Nosy White Woman

By (author): Martha Wilson

A daughter explains to her mother why calling the police isn’t always a sound idea. A dad tries to understand how his influence over his children persists in their adulthood. A caretaking group of sisters must rely on each other, but one has a fierce drinking problem. Throughout Nosy White Woman, ordinary people, caught in the passing moments of their daily lives, confront the reality that the quiet societies they thought they knew aren’t really so simple after all, the morals not always obvious. In these sixteen stories, Martha Wilson turns a clear-eyed yet compassionate gaze on everyday experience, from rattled family discussions, to self-examination of body and voice, to increasingly present anxieties about the end of the world, stripping each one down with precision and sardonic wit to reveal surprising truths: that individual lives always intersect with the political, and that our small gestures and personal habits reverberate in the larger world of which we can’t help being citizens.


Martha Wilson

Martha Wilson’s fiction has appeared in Best Canadian Stories 2017 and in the New Quarterly. She was runner-up for the 2017 Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Prize and a finalist for the New South 2018 fiction prize. Her writing has also been in Real Simple, New York Times, Japan Times, Kansai Time Out, and International Herald-Tribune. She is American but for more than twenty years has made her home in Canada, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.



“Intimate…Wilson presents a kaleidoscope of complicated women finding their way through parenthood, partnership, and career goals…Wilson has a deft hand for examining how the larger world infiltrates the everyday. Her characters are richly conceived…keenly observed, extremely human stories.” —Booklist

“Wilson achieves a rare laudable consistency throughout…While her settings might feel commonplace—kitchen-table dramas, extended holiday gatherings, generational disconnects, neighborly interactions—Wilson adds an extra quirk, an unexpected fleeting detail, a sudden revelation that ensures a satisfyingly lingering resonance with each and every story.” Shelf Awareness

“The people in Martha Wilson’s stories are self-aware and grounded, often with an affinity for nature — they garden, love animals, bake muffins for the farmer’s market. Good people, curious and intuitive. The stories defy easy summary, because each involves dozens of resonant incidents and insights.” Toronto Star

“Martha Wilson is one of those authors who gives the impression of knowing all our secrets and liking us anyway. She writes with wit and compassion about ordinary people dealing as well as they can with life’s immensities – growing up, getting married, becoming parents, watching their own parents age and die. Halfway through this wonderful collection of stories, I knew I would recognize Martha Wilson’s voice whenever I encountered it. And I hope I will encounter it often.” —K.D. Miller, author of Late Breaking and the Rogers Writers’ Trust-shortlisted All Saints

“Resonates in that narrow space where everyday life drips with meaning and the quiet world around us breathes its secrets. Nosy White Woman both elevates the ordinary and strips back its facade to reveal the often uncomfortable truths it hides.” —Charlie Lovett, New York Times-bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale and The Lost Book of the Grail

Nosy White Woman is a collection of compelling stories replete with delicious contradictions. Filled with sardonic, sly humour, the stories can be as touching and fleeting as daily life. The book catches today’s zeitgeist, while the style is at once traditional and decidedly contemporary. I looked forward to every spare moment I could find to read this terrific collection.” —Antanas Sileika, author of Provisionally Yours and The Barefoot Bingo Caller

“If I say morally subtle, I’m worried you won’t get how thrilling these stories are. And oh, they are thrilling. Martha Wilson plumbs the smallest moments of everyday life—of aging, marriage, parents and children—to unclog the biggest questions. In her gloomy and hilarious way, she makes familiar dramas, insults, and injuries—what one narrator calls “the small tragedies”—sparklingly fresh. If you’re looking for crescendo and certainty, though, then don’t read this absolutely quietly perfect book that I devoured through the night with a headlamp on because that’s how good it is.” —Catherine Newman, author of Catastrophic Happiness and Waiting for Birdy

“Martha Wilson’s curiosity about the world is wide-ranging and generous. In these fine stories, she brings a tender, courageous and precise attention to her characters’ foibles and concerns, while charting the places where ordinary lives intersect with and react to the political.” —Kim Aubrey, author of What We Hold in Our Hands


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Excerpt from Nosy White Woman:

When I finally stole a look inside my sister Hayden’s refrigerator last year, I was startled. Much had changed in the way of healthy-food-sounding alcohol. Hayden was basically doing her grocery shopping at the liquor store. She had coffee ale, presumably for mornings; apricot IPA and plum porter, I guess for her produce needs; pecan beer (her version of Southern cooking), and lemon hard cider; there’s your vitamin C. Also chocolate stout.

