Only If We’re Caught

8 December 2021

Only If We’re Caught
by Theressa Slind
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$25.95 ISBN 9-781771-872119

In the opening paragraph of Only If We’re Caught, the debut short story collection by Saskatoon writer (and children’s librarian) Theressa Slind, readers are viscerally transported to Aspen Grove, a seniors’ residence—where the hallway “is painted the colour of cookie dough”—and into the mind of Parkinson’s-afflicted protagonist Margaret, who can no longer speak. We soon learn that Margaret’s not just any ninety-three-year-old nursing home resident with a “porous-boned spine curling in on itself” … she’s also telepathically communicating with a visiting child.

This bizarre circumstance is typical of the tales in Slind’s collection of fifteen stories, some of which previously appeared in literary journals. The borders of normalcy are blurred, and that’s what makes this collection stand out. Perhaps the finest example of this is “Amygdule,” about a funeral director, Ben, who “commune[s] with ghosts.” Ben has a crush on his employee, Alice, who delivers a fountain of black humour. She “arrives in an eddy of formaldehyde,” and says things like “I like my men ripe” and “Back to work. Mrs. Chan isn’t going to embalm herself.” This story is also about a treasure hunt, geology, a fatal accident, and loneliness.

The common thread between Slind’s characters is that they all have crosses to bear. Pregnant teen Natalie had wanted to go to medical school: “But by the time she’d raised the kid and Andy, well, did they even let you into medical school past thirty?” And Toba, a children’s librarian whose only child “climbed a neighbour’s two-storey aluminum ladder, fell, and died.” After the tragedy, guilt-and grief-ridden Toba takes to hiding behind a hare mask (“This is no Easter Bunny”), both inside the library and out. When she’s asked to do a TV interview on a sexual health information fair­—titled “Sex in the Library”—the now semi-famous (thanks to her Twitter account, “@Hareofthefields,” and Youtube) librarian wears the mask. The interviewer metaphorically traps her with his question: “Tell me, Bunny, what’s with the mask? Let’s get to the bottom of this. What are you hiding?”

Readers cannot guess which direction Slind’s going to take them in this original short story collection, and that’s a good thing. Some of the situations made this reader squirm, like realtor and father Martin Woodrow’s uncomfortable reality in the story “Family Style”. Woodrow and his wife are about to have dinner with their daughter Amanda and her fiancé in a Calgary restaurant … and the fiancé is Martin’s former colleague, Bob, “who’d driven Amanda home from play dates with his own daughter, Brandi”. We really get the sense of Martin’s despair: a testament to Slind’s skill.

The author also slings several comical similes and metaphors, ie: Ruth “smelled like scented maxi-pads,” and grieving parents Alex and Trudy, Canadians travelling in Europe: “packed their grief, carry-on and oversized, and it bumps along behind them over the old cobblestones.”

These edgy, slick and diverse short stories feature characters in life-changing moments. Slind’s is a welcome new voice on the map of Saskatchewan literature.


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