SLEEPING FUNNY by Miranda Hill (Doubleday), 309 pages, $29.95 cloth. Hill reads with Claire Messud, Lisa Moore and Sheila Heti at Luminato’s Evening Illuminations at the Reference Library, June 20. See listings. Rating: NNN
Imagine the pressure on your debut collection of stories after a demanding jury names your short story the best in the country. Miranda Hill proves her Journey Prize was no fluke with these impressive tales.
The best are pointed and poke at human foibles, like the title story, in which a woman who returns to her original family home after her father dies can't help but confront her personal failures. Except for the very end, which strikes me as too easy, it's a beautiful story, evoking the ways we fool ourselves into thinking we have a full understanding of our childhood experience.
The perils of choosing a favourite child are the theme of Precious. Hill skilfully toys with our expectations, delivering a knockout punch with a surprise ending.
Testimony to the strength of the collection is the fact that the Journey Prize winner, Petitions To St. Chronic, included here, in which three people converge on the hospital bed of a stranger who has attempted suicide, is not nearly the best.
That prize goes to opener The Variance, a sly tale about an unconventional family who move in and disrupt a suburban enclave.
Not everything works. Rise: A Requiem, about a man of the cloth who might be losing his mind, and Apple, about the sexual fantasies engendered in a sex-ed class, manage to put the reader in a dreamlike state. But that makes Rise confusing and Apple feel repetitive.
Hill is a gifted writer, able most of the time to get to the emotional core of the situations she invents. There are some wonderful stories. But when she plays with form, she's less successful.