Montreal writer and critic Alice Petersen has produced a first collection of stories that, in its depth and quiet wisdom, is reminiscent of the work of another famous Canadian writer named Alice. The 17 stories in this book balance exquisite renderings of the natural landscapes of rural Quebec and New Zealand with the rich interior landscapes of characters caught up in moments of transition.
Several pieces deal with the grief of great loss, and the question of what remains for those left behind. In “Among the Trees,” the collection’s most gripping story, 44-year-old Jan is scattering the ashes of her long-time partner, Hugh, and contemplating the painful complexities of their relationship. Hugh was torn between his love for Jan and his love for a younger man; after Hugh’s death, Jan comes to realize that her obsessive clinging “made chains for them both.”
In “Neptune’s Necklace,” an aging artist living alone is haunted by her daughter’s drowning. In “The Land Below,” changes in Rae’s personal life coincide with her attempts to deal with the accidental death of her mother and her father’s guilt. Other stories depict characters on the brink of potential loss to cancer or other serious diseases. Still others examine less tangible, but equally destabilizing, losses: former selves, youth, connections to significant others.
Petersen’s considerable ability to sincerely occupy the minds and hearts of her characters – most notably the women, who form the foundation of this collection – turns what might have been a mournful lamentation into a beautiful tribute to human fragility and the inevitability of change.