1353 Opioids & war memorials
Nowadays and Lonelier: Stories
by Carmella Gray-Cosgrove
Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2021
$19.95 / 9781551528717
Reviewed by Zoe McKenna
The term “survivalist” conjures images of open fires, rugged hunters, and makeshift tents. Yet, as Carmella Gray-Cosgrove demonstrates in her debut short story collection, Nowadays and Lonelier, there are many different faces to survival in the urban world.
Born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Carmella Gray-Cosgrove spent most of her childhood and adolescence in Vancouver’s downtown. Though Nowadays and Lonelier is her first published collection, Gray-Cosgrove’s work can be found in the pages of many notable publications, including PRISM international and the New Quarterly.
Boasting 22 stories in only 213 pages, Nowadays and Lonelier is a snappy collection, with some instalments only one or two pages long. The titular story takes this energetic approach to the extreme, interweaving snapshots from multiple perspectives just a sentence or two at a time to a heart-quickening effect. Most stories remain completely self-contained, though some characters appear more than once throughout the collection, including Lou and Daria who crash their car into a funeral procession in “Nowadays and Lonelier” and struggle to make sense of their relationship in “Be Happy Darling and Love Me.”
With various perspectives, tones, and geographical locations, each story stands out as unique from the others, though issues of poverty, addiction, and turbulent relationships tie the collection together in terms of theme. More than this, in an ironic relationship with the title of the collection, there is a sense of overarching camaraderie from the collection that unites each story regardless of the narrator, time, or place.
Gray-Cosgrove creates vivid and purposeful depictions of specific cities with detail that can only be gathered by living there — including the jarring way that cell phone service drops during the descent into Vancouver’s SkyTrain stations. In “The Cull,” Cray-Cosgrove recalls the wave of red mittens that marked the lead up to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics with casual familiarity. Anyone living in British Columbia at that time may have a similar memory marked to the tune of Nikki Yanofsky’s “I Believe.”
Yet, the too-crowded