Like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole and arriving in a strange and exotic land, reading one of Miranda Hill’s stories is to be delivered to an almost dreamlike place where familiar themes in fiction – love, loss, family, identity, faith – reveal themselves in delightfully unexpected, unsettling ways.
Hill, a resident of Hamilton, Ontario, won the 2011 Journey Prize for her story “Petitions to St. Chronic.” That story is included in her debut collection, along with eight others, each remarkably distinct in voice, setting, and premise. Notwithstanding the collection’s diversity, all of the stories depict characters who find the course of their lives altered by various agents of change – other people, tragic events, startling insights, and magical and miraculous happenings.
In “6:19,” Nathan Faulk, a government employee, begins to question his increasingly affluent yet dreary suburban existence. His misgivings only intensify when, at 6:19 each day, his commuter train stops in front of the yard of a woman in her garden. The story’s conclusion suggests that Nathan’s ideal life may not be in the suburbs after all.
In “The Variance,” a mysterious new neighbour injects life into an exclusive and staid enclave hitherto determined to maintain the status quo. In “Rise: A Requiem,” a 19th-century village reverend is put on trial for a crime he believes may actually be a miracle. And in the title story, Clea returns to her childhood home after her father’s death to reconcile her past with her present.
“Precious,” perhaps the book’s eeriest and most heartrending story, tells the tale of a small-town couple blessed with the birth of a second child so perfect that her otherworldly beauty compels her mother to neglect the baby’s older, disfigured brother. Accomplished and innovative, Hill’s collection is a pleasure to read. While it may take the reader a moment to acclimate to the quirky wonderland of Sleeping Funny, the rewards are more than worth the effort.