Short stories! So many. Short stories.
The Dark and Other Love Stories, by Deborah Willis, has a decidedly modern and current viewpoint. She writes stories in settings and time periods close enough to today to enable our memories fill gaps, make projections or dredge up nostalgia.
My favourite from the collection was ‘Girlfriend on Mars.’
“Amber Kivinen—drug dealer, lapsed Evangelical Christian, my girlfriend of twelve years—is going to Mars. This is real. This is what I’ve been told.” Narrated by a pot dealing boyfriend who can’t understand her sudden interest in life, we learn that Amber goes on television for a Survivor/Star Trek reality TV series that will pick two contestants to go to the red planet. Somehow the pot dealing boyfriend represents most of our assumptions about ‘20 something pot-addled Vancouverites.
Willis captures the boredom of summer in the suburbs perfectly: how’s there not much to do (except trying and failing to bleach one’s hair with Sun-In), nowhere to go and how the long days spent with the same people fray friendships. How the suburbs empty in the heat of summer as people go to work or the lucky ones head to summer camp. How everyone else hides in their basements. I mean: I never broke into anyone’s house like the characters in ‘Welcome to Paradise’ do, but I understand the compulsion, the desperate need for something to do and someone else to be.
There are plenty of types of love—or emotions mistaken for love—in Willis’s collection. The most bittersweet has to be ‘Last One to Leave,’ about a woman who escapes to Thasis to work for the local newspaper and uncovers her own love story. Again, Willis proves her adeptness in finding the slivers of detail that make up a life, like a headline: ‘Garage Sale Attracts 200’ at a small community newspaper in 1961. Heck, some small community papers, the ones that still exist, still run headlines like that. How a male editor worries about only the safety of the female reporter. How reporters never have the right shoes for the scene of the story.
Deborah Willis was at Events 54 (How This Story Began) and 89 (The Sunday Brunch) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.