Michelle Berry has one of the most darkly playful and unique voices in Canadian literature and her second collection of short stories, Margaret Lives in the Basement is no exception. At its heart are characters full of longing, trapped by circumstance and unable to reach out or connect with one another. Whether it’s Margaret in the basement and her neighbours above, or two couples working out their family melodramas over dinner, there is always the presence of others but rarely a connection between them. By twists and turns Berry subverts what we know to be normal and arrives at something, though strange, more real than we like to admit.
[T]he stories in Michelle Berry’s second collection are rather more flammable, forged in the brilliance of summer heatwaves. These 11 stories stick to the skin, and not always pleasantly, as characters sweat and strip down, with or without benefit of alcohol. Berry graphically evokes smells, walls smeared with tobacco smoke, corpses in the woodshed. But while we may be repelled, we read on, in the grip of the characters’ discordant realities and expectations. We brace ourselves against terrible collisions — verbal explosions, a shotgun blast. Usually, happily, we are let off lightly.
—Quill & Quire
Berry’s prose is terse and swift, full of killer one-liners and acerbic observations. All Berry’s characters have lost something: wives, sons, minds, sisters, bathing suits, trust, hope. Their attempts to recover and sort out what went wrong, and how to fix things, don’t work out — at least not in the way you’d expect… Berry deftly, repeatedly, shows just how clueless and creepy we can be…
—The Georgia Straight
[D]istinguished by its quirky perspective on the everyday lives of not-so-common characters and the calculated precision of its prose… Readers who relish the position of literary voyeur will delight in the remote voice and cool style of these stories… In Berry’s hand, ordinary circumstances are rendered as extraordinary, unsettling events and the reader must beware. Although “nothing seems to be different than before. Nothing has changed…Nothing seems out of place…,” the world has reshaped itself in the brief span of 200 pages.
—The Toronto Star