HOW YOU WERE BORN by Kate Cayley (Pedlar) 152 pages, $22 paper. Rating: NNNN
When I learned that Kate Cayley’s collection of short stories had copped the Trillium Prize for the best fiction published in Ontario this year, I rolled my eyes. The only way an unknown could top Dionne Brand’s Love Enough or – wait for it – Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress was if a jury was determined to spread the wealth and shut out former prizewinners.
Cayley’s collection is a series of tautly written, gripping tales full of emotional intelligence, especially when it comes to children’s relationships.
In Acrobat, a tween falls under the spell of a visiting circus performer and attends a class hoping he’ll notice her. And in The Summer The Neighbours Were Nazis, an older brother convinces his sister to help him spy on their neighbour. Both stories evoke young girls’ desperate desire to please.
The queer content is beautiful. Both the opening story and the last, title, story deal with the experience of lesbian motherhood and are told in an artful, matter-of-fact way that still honours the protagonists’ deep feelings. And a story about a blind woman who hooks up with an artist at a gallery opening turns into a rumination on pleasure and regret.
The most startling and devastating tale is Boys, about a man who enables his brother’s pedophilic tendencies, not carelessly but out of love. It’s a deft portrayal of two kinds of human frailty told with uncommon compassion.
This writer’s a winner – in more ways than one.
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