Lori Hahnel’s collection of 21 short stories, including the title piece “Nothing Sacred”, skillfully navigates through a working woman, city-gritty, dust devil tour of life rooted in the Canadian prairies and western foothills.
Hahnel populates the pages with believable and provocative characters and situations with a strong sense of place, grounded solidly in the exceptional everyday. She questions and probes societal norms, values, and conventions with perception, humour, and sensitivity. Her language is direct and simple; she is a master at the art of “showing, not telling”. The alternating perspectives of mother and daughter in “The Least She Could Do” demonstrate this knack, or the complex depths of loss in the simple statement of a character in “Blue Lake”: “The body must have a memory of its own. I remember things about you I didn’t know I’d forgotten.”
Her cast of dozens, almost exclusively female leads speaking in the first person, act as both personal tour guide and societal magnifying glass: examining relationships, roles, and institutions. Each story is an encounter where connections are made, secrets are shared, and insights sparkle out in an intimate but minimalist dialogue: defining vignettes and snatches of conversation overheard in places public and private. This is eavesdropping at its finest, a keyhole into a world of witty, wise, and wistful.
“Life is weird,” notes the character in “Art Is Long”, meeting an old flame for a drink after many years. “I spotted you in the bar right away. You looked much the same, maybe a little heavier, a little hairier. I hoped you weren’t thinking the same thing about me.”
At turns poignant, melancholy, wise-cracking, reflective, and urgent, carefully chosen story strands are deftly woven through narrative based in both present and past, vignettes which often include references to vintage films and Hollywood icons.
The narrating characters are diverse, yet united in their vulnerability – the viewpoints and stories riveting, and the outcome unpredictable – but what is most enjoyable is the journey itself. Sure-footed and light-handed, Hahnel navigates the compact “world within a grain of sand” short story form with skill and tenderness, dealing with lost loves, lost children, lost opportunities; old flames re-met, re-kindled, and relinquished; deceit, devotion, disappointment; taking risks, making peace, getting second chances;
darkness, death, decisions; and above all, an enduring strength, a glimpse of hope.
Each piece is carefully polished, lovingly crafted, and artfully voiced. Hahning’s characters walk the tightrope between regret and hope, wisdom and wonder, and chance and choice with pizzazz and certainty. The reader leaves the book behind with regret, hoping everything has turned out well for the characters inked inside these paper walls.
A three-time Journey Prize nominee, short-listed in the Prism international Short Fiction contest, and nominated for National and Western magazine awards, Hahnel originally hails from Regina and now lives in Calgary.
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