Quill and Quire

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Core Samples

by Patti Grayson

In this debut story collection, Manitoba writer and actor Patti Grayson delivers 18 stories set in the fictional town of Hematite. At first blush, Hematite seems like an average sort of place, a town organized around its mine, its 4H club, its midnight snowmobile rides, and its perogies; a place populated with simple folk who live by mottos like “Anything can – and does – happen in curling.” But not everything is quite as simple as it first appears, forunder this surface lies a more than average amount of magic and mystery.

The stories in Core Samples are well constructed for the most part. Grayson displays a real skill for plot, building tension deftly in “Bring to Bear,” where a single woman becomes convinced that her creepy neighbour has kidnapped her dog, and “Taking on Water,” where a sailing expedition looks to turn tragic. The most successful stories are those elevated to a level of charming quirkiness that just skirts absurdity. In “Caution: Mother Playing,” a mother is involved in a traffic accident with a tuba and suddenly starts communicating solely through the music that has replaced her voice. In “Jackpot Jungle,” a widow imagines her husband’s soul inhabiting a video lottery terminal.

Unfortunately, many of the stories ultimately fall short of their marks. A few even feel like half-efforts. The less accomplished stories are littered with clumsy expository dialogue and badly overstretched metaphors, such as “her voice sounded like pot scrubbers on aluminium as she dredged up words from the root cellar of her soul” and “a quack-grass system of jealousy spread through me; long, anemic-looking, tough, fibrous roots of envy.” The end result is a collection that seems like a warm-up exercise for a writer who is just beginning to discover the voice and form that will make her most comfortable and confident.