by Charlotte Gill
ISBN: 0887621775

Post Your Opinion
A Review of: Ladykiller
by Barbara Julian

I have a fancy that characters in short stories really want to be in novels. After all, the novel is a larger canvas and everyone wants a big life, fictional people as well as real. I suppose this is another way of saying that if characters and their stories are engaging the reader wants to read on to the next chapter and the next-wants a whole novel. If they are not engaging the story was a failure; either way it is hard for a short story to be enough in itself, and it takes a real master to give it a conclusive, satisfying totality.
It is not enough to peep through a window on characters engaged in a random series of actions, before they happen to shut the curtain or wander out of view. A short story is not a fragment or a snapshot. "Short" means told economically, not cut off, and "story" suggests an unfolding, a process, requiring the time-honoured structure of conflict, climax and denouement. The short story, like its ancestors the fable and the parable, uses the same devices as a long story-a novel-but without the luxury of discursively sprawling into all sorts of beckoning highways and byways. Choosing to write the short rather than long form of fiction means choosing precision over expansiveness.
A rant is not a story, a slice of life is not a story, and a nervy excited effusion of random thought-lets is not a story. This collection contains various slices and effusions. Charlotte Gill's Ladykiller is a confident collection, but essentially she lays out the same scenario six times: a doomed temporary couple, less lovers that opponents, separate due to disaster, violence, or sheer battle fatigue (in the seventh story-the only one told in the first person-all three of these occur but the couple are twin sisters not lovers), and we are as depressed by their personalities as they are by each other. We don't enjoy our time with them, although Gill presents them deftly and accurately. In each case the man bales out of the relationship because she was so insufferable, or because he was so insufferable. And we have had to suffer them all.
Nobody seems likeable in Gill's collection, and she has no forgiving tolerance for her characters. There is Dale, the pear-shaped accountant "with a short body and a long ego," and Kitsilano Pam, owner of a vitamin store who "takes out big photo ads of her chiseled self in the centre of the wellness directory." Patty the hypochondriac insomniac "expresses her mood in some snippy chopping and peeling of vegetables." Tan arrives for an assignation "in a filthy, grumbling mood," and Roz in the title story "Ladykiller", "slays (her partner) with a look that's like an icicle jabbed into his chest." There is a surfeit of joylessness here.
In the first story a bleak couple crashes the man's pot-filled truck on a snowy highway on the way to his dealer, and the story tells-in chronologically backward steps-how the two of them came to be in that particular wrong place at that time, despite their meticulous indifference to each other. The backward progression to the inauspicious beginning isn't comfortable as a narrative method, but maybe that's exactly why the author chose it to tell the story of this jarringly uncomfortable relationship. "With men, things went so predictably, cataclysmically wrong," says the female character. She could be speaking for all the females in Gill's stories. After realizing that she was at the stage of being ditched by this particular disastrously chosen partner, she also considers that "she nudged herself into these endings, as if they were pre-written, and in a peculiar way it satisfied." This mechanical predestined misery is pretty much the program for all the stories in this collection, but I am not sure that "it satisfies" the reader.
There is verisimilitude, certainly, and also a talent for bringing places alive so that even the reader who hasn't been there somehow recognizes them. An island beach in Thailand, where I haven't been, seemed as real to me as a snowy highway outside Vancouver or a tacky mall in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, where I have been. So, reading these stories, we are there. But why? Certainly not for the pleasure of it.
Gill's last story ends with one participant in an abortive adulterous coupling making an undignified stumbling exit by elevator. "Where's tragedy when you need it?" asks the other, watching him. Not here. Tragedy requires heroes, and Gill's stories are about either low-level villains, neurotics or buffoons. The fact that we recognize them, thanks to Gill's observant discriminating eye and telling phrases, doesn't make us care for them. Maybe it even hardens us, when we see these characters' unattractive counterparts (and who isn't sometimes like them?) in the real world.
It is fashionable today to judge a short story by its language rather than its shape. Thus we ask for less from the form than readers once did. A short story need no longer be a small perfect gem, merely to contain gem-like phrases within a whole which may in fact be a fragment rather than a narrative unit. By this contemporary standard this collection succeeds. It rewards the reader trolling for zesty phrases or wanting to watch an author throw darts at irritating types and trends, and scoring an easy bull's eye. The stories in this collection display verve and skill, but the author has not yet harnessed these qualities to any substantial literary purpose.

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us