sheila heti's fairy-tale-inspired short stories are odd, compelling little items to be savoured one at a time like after-dinner mints. Heti sets out to describe the way things are -- simply and beautifully, with a gentle voice, not attempting to prove anything.The author, whose stories have appeared in McSweeney's, Toronto Life and Blood & Aphorisms, has suggested that the collection's title refers to the fact that these are neither the first nor the last stories she will write. However, reading them, I'm left with the feeling that they never begin at the very beginning and never end at the very end.
These are small once-upon-a-time tales about the midst of existence. No one is born, no one dies. Sadness is temporary; everyone gets around to happiness if they wait long enough.
There are fantastic characters: a dumpling who falls off the table and fears it will be forgotten, a contemporary woman who lives in a shoe, and a little old lady who meets the little old man who raped her on a beach.
The writer herself is remarkably down to earth for someone who's been acclaimed as the up-and-coming star of a new Canadian fiction. Forget about odes to the vanishing Canadian wilderness -- what matters is how we come to terms with our own imperfections.
Heti never tells us how to think. If there are lessons to be learned, they're that we should be comfortable with who we are and that using cynicism to describe humanness is a cop-out.
Heti reads at This Ain't the Rosedale Library tonight (Thursday, July 26). See Readings, this page.
the Middle Stories by Sheila Heti (Anansi), 142 pages, $24.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN