Little Washer of Sorrows, The

2 February 2016

The Little Washer of Sorrows
by Katherine Fawcett
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$18.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-049-8

This fall I heard a new writer present at the Whistler Writers Festival and I was so enchanted by her story I requested the book (The Little Washer of Sorrows) for review. I expected I’d be in for an entertaining read, but I couldn’t have guessed what a veritable fun house this short story collection would prove to be. You dive in and at first things seem normal. Characters are realistically portrayed, their situations fathomable, then metaphorical distorting mirrors kick in. Sometimes you laugh out loud, sometimes you recoil as the lines between fantasy and reality are cleverly blurred.

Welcome to the estimable fictional world of Pemberton BC writer Katherine Fawcett. She’s an original, beginning with her comic dedication to her parents, who “did not ruin [her] life after all”. And here’s the first line of the book (from “Captcha”): “The day I discovered my true nature began like any other day: I woke up, gave Pete a blowjob, and went downstairs to fry up a pan of bacon.” Who is not going to want to continue?

It’s Fawcett’s playful combination that both jolts and delights: real-world relationship situations, familiar settings, and pop culture references (from Starbucks and Storage Wars to YouTube and the Kardashians) share the page with mythical creatures (ie: banshees, mermaids, sirens, Father Time) and sleight-of-hand plot twists, and she controls it all with cracking-fine language, powerful doses of humour and irony, and spot-on pacing.

Several of the nineteen stories – told from a variety of perspectives, including precocious children and Mother Earth herself – are stylistically innovative. “Dire Consequences” is only four pages long but it packs a Poe-like punch while sporting contemporary references (“Tiger-Tiger in a waffle cone,” “Japanese manga characters”) and credible teen dialogue (“I feel like we can totally read each other’s minds”). The hilarious “Representing Literature in Music for You,” about an eager teacher who takes his lackluster high school students to Tim Horton’s for class, is all written in dialogue, sans quotation marks. One truly feels for how desperately the teacher tries to engage the youths. The title story, about a couple filing for bankruptcy, is told in Second Person, and illustrates how our imaginations can get the best of us. In the MNP office – where his wife’s making conversation with Fiona, Assistant Estate Manager “as if to a friend at Curves” – Greg fears Fiona is a banshee (from Irish folklore). Despite himself he stares at her legs and “feel[s] an erection coming on.” He “look[s] at the ceiling and think[s] of golf so it will go away.”

Numerous stories contain a sexual element. When “a stout old farm lady from the Ottawa Valley” approaches a young woman at a Mexican resort, the latter thinks the former may need help “adjusting her hearing aid or putting on her circulation socks or something”. She does not expect a startling erotic proposition, and nor does the reader.

These tales are unpredictable, daring, and often out-bloody-rageous. Read them. And tell your friends.


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