Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

The Juliet Stories

by Carrie Snyder

Like her first book, Hair Hat, Carrie Snyder’s sophomore offering is a collection of linked short stories. Here they are arranged in a novelistic arc, following the titular heroine from a childhood caught between foreign languages and continents to the quiet joys and terrors of adulthood. While laid out chronologically, each story is strong and vibrant enough to stand on its own. Relying on a series of self-contained stories rather than chapters, Snyder is able to fully explore the episodic and fractured nature of memory and life.

The first half of the book, set in Nicaragua in 1984, describes the experiences of the Canadian/American Friesen family as they protest U.S. support of a paramilitary force that is attempting a violent coup. Snyder’s frequently lyrical sentences are perfect for meting out the excitement and horror of the precarious work her characters engage in, and by placing nine-year-old Juliet at the centre, the author is able to filter the traumas of political resistance through a domestic lens. A particularly strong story from this section, “Dear Ronald Reagan,” plays with the tension between the way a Westernized child might mistake privilege for political power and a childlike insistence on fairness.

The second section, covering a longer span of time, is set mostly in Southern Ontario. These stories are darker, and explore the pain of loss in many of its manifestations: loss of loved ones to time, geography, and death; loss of youth and innocence; loss of secrets and childlike wonder. In “The Four Corners of a House,” Snyder masterfully depicts the structure of a family that has lost one of its members, a house built around an empty room.

While The Juliet Stories deals with emotionally and politically charged themes, Snyder’s prose style and story structure seldom feel manipulative or argumentative. She avoids aestheticizing trauma and instead offers strong characterization, clear and lushly poetic language, and above all, the kind of nourishment that comes from a moving story, beautifully told.