by Melanie Little
ISBN: 0887621198

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A Review of: Confidence
by Anne Cimon

"Don't judge a book by its cover" is an old saying, but in this case, very apt. Cover art has evolved over the last decade, and small press books are now as attractively packaged as their large press rivals. The problem remains that the cover can sometimes give a false impression of the book's content, as has happened with this short story collection. The cover is bright with happy children: on Confidence, a ten-year-old girl, coat and hat on, looks back at the reader with a smile, as she holds her pair of white skates. Would it not be unreasonable to expect for the stories within to have some cheer and sweetness, some joie de vivre? And yet, the book doesn't contain children who have anything to smile about. Instead, they grow up to be angry adults. This is not to say that these stories aren't worth reading, but the false impression given by the covers is irritating.
Confidence Melanie Little's first collection of short fiction. Little plays fearlessly with time sequence and time span-and her stories are remarkable for the kind of kinetic editing that cuts up the traditional narrative into sharp pieces of a puzzle. Some of the stories are more puzzling than satisfying; even sentences suffer this fate as in "How Many Birdies in the Bush" which begins:

"It's the subject of a thousand and one agony-rag clichs: she ran off to Hollywood to become a movie star. The she my mother, which is I guess slightly less usual. Me, too, though: another walking clich. Had to get out, got on bus, here I am. Hey Ma, come out, come out, wherever you are, come out with both hands in the air, pow!"

In "Don't Rush your Slow Part" a girl who skates isn't happy because she has to perform in a contest. Her name is Poppy and "Poppy has one rule about judges: she hates them all." The blunt talk is characteristic not only of this young character, but of the adult characters. Most of them are bitter except for Aunt Alice in "Little Disappearances". In this story, Little's quirky style works to her advantage. Feenie has recently been widowed and she is angry and vulnerable. She tries yoga and group therapy then decides to join her Aunt Alice, also recently widowed, at her Bed & Breakfast on Vancouver Island. Feenie doesn't feel close to her eccentric aunt, who embarrasses her each time she "commands" her guests, at the breakfast table, to give their life story "in twenty-five words or less."
Some stories are loosely linked by recurring characters like Feenie, her husband Nigel, and Rochelle. The title story focuses on the disturbed relationship between Angela and her thirty-two-year-old daughter. The two of them are on a vacation in Cuba. Angela has instructed her daughter not to let on that she is her mother. The daughter is sharp and observant with a dark sense of humour:

"Like me, the resort seems to be anxious to be anywhere but here. The framed poster above my bed is a tepid watercolour of a street bearing the caption "Paris - Mtro." Angela sleeps under a sunset labelled "Miami." If she is put off by this misplaced decor, she doesn't mention it. Anyway, as I understand it, have understood it, it was she who wanted it like this: the package deal, the park-your-brain-at-the-door of it, the illusion that we could be anywhere."
As a first collection, Confidence showcases Melanie Little's crackling energy and literary flair.

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