nightmare world fully to life. Kirkus starred review

“Frankie Styne & the Silver Man resists being put down for the night… I read 
on, captivated and creeped-out. But this being Kathy Page, I always trusted 
I was heading away from a nightmare, towards a happier place. This is 
Felicia’s Journey, with a big dollop of hope.” Caroline Adderson,  prize-winning author of  Ellen in Pieces.

“Fresh and engaging. Her writing is crisp and her insights into human behavior are acute.” Lynne Van Luven, Monday Magazine

“Great story. Great writing too. You render down the monstrous, gently fold the abnormal into an embrace and make it human… fantastic!” Helen Heffernan

“Each  character in the book is horrific, but each in a different way. I was even afraid of the baby! Was absolutely certain that a truly gruesome ending was in story but couldn’t put it down anyway. Ending was perfect. It’s a keeper. Will read again.” Barb Egerter

Good Company

 A real  thrill to receive a copy of Best Canadian Stories 15, and find my story, “Low Tide,”  in such good company!  Like many writers, I rarely read my own work once it’s in print, but there is plenty for me in this anthology.  Thanks to editor John Metcalf and Oberon Press.  ISBN 978 0 770 1432 4SC

 

Best Canadain Short Stories 15

The Horse on the Road

The Horse on the Road

The road is pretty much a straight one: highway, with various intersections and stop lights.  It passes a small shopping mall, a tiny airport,  various yards stacked with lumber , a used car lots, garages, two farmer’s markets.  To the left:  high ground, still snow-capped; to the right, glimpses of the ocean.  Houses. Densely packed trees. Occasional fields. What you see most of all, however,  is the road itself,  signals,  blacktop,  crash barriers, signage,  and, of course, the cars and trucks ahead, to the side, or glimpsed in the mirrors. It’s pass or be passed on  a two-way river of metal and glass; the road reels out and on, suspending us drivers in the means to our ends, and active trance,  a kind of super-alert sleep…  Then the brake lights ahead  go on and we’re  down to forty, then twenty kilometres per hour. Ten. Gaps narrow.  Traffic clots to a standstill,  vehicles pack the road ahead solid until it disappears around a bend.  All of a sudden we are  going nowhere.

Some days, the sky is spectacular, cerulean,  stormy, or multiply rainbowed,  but today it’s an even  grey. We sit under it and wait, each in our metal box.  One by one, we  switch off our engines, reach for the radio or phone. A grey-haired man in the Subaru next to me winds down his window, lights up a smoke.  According to temperament, we rage or resign ourselves. Perhaps five minutes pass before  the reason for all this appears: a perfectly groomed chestnut horse – so real  that he seems  like some kind of hallucination – appears  between  a  piled logging truck and  an empty  a school bus and trots at a steady pace against the now-stilled flow of traffic. He does not appear  to  hurry.  Choosing always  the widest gaps, anticipating, never slackening his pace, he threads his way between the  vehicles as if they were simply part of the landscape.  His mane floats up and sinks again  with each step. Unfettered by any kind of reins or  bridles,  he disappears behind another truck,  reappears and is suddenly just feet away: I look up from my bucket seat at a being from the World Before Cars. I see  something far larger than I am with long teeth, soft lips;  deep, velvet  nostrils;  brown eyes fringed with  a plethora of lashes. His coat glistens, and beneath it, every muscle seems independently alive… Oh, to  climb up there and be joined to him, part of the fleshy world instead of the metal stream. My own, lesser musculature aches  for  that lost world, for movement itself. All I can do is  wind down the window to catch  the beat of hooves on the road, the tang of  equine sweat as the horse passes, going where he wants to go.

         Our engines cough into life. We pull away from each other, accelerate, drive to work.