Peter Norman's Reading Recommendations:
Three remarkable short fiction collections stand out from my recent reading.
I’m just now finishing Rajesh Parameswaran’s I Am an Executioner: Love Stories (2012), as thrilling, imaginative, and unsettling a collection as I can remember having read. If “love stories” puts you off, it shouldn’t: this book skews distressing rather than sappy, bending the concept of “love story” into transgressive and often hilarious shapes. Techniques vary widely, and the cleverness and meta-fictional flourishes enhance rather than obscure the gripping narratives. Protagonists include a tiger, an elephant, and, in what might be the book’s most disturbing entry, the namesake executioner.
Speaking of thrilling, imaginative, and unsettling, last year brought us a dazzling new collection by Jonathan Ball, for my money one of the most exciting writers at work today. (Disclosure: he’s also a friend.) The Lightning of Possible Storms is linked by more than theme; its connective tissue, revealed gradually, creates a satisfying aesthetic whole even as the stories branch out in all sorts of mind-bending directions. It’s a spiritual cousin of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, binding its staggering array of stories into a terrific über-story.
Sarah Hall’s debut collection, The Beautiful Indifference (2011), is also notably disturbing (I guess that’s what I’m into!) and exceptionally accomplished. Here too you’ve got an impressive range of technique and approach, and in this case a masterful handling of colloquial voice. The harrowing lead piece, “Butcher’s Perfume,” may be one of my very favourite short stories of all time. I’m abashed that it took me so long to arrive at the work of this superb writer; I can’t wait to get into her 2019 collection, Sudden Traveller, and any of her several novels.
Peter Norman’s novel, Emberton (Douglas & McIntyre, 2014), was longlisted for the Sunburst Award. His fiction has appeared in The Walrus, Joyland, Grain, PULP Literature, Victory Meat: New Fiction from Atlantic Canada, and elsewhere. His story Pumphouse Marsh can be found in issue 287 of The Fiddlehead, order your copy today!
See more at peternorman.ca