Sto­ries ex­pose harsh re­al­ity of youth

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - BRETT JOSEF GRU­BISIC

If The Other Side of Youth, the res­o­nant ti­tle of Kelli Deeth’s sec­ond story col­lec­tion, raises hope­ful im­ages be­fore your eyes — the plea­sures of in­de­pen­dence, say, or the com­forts of ma­ture self-aware­ness — di­al­ing those ex­pec­ta­tions way down is a smart move. A Toron­to­nian, Deeth’s portraits of adolescent and fully grown women dwell on alien­ated and lost souls whose prospects range from min­i­mal to zilch.

The tit­u­lar phrase, in fact, ap­pears in the 11th and fi­nal win­try tale in a vol­ume that’s metic­u­lous in its sur­vey­ing of dead-end cir­cum­stances. Some­thing Happy fo­cuses on ex­hausted and bat­tered-by-life Car­men (the view of her cur­rent res­i­dence: an apart­ment fac­ing “two beige of­fice build­ings owned by Im­pe­rial Oil, but be­hind them was a ceme­tery, a nar­row tract of land, and grave­stones slumped in snow;” nearby, a “gi­ant oak tree used to soften the hard­ness of the build­ings, but the city had cut the tree down to a stump”).

Af­ter Car­men en­dures a visit by her un­pleas­ant mother and step­fa­ther, she’s be­set by a glum eureka: that she’s “thirty-six, on the other side of youth, and could only hope for so much now.”

As her 2001 de­but book of spare sto­ries, The Girl With­out Any­one, art­fully ex­hib­ited, Deeth can write a model story — com­pact, dis­tinct, eerie and stick-with-you mem­o­rable.

Here, each in­di­vid­ual story rep­re­sents an ad­mirable ef­fort, care­fully con­structed and ob­served. Taken cu­mu­la­tively, though, they blur into a fu­ne­real pro­ces­sion.

While Car­men and the numb women in Sis and Sou­venirs sit pas­sively through fam­ily dys­func­tion of as­sorted sever­ity, the emo­tion­ally er­ratic women of The Things They Said and Em­brace seek or find in­ti­mate en­tan­gle­ments with men. Their fu­tures seem less than as­sured.

De­pressed and di­rec­tion­less, Car­men does at least find some so­lace in a hus­band. In con­trast, Cor­rect Caller makes a study in stark grey shades of Michelle, a 16-year-old of few words who’s mired in an af­fair with a greasy mar­ried loser named Rus­sell.

The pair work side-by-side in a gas sta­tion booth. He takes Michelle out for din­ner at Pizza Hut and later rapes her anally: in the car’s back seat Michelle trans­forms into “a pulse­less ob­ject be­ing stuffed and grabbed at. She squeezed her face up, so it felt as small and tight as a gum wrap­per. She al­lowed it. He was Rus­sell, and he wanted her.”

End of Sum­mer sim­i­larly charts choice hours in the teenage sched­ule of San­dra: a guy tells her, “I’m go­ing to kill you. I’m go­ing to dig your grave tonight.” Look­ing in a mir­ror later she eval­u­ates her “spotty and de­spi­ca­ble” face. She spends time think­ing about her brother’s sui­cide and her con­temp­tu­ous mother’s wish that San­dra in­stead had died.

It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble to fully ad­mire a work of art for its craft and tech­ni­cal ac­com­plish­ments and still not re­ally like or en­joy it. And that’s the case for me with The Other Side of Youth.

TEACHES AT

OF UP­COM­ING PUB­LI­CA­TIONS IN­CLUDE A SEC­OND NOVEL,

OF AS WELL AS A COL­LEC­TION

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