THE DOLPHINS AT SAINTE-MARIE stories by Sandra Sabatini (Penguin), 214 pages, $22 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Set largely in ontario cottage country or the suburbs of Toronto, Sandra Sabatini's second collection of short stories is a mixed bag of sparkling gems and ordinary stones.
The book is named after the charming opening story (nominated for a Journey Prize), which captures beautifully the inner workings of an exhausted and singularly focused child. Other stories occasionally suffer from too much descriptive meandering.
Although a gifted storyteller, Sabatini embraces over-familiar themes. Think coming of age; the moment a child realizes adults are fallible, just plain screwed up or abhorrent; marriages coming apart; sudden loss. The back cover promises edginess, but only very conservative readers would describe these stories that way.
The story Used is an exception, a funny and unsettling account of an uptight social climber frustrated by his wife's insistence on thrift-store shopping who gets charmed and manipulated by a pair of restaurant owners.
In stories like Typical Guy Stuff and Balance Of Probability, Sabatini astutely explores themes of consent and violence, and Holes is a lively first-person tale told by a young girl surrounded by the bustle of older aunts preparing to pierce her ears.
Sabatini is adept at writing from the perspective of children frustrated by adults and adults frustrated by their marriages. These stories are individually well crafted and quietly entertaining, but Dolphins as a whole fails to enthrall. Readers interested in coming-of-age stories, though, will find it a solid offering in that genre.
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