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

 

The Two of Us

 

It’s a couple of years since my last collection of stories, Paradise & Elsewhere, was published and I’m very excited about its successor, The Two of  Us, which Biblioasis are publishing in  mid September. On the face of it, the two books  are very different – Paradise & Elsewhere is in the fabulist tradition and features characters who  do things such as changing into birds,  whereas  The Two of Us is firmly in the realist camp and deals with more regular, twenty-first century happenings – but I have come to see how both of these books, and the next, are very much connected,  part of  the same exploration. As many reviewers pointed out, the stories in Paradise & Elsewhere  often  concern an encounter between an existing community and an outsider of  some kind: How do we treat the stranger at the gate, and how does that encounter change us?  The stories in The Two of Us are  preoccupied with the human need for connection, and focus on intense  one-on-one relationships,  mother and baby,  husbands and wives, coach and athlete, mother and son, father and daughter, child and animal… Here’s how the jacket copy puts it:

Two of Us blurb

 

 

“Meaningful connection,”   continues to preoccupy me. What else is there, in the end?   How far will we go to find or obtain it?  How do we relate to those we think we are close to?

I have just finished the second draft of my next book, which concerns one relationship, a marriage, far from perfect, that lasts seventy years. Here, I’m looking at the detail of how one relationship works over time.  I’m not sure what comes next.