“What are you looking for?” she demanded.

“Is there any way at all that I can help you with your drinking?” I asked, closing the fridge door very very gently, as if I hadn’t quite taken in what I’d just seen.That’s my last-ditch way of dealing with her: try to be frank but also leave a little escape clause in there.

“Paige, I do not have a problem. I have been extremely clear with you about that. On the other hand, you unquestionably have a problem with trying to control my life,” she said—her standard reply to my muted annual or biannual declaration that she was out of control.

She always stayed on message, and the message was that opting for beer rather than coffee when she woke up was not odd, because our mom’s dementia and the stress of her caretaking were creating understandable extra drinking that would taper off, with no effort on Hayden’s part, when things got easier. Presumably after our mother died, which her doctors were saying could be a long time indeed.

Twenty years earlier, on Thanksgiving, I had watched Hayden nearly burn the sweet potato pie and then, evidently rattled by the magnitude of this near-tragedy, down a tall glass of Ravenswood zinfandel, like a child finishing her milk in order to leave the table. Of course I’d seen people drink beer that way, but it was startling to watch someone slam back a twelve-ounce tumbler of wine. Her eyes cut over toward me from the side, with her throat lifted and the glass tipped all the way. She was watching me watch her, and she wasn’t trying to hide. It was as if the lack of surreptitiousness could make it normal.

“Look, this is insane. You’ve really, truly got a drinking problem,” I said then, jarred nearly much by the essentially private nature of what I’d just witnessed as by the size of the glass. It was the first time I tried to talk with her about it.

“I do not,” she said reflexively, as if she’d been waiting for me to say something. “Plenty of people these days use water glasses for wine.”

“They don’t inhale it like cigarette smoke,” I said. “It would be even faster if you just stuck a straw in the bottle. Carried around an IV pole.”

That was probably eight thousand bottles of wine ago.

Spending more time with her now, one development I saw was that hand in hand with the drinking went her lying. She did it automatically, to me and to our younger sister, Carlin; to each of us individually or both of us together, on any topic or pretext. It didn’t have to be about our mother or her needs or anything with the house. She lied as a means of self-protection, to stockpile a little time or credit, to gain a few points that she might or might not need later; she did it to throw up a cloud of words and fuzz and confusion that might have no immediate purpose or benefit while she was talking, but, who knew, could come in handy sometime. She lied because it was a skill she still had, perhaps something that made her feel competent or gave her a sense of privacy.

Our mother lived for another two years after I saw the fridge of liquor groceries, and Hayden was her caregiver—a symbiotic relationship that meant she could stop pretending to job hunt altogether, and she felt entitled to budget the household money however she chose. She moved the two of them into a small rented bungalow close enough to all necessary stores that she rarely had to drive.

Carlin and I tried to make changes, but our mom was decent good care, albeit from an alcoholic. Hayden might go to bed early, but I also saw how gentle she was.

“Let’s get you set up here in your big chair,” she’d say, clucking around with shawls and footstools. “You want a snack? Want some of those fig cookies you like, with some lemonade?”

Our mother was washed and fresh-smelling, dry inside her diaper, wearing her special stockings to keep the swelling down. Hayden cooked Mom’s scrambled eggs the way she liked them, and she popped the tricky denture plate out deftly, then patted her on the cheek. Yes, Hayden was a slow-moving crisis, but the truth was that she never had a DUI and wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car when she’d had a drink. (This was one of the sources of her employment problems.) Why should she listen to us?

She’d turfed Carlin out, when she moved home from Arizona with no money and no place to stay; but Carlin, who was mad for a long time, had gotten over it.

“No, I wouldn’t want to move back in there,” Carlin said. “I was always more conflicted about living with Mom than Hayden is. Besides, I’ve made a new life now.” She was even talking about maybe dating again—not that she had signed up for Plenty of Older Fish or whatever, but her attitude shift was healthy.

So we made an uneasy peace with having our mother in Hayden’s hands. Two different doctors told me that alcoholics could sometimes be excellent caregivers. And if we were to step in, where would Hayden go?

Reader Reviews



224 Pages
8in * 5in * .56in


August 20, 2019





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FICTION / Short Stories

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