Collected Collections: From the Pros(e)

May is Short Story Month, and our Collected Collections series looks to recommend exciting books in the short story space. We’re kicking things off with a bang: three collections from some short story heavy hitters, including a Margaret Laurence winner, a LAMBDA finalist, and a posthumously-published book from a beloved Canadian writer.


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This Collected Collection: The Pros(e)

Instructions for the Drowning by Steven Heighton (Biblioasis)The literary world lost the immensely talented Steven Heighton last year to illness, and Instructions for the Drowning, his twentieth book, shows him at the height of his powers. The title refers to a story in the collection where a man recalls his father’s advice on saving a drowning person, but struggles when the time comes to put it to use. These stories are all about interpersonal care and connection, and the routine failures of each. In his obituary for Heighton, Biblioasis publisher Dan Wells said ” In this age of ironic detachment he risked being earnest, vulnerable, showing care and concern; ‘hardened against carious / words, spurious charms,’ there was about him nothing counterfeit; he worked and worried about making the world a better place to be; worried about how he, and all of us, should move through it.”Places Like These by Lauren Carter (Book*hug Press)The Prairie Fire Fiction Award, the Margaret Laurence Award, the Canada Reads longlist… Lauren Carter is a decorated poet and fiction writer. The stories in this collection Places Like These occur in places as far-ranging as Ecuador or as familiar as rural Ontario, and the landscapes of each story lend to the physical and emotional journeys Carter skillfully puts her characters through. The title story takes place in Lily Dale, New York, a spiritualist community established in the 1800s, where mediums attempt to connect with visitors’ lost loved ones; and all of the stories in the collection similarly contend with the trickiest parts of being a human. Or, as Nancy Jo Cullen says of the book: “Carter turns her penetrating writer’s gaze toward that which makes us human, the ways in which we must carry on, for better and for worse.”This Unlikely Soil by Andrea Routley (Caitlin Press)A LAMBDA literary award finalist for her debut collection Jane and the Whales, Andrea Routley returns with this quintet of linked novellas; all based around a rural west coast community of queer women. Much like life, the women pop up in each other’s stories, showcasing the complexity of community and Routley’s deft hand in capturing all of its hilarity and heartbreaks. The final – and title – novella “This Unlikely Soil” was named a finalist of the 2020 Malahat Review Novella Prize, and follows a woman trying to forge a relationship with an ex-partner’s son after her mother passes away. H. Felix Chau Bradley says of the book’s characters that they “are often caught in the particular agony of trying to make their inner selves legible to others. Reading these stories felt like being witnessed in some of my most interpersonally uncomfortable moments—that feeling of watching myself ‘behaving badly’ without being able to intervene.”

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We’ll be back each week with more Short Story Month Collected Collections – so stay tuned! If this post inspired you to “collect” one or all of these fantastic books, let us know on social @alllitupcanada.