The Well and Other Stories

4 February 2009

The Well and Other Stories
by Nick Faragher
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$16.95 ISBN 978-1-897235-48-5

In 2008, Thistledown Press released a first book of stories by BC writer Nick Faragher. I’ve just finished reading the final story in Faragher’s The Well and Other Stories, and folks, believe me, this sophisticated collection of often hard-hitting stories reads like the prose of an author who’s been publishing books for decades.

Faragher works those three critical elements of fiction — plot, character (which in this book is often ingeniously developed through spot-on dialogue) and setting – with an incredibly competent hand. He doesn’t rush into his stories: he frequently begins by deftly crafting the locale – whether it be La Piazzo del Cignois, a little square in Milan; the “Palace … a bar in the old style” in Vancouver; or “atop an outcrop of veined, white rock across from the Parthenon,” and thus transports his readers so that they feel they are truly experiencing the story, rather than simply reading it.

Then comes the “then” moment in the stories, the turning point. Like a magician, Faragher takes readers from a young girl’s dreamy Italian afternoon “in the hollow quiet of siesta time” and shatters the reverie by introducing a stroke of malevolence, in this case, the wiles of a silver-tongued local. When reading radiant, dialogue-rich stories like the title story, I felt I was at the table sharing a bottle of wine with the French and English couples in the 400 year old village of Cipieres, France, with its “clean mountain air.” What a gift to be able to travel like this. What I did not expect, and truly admired, was the dramatic plot shifts. I often finished a story – like “The Well,” which begins benignly – and could only marvel at the directions in which the plot turned.

“The Promising Artist” is a lighter story, featuring “Duncan,” a meglomaniac who admires himself (“Not for the first time, when examining himself in a mirror, he was reminded of Greco-Roman frescoes depicting the ideal male figures of antiquity”) and is unimpressed by his full-figured date, met through a “telephone introduction agency”. Faragher writes: “[Duncan’d] always considered thinness in women next to godliness, but he didn’t believe in God, so that left only thinness.” What a jerk.

The collection contains a few stories about young men with troubled pasts and desperate presents. “A Wee Bit of Fun,” concerns homophobia, and a violent attack in Stanley Park, and “A Place to Hang Out” which rightly appears as the last story, has us sympathizing with one of society’s most detested human beings.

Though the author’s name may be unfamiliar to you now, you can be sure that once you’ve read his stories, you won’t soon — or ever — forget it. These eight nervy pieces, like the often scarred lives of the characters they detail, ring true and poignant. They make an indelible mark. Tell your friends. Tell your book club. Tell anyone who appreciates intelligent Canadian literature. Thank you, Thistledown Press, for this introduction to Nick Faragher’s fine fiction. I’m already greedy for more.


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