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Fractures: Family Stories

by Budge Wilson
198 pages,
ISBN: 0143312014


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Children's Books
by Karen Butcher

Short story lovers rejoice! If the recent spate of short story anthologies is any indication, the genre is experiencing a revival. Though brief enough to be read in one sitting, the short story¨if done well, is a complex narrative and in many ways more challenging to write than the novel. To amass twelve well-crafted stories by a single author is an impressive feat indeed. But that is precisely what Penguin has achieved with Fractures, the new short story collection by beloved veteran writer, Budge Wilson.

A fracture, as Wilson explains in the book's introduction, is not necessarily a break. More often it is merely a crack, and often a small one at that. With this in mind, the stories in this collection explore the fractures within families. Some are nothing more than the quirks of family members' characters which uniquely define each family as a whole. Others are so debilitating that the damage can never be undone.

For the most part, the stories in this anthology are set in Atlantic Canada, a fact that may or may not have impact on the narrative, but which always affects a story's tone. Though each tale focuses on a flaw or fracture from the perspective of an adolescent member of a family, the style of narration differs from story to story. A few are told in third person; the rest are narrated by the characters themselves, sometimes from the distance and emotional safety of remembrance, but more often within the immediacy of the moment.

"Like a Water Lily", perhaps the most poignant story in the collection, is a sensitive snapshot of a girl trapped by negative self-esteem. It is also the first story in Fractures, and as such, hooks the reader for the duration of the book. Like many of the other pieces ("Brothers and Sisters", "Crybaby", "The Metaphor"), it explores issues related to self-image and negative ways in which family life can affect it.

Another recurring theme is that of revelation or newly-gained understanding. In "My War", set in Halifax during World War II, a fourteen-year-old girl caught up in the 'glamour' of war is critical of her father's reluctance to share his war experiences. It isn't until she encounters a different, yet equally unforgettable horror that she is finally able to empathize. "Fathers" and "Mr. Manuel Jenkins" also examine this important and often painful aspect of emotional growth.

Other stories are concerned with how family fractures affect the rites of passage from childhood to adult life. In "Dreams", a young man looks back on his boyhood years with wistful acceptance. In "Confusion", eighteen-year-old Clara finds her beliefs thrown into disarray when she falls in love for the first time. "Carlotta's Search" follows a young girl determined to face life's problems while her family doggedly attempts to protect her from them.

The stories in this collection are all different and yet connected, and because they deal with human flaws, flaws many of us share, they are sure to strike a familiar, albeit melancholy, chord in readers of all ages.

Kristen Butcher's latest books are Cairo Kelly and the Mann and The Hemingway Tradition, both published by Orca Book Publishers.

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