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Black Coffee Night

by Emily Schultz
192 pages,
ISBN: 1894663268

She writes: love, spaghetti and other stories by youngish women

by Edited by Carolyn Foster
180 pages,
ISBN: 1896764681


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What Younger Women Want
by Sarah Rosenfeld

"Is there anyone my age writing stories I'd want to read?"

Carolyn Foster asked herself this question in her mid-twenties, after growing up with the top ladies of Canadian literature like Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro. Foster is the editor of She Writes: Love, spaghetti and other stories by youngish women, a collection of short fiction by a new generation of young Canadian women writers. In this new anthology, Foster wanted to find out those same answers for today's twenty-and thirty-something women. Who is the voice of this generation? And what are these women writing about?
The authors of the "spaghetti stories" are a group of up-and-coming women in Canada: Dana Bath, Heather Birrell, Christy Ann Conlin, Annabel Lyon, Kristen den Hartog, Elizabeth Ruth, Natalee Caple, Kelly Watt, Teresa McWhirter and Suzanne Matczuk to name them all. I name them all because all of the stories are strong and if you haven't seen their works or heard their names on contest winner lists, in magazines, reviews or newspapers, you're bound to come across them in the future.
From the outset, you know this is going to be a good book¨not the kind of short story collection where you keep count of how many pages you have left to read in each story. The anthology opens with Lyon's "The Monkey" and already the ball gets rolling. Lyon's quick pace and choppy, witty dialogue entertain as the narrator, a young woman dating a divorced parent, becomes friendly with his kid. Add in a tag-along ex-wife, a couple more oddball characters, a Christmas party with samosas and Charlie Brown Christmas music and you've got a romantic comedy.
Of course, not all love stories are light. "Love in Two Pieces" by den Hartog changes gears. A story in two parts, den Hartog masters the inner thoughts of the female characters. In part one, an elderly woman struggles with the death of her husband and old age. In part two, the granddaughter is left by her boyfriend for another woman. Den Hartog is a gifted writer and her talents shine in this piece. The story shifts back and forth between the present and past memories, between reality and insanity but the reader is never lost. Like a good movie where the screen dissolves, this story sucks you into its pages. Den Hartog has been called a literary younger sister to Alice Munro and as a fan of Munro's fiction, I'm eager to read den Hartog's recent first novel Water Wings.
Congratulations to author Birrell on her story "Congratulations, Really". The story about two young girls at a Baptist church sleepaway camp made me laugh out loud in places. The language is playful and if you ever went away to camp and know that gimp is plastic string woven into colourful bracelets, have worn long johns, and know what "counterfeit roses, deet, and maxi pads" smells like, you'll have no problem relating to this one. Birrell has a great sense of humour that evokes classic camp scenes (and the feeling of being itchy) like in this passage: "They make a run for it while the counsellor is demonstrating what he claims is an ancient Iroquois bow position. To keep the mosquitoes at bay the girls perform rapid karate chops in the air around their faces as they walk. Their breath comes quickly, in urgent puffs. It is unwise to talk in this state."
Bath's "Bottle Episode" resonates long after the book is put down, making it my favourite story of the book, one of a young woman and her mom on a tour of an old-growth forest. Add in this young woman's secret, a sweet but prying Butoh dancer who breaks into dance in lime green chiffon on an old log, and this walk in the woods tugs at our emotions in all the right places.

Who else is speaking my age, writing stories I'd want to read?
Emily Schultz's book of short stories Black Coffee Night, a collection of short stories on friendship, identity and sex, is something I'd want to read. Her prose often verges on poetry, words so carefully chosen they result in the kind of fluid writing I find admirable.
I'm particularly attracted to the poetic qualities of her fiction. The brief opener "Foam" is practically a prose poem: "The night is a saucer catching all the spills. Words like sugar granules collect in crusted brown rivers as hours clink and clatter away beneath the movement of hands."
The collection begins though with a snippet from Anais Nin's Collages, foreshadowing the identity theme in fantastic stories like "The Value of x" and "Accessories". In the passage Schultz chose, Nin says identity is something inorganic, stuck on, like a costume or uniform: "They bore them stiffly, as if on display, like extras for a bohemian scene, proclaiming: look at me."
"Accessories"¨a good example of how this theme is put to use¨is a monologue of an overjudgmental, inexperienced youngster (you know, the kind that criticizes others for failings they themselves have without being aware of it). Schultz really brings the egocentric nature of the character across in what could almost be an interview on a reality TV show with a girl in bitch-red boots sporting a Farah Fawcett haircut claiming "I was so rocker chick before it happened. I had just come out of my Hello Kitty phase and I was like the nemesis to myself."
"The Value of x" shines in the collection. The narrative is creative; catchy lipstick shades¨Cocoa Transparent and Constant Crimson¨are used to signal identity. It's a boy-meets-girl ¨or rather a girl-meets-boy¨story about two high school teenagers confused yet embracing their gender-identity. The story was good enough to catch the attention of THIS Magazine, winning second place in their Great Canadian Literary Hunt 2000 and is now being adapted for television.
In "Watering the Dark", Schultz divulges the title and cover photo of the "Mister Coin Wash" laundromat and in fact, I'm glad the cover alerts us to look more closely at this piece.
In one of the numbered passages, Schultz is, perhaps, telling us something about her own convictions: "They were publishing great novels about great turmoil in quiet corners; perhaps that was what this was all about. A marching band of misanthropes was what I wanted. Not this bullshit stuff on paper¨words like squeamish notes dripping from one to the next without saying anythingÓI read all the books I was supposed to, but none of them said anything to me. The brave ones cried. The scared ones sulked. Something in between was missing."
Schultz is aware of what's missing and Black Coffee Night's ideas and stories certainly fill the gap. ˛
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