First Fiction Friday: Difficult People

May 17, 2019

There's something about a #FridayReads recommendation before a long weekend that feels just a little bit sweeter. Put your feet up with Catriona Wright's  Difficult People (Nightwood Editions), a collection of dark and wicked-funny stories that remind us that, while we may think we've left the difficult people of our work-week slog behind for a few days, the truth is, we're all a bit difficult in each of our own ways.

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What: Difficult People (Nightwood Editions)

 

Who: Catriona Wright is the author of the poetry collection  Table Manners (Véhicule Press, 2017). Her short stories have appeared in GeistJoylandGrain, The New Quarterly and Room. She is the poetry editor for The Puritan and a co-founder of Desert Pets Press. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

 

Why you need to read this now:

Wright’s collection of short stories, Difficult People, comes at you, full force, like a natural disaster. It’s a good kind of chaos though, the type that draws you into the eye of the storm. The characters are constantly whipped into a frenzy by millennial anxiety, the people they interact with and their own hectic minds. There’s never time for meandering in a short story, and this collection quickly whisks you into a world of fictional lives, while the aftermath shocks you into the next story. Even though many of the characters are wrought with “unlikable” traits, they are still relatable. Imagine all your family’s quirkiest thoughts on display. You don’t have to like them to love them.

The whole collection feels like a social experiment. “The Unofficial Calculation Museum” actually takes place during a tornado. A brother and sister are forced to confront their shared family trauma while wind and sand threaten to destroy their meticulously curated collection of calculators.

In “The Copy Editors,” the lives of two brothers revolve around fixing typos on shop signs in Toronto. (They are all real “found” mistakes.) In contrast are the conceptional poets who purposefully perform lobotomies on each other to mess with their language production skills.

Wright doesn’t shy away from awkward or uncomfortable scenes. She displays the full spectrum of the human mind—even when it’s weird—and at times the situations can make you feel squeamish. You won’t think your desk job is so bad after reading “Content Moderator.” This story focuses on a young woman who is unable to find work, and accepts a job clicking through the darkest corners of the internet.

“Olivia and Chris” takes place in a surreal near-future, when microprocessors in the brain cause infertility and out-sourced surrogates are the new norm. The story starts in a prenatal yoga class for soon-to-be mothers where only one woman is physically pregnant.

By the end of the collection, the reader identifies with the longing of the characters and Wright uses very physical metaphors to describe these feelings. Emily, from “The Emilies,” describes her two current friendships “as dutiful and potentially pointless as washing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.” Instead, she wants “a friendship that’s a perpetual scooping of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.” Her yearning is a recurrent melancholic theme—everyone wants something that they don’t have—whether they’ve lost it or they are still striving for it: fame, love, friendship or family. Difficult People reminds us that we’re all searching for something.

 

X+Y comparison

Difficult People is Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing meets Alissa Nutting’s Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, a potent mixture of punchy prose, misfit characters and absurd humour.

 

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A special thank you to Marisa at Nightwood Editions for sharing Difficult People with us. Read more First Fiction Friday's on the ALU blog!


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