>>> Review: Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill

DAYDREAMS OF ANGELS by Heather O'Neill (HarperCollins), 351 pages, $22.99 paper. Rating: NNNNThese sharp stories from Giller short-lister Heather O'Neill.

DAYDREAMS OF ANGELS by Heather O’Neill (HarperCollins), 351 pages, $22.99 paper. Rating: NNNN

These sharp stories from Giller short-lister Heather O’Neill (The Girl Who Was Saturday Night) – sometimes disturbing, sometimes very funny – put her in a league with this country’s best writers.

Many of the tales are tinged with magic realism, including The Dreamlife Of Toasters, about a soldier put back together by an ingenious toy-maker, and two stories told by the narrator’s grandfather: The Isles Of Dr. Moreau and Heaven. O’Neill’s project with the last two is to celebrate the power of storytelling and its impact on young children.

But she has other goals in mind, too, like catching you by surprise with a sudden powerful emotion. Toasters is heartbreaking, as is the final story, The Conference Of The Birds, about a down-and-out family who fear being evicted from their tiny apartment.

O’Neill has demonstrated before that she’s drawn to characters who live on the margins. And in many of these tales, people have trouble living in the real world, like the two children rescued from a shipwreck in Messages In A Bottle or The Wolf-Boy Of Northern Quebec, who becomes a media star but would rather return to the wolf pack that reared him.

But her imagination can swing to comic scenarios that target the authorities. Swan Lake For Beginners, about the Soviets’ attempt to clone Rudolf Nureyev, is laugh-out-loud funny.

The storytelling is inventive, but the writing is as spectacular: the squeak of sneakers in a gym sounds like someone writing curse words with magic marker, a parachute opening resembles a kernel of corn popping, a woman’s voice sounds like she’s been eating sugared doughnuts.

These are great stories superbly written by someone sure to be a major star.

O’Neill joins the What Women Write panel at the Randolph Theatre, part of the Pages Unbound Festival, on May 8. pages-unbound.com.

susanc@nowtoronto.com | @susangcole

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