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.

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

 

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 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

 

 

 

 

 

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