Rachel Wyatt’s short story collection, Street Symphony, opens with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –That perches in the soul-”. The epigraph is wisely chosen; in several of the 17 stories the protagonists are unhappy, and for good reason – job losses, accidents, partners’ deaths – and thus hope for a brighter tomorrow is what they cling to. These are characters for whom “The universe had tilted.”
There’s Jason, in the story “Salvage,” who lost his wife in a car accident after they’d had a fight about her desire to get a pet fish. In the aftermath of her death Jason empties much of his furniture into a dumpster, and accidentally “bakes” some of his wife’s photographs in the oven with the lasagna. “But he sat on the floor and ate it as a penance, charred paper and all. He knew now that he had to suffer in order for the world to tilt back to its proper axis.” The story is a powerful examination of grief, which can certainly defy logic, and it’s also representative of how Wyatt laces her serious and often bizarre-situation stories with humour.
In “Pandora’s Egg,” poor Dan, a soldier who’d served in Afghanistan, returns home with a man’s body and a child’s mind. His doctors recommend “creative work” to help aid his recovery, so he makes birdhouses. Wyatt writes that he “watched endless game shows in the afternoons and slept like a child in the spare room on a nest he’d made from blankets and pillows” while his wife, Erin, struggles with their new reality.
I found Maura, the main character in “Falling Woman,” especially credible. The woman observes another woman falling – or perhaps being pushed – off a rooftop to her death, and Maura both suppresses the urge to “Facebook” the event (and take a “selfie” with the corpse), and lets the tragedy consume her to the point of paranoia.
Eve from “It’s Christmas, Eve,” is a widow who lies to concerned family and friends about having plans for Christmas. What they don’t know is that Eve’s husband had been unfaithful to her, a fact she did not learn until after his death. “Posthumous betrayal could eat up your heart and soul and leave no place for life,” according to her counsellor.
The dark matter of these stories could make for an overly heavy book if it weren’t for Wyatt’s well-placed humour, like these lines regarding the writing course that seniors Roland and Ella enrolled in: “They spent an hour going over his little attempt at narrative and by the time they were done he was exhausted and wondered why he’d sign up for this form of torture” and “When he said goodbye, he’d hugged her and whispered into her hearing aid, ‘Thank you very much.”
Wyatt has published numerous books and has had stage plays produced in Canada, the US and the UK. Dialogue is her strong point: to hear these characters talking is sheer entertainment.
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