ALU Summer Book Club: Seeds and Other Stories Discussion
August 12, 2020
Not even quarantine life or Zoom hiccups could stop us from serving up our annual summer book club with a discussion of Ursula Pflug's fantastical and magical collection of short stories
Seeds and Other Stories (Inanna Publications). Read on for the spoiler-filled highlights from our staff chat and a reading guide for your own book club discussion!
These questions served as jumping off points for us to unpack and discuss Seeds and Other Stories.
1. The 26 stories in Seeds are a mixture of magical, apocalyptic, surrealist, and literary. Are there any standout stories or favourites you had? Why?
Laura: I really loved "Myrtle’s Marina." I liked it before I found out it’s set in a place not far from me. That was a fun discovery while I was reading it. I liked the setup, the characters, and I thought the descriptions were beautiful and evocative. "The Lonely Planet Guide to Other Dimensions" was great too. It juggles between two perspectives but it’s clear they are alternate realities and a flip side of each other. It’s cool when an author plays with that kind of perspective. It’s a story that teaches you how to read it—you have to see where it leads you. There are rules of this universe.
Mandy: One of my favourite stories in the collection was "The Lonely Planet Guide to Other Dimensions." I enjoyed the writing itself and the pacing of Pflug's sentences — the precise language. I also enjoyed the meta aspect of the story with how one person living in one dimension is writing a story about the other person living in the other dimension, and how one has the potential to rewrite the story. I also thought "Washing Lady's Hair" was well done. In it Pflug explores the idea of art and therapy through a new drug that either inspires people or helps them access past trauma to heal.
Barb: "Kaolani, from Kaua’i"—I got a good sense of Hawaii and it reminded me of being young and travelling. Everything about Pflug's writing is dreamlike.
Tan: I had a few favourites: "Big Ears" is about the embodiment of talent—a monster or bird—and I loved how [Pflug] explores the nuances of addiction and artistic expression. The characters try to reflect love and purpose back to each other to help them rise. I thought it was a beautiful little snapshot of these imperfect characters who were so perfect for each other. I liked "Seeds" toobecause as someone who likes to garden it spoke to me. It reminded me of the lady from Stephen King’s The Stand. It was a lovely metaphor of starting over and growing a community. I also liked "Daughter Catcher," which is a beautiful exploration of women’s power and legacy through the witch lens.
Leyla: I liked "A Room of His Own." It had a lot to do with artistic expression, another common theme in the book. This creature the character has imagined starts to use all her art materials to create and helps her break out of this idea that it’s okay to express yourself in your art and not be afraid. There's this idea that Letting herself go in her creativity is too honest. I took the collection to be this comment on this inability to create or a stunting of creation. There’s a lot of beautiful imagery in the story and in a lot of these stories.
2. Pflug juxtaposes hyperrealism and fantasy in Seeds. What effect did this have on your reading of the stories?
Mandy: Settings are unusual but the themes are very universal—love, heartbreak, family dynamics, etc. So while we can relate to and understand the themes and character motivations, the spec aspect of the collection introduces fantastical worlds and reality adjacent situations that made it an immersive read for me. It's compelling.
Tan: The more I think about these stories, the more I like them. This is a collection that you really benefit from unpacking with someone—it helps ground the stories in a more realistic way. It makes the fantastic elements make more sense. Each story’s universe is so unique and because [Pflug] is a flash fiction writer it’s very stream of consciousness. You’re so in the character’s minds and how the characters react to what’s going on. You get to learn about what’s happening through the characters’ reactions, there isn’t a lot of description about what’s happening. This is a collection that will stay with me for awhile.
Leyla: This is surrealist writing done well—when an author blends the fantastical and real so seamlessly.
Laura: There's a flat affect or tone that challenges you to accept on its face value.
3. The stories in Seeds include work written over decades. One of the stories, "Judy" was first published in the '80s, and is about a pandemic. Reading it during our own very real pandemic, how does it resonate with you?
Leyla: This story was very dreamlike. It was hard to know if it was all real in a way, just like what we're going through.
Laura: I thought it was almost prescient. Legionnaires' disease was terrifying because it was invisibly moving through air ducts. And now we’re dealing with similar issues about air ventilation systems.
Tan: I would love to read more about Judy—that story could be a whole novella. It’s very multi-layered.
Mandy: I liked that this story is multilayered, that there isn’t a lot of detail. I liked that it forced me to draw my own conclusions.
4. Many of the characters in Seeds seem to be haunted by something or someone from their past. What do you think Pflug is saying about the past?
Barb: There is a lot about bad father-daughter dynamics in some of these stories and the past coming back up. In "Kaolani, from Kaua’i" the main character is reminded of her father’s hands while she’s with a man. She has a hyper fear that this man will be violent towards her.
Mandy: In "The Lonely Planet Guide to Other Dimensions," one of the characters asks the other to rewrite a part of her story so they can change an outcome. I think there's this notion that runs through the stories that the past is still present, that we carry it forward with us into the new place or space we're in, and that it also evolves because memory has a way of altering past events.
Leyla: There is this notion that remembering differently changes what happened in the past. It reminds me of that Netflix show Dark in a way. Being haunted seems to come up. In some of these stories, there are these external representations of your inner shame.
Tan: The overall impression about the past is that you will always carry with you—whether you’re hurt by your past, haunted by it, or learn to live with the past, depends on you. The characters are either aware of the impact of their past on their present or they’re not—the ones who can’t or don’t accept their past sits there and impacts them negatively until they learn to embrace it or deal with whatever the past requires of them.
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