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For its summer issue, The Walrus asked five Canadian writers to write a short story or poem according to the guidelines provided by the other writers. Three of them are short stories… It is interesting to see how each writer has dealt with the guidelines s/he received.
Kathleen Winter‘s story, “Madame Poirier’s Dog”, is written according to the guidelines of Alexi Zentner. The first-person narrator of this story lives in a nursing home and explains why she always waits with so much anticipation for the visits of her youngest son, Armand. Whereas her other sons are kind of business-like with her, Armand chats with her. Together they remember the past and laugh. This is her secret pleasure, which makes her tolerate her old age.
Last week, they were talking about Madame Poirier, a neighbour from years ago who will soon be moving in the same nursing home. In particular, they discussed her precious dog, Dentelle. Despite wearing a chastity belt for dogs, Dentelle was twice impregnated by the narrator’s dog and died from her second abortion. Winter actually uses the prompt that a character has “to state that he or she finds people who treat dogs like children sort of creepy” at the heart of her story. This story, which is about growing old reminded me of Binnie Brennan’s novella, Harbour View, which I reviewed a while ago. It is a touching story, about how to cope when you get old, and is filled with memories and positivity.
Winter also makes a brilliant portrait of the characters, especially Madame Poirier and Armand’s wife, without describing them physically (another guideline). The characters are not described as such, but evoked through their actions and what they say; however, Winter creates a vivid picture of these people, whom we might have ourselves encountered in our lives.
Another prompt is “evoke warmth without mentioning the sun,” but I let you discover how she does that…
Sarah Selecky‘s story, “The Cat”, is written according to the guidelines of Kathleen Winter. The topic of this story might seem awkward as it is about the reincarnation of the narrator’s father into a cat. One of her guideline was “The story should have at least one paragraph that contains something the author personally finds subversive and hilarious.” Selecky explains on her website that this prompt gave her a liberation and “permission to write something ridiculous, inappropriate, terrible, or otherwise WRONG.” This is a story that will really speak to cat lovers, but I must admit there is something disturbing in imagining that the cat is actually the narrator’s father.
Talking about her cat makes her remember her father when he was still alive. She shares childhood memories (another guideline for her story) about going fishing with him when she was young or that time when he brought back live snails for dinner.
I also liked her wink at Winter when she mentions that the cat spilled a glass of water on her copy of Annabel.
Alexi Zentner‘s story, “The Rules of Engagement”, is written according to the guidelines of Sarah Selecky. Zentner begins his story as prescribed in a sunny location where three women are flirting with three locals, one of then being nicknamed “Fork” (another prompt) because of his pronunciation of the word “fuck”. The women meet up the following morning and discuss their night, which is the occasion for the omniscient narrator to tell us a bit more about them and their affective lives.
This might not be my favourite of the three stories, but I think that Zentner manages the guidelines very subtlely. I actually really like the way these women are represented through their actions and the dialogue. Although the narrator provides us with more information, very little is actually said about these characters; yet, we are able to get a clear idea of who they are.
Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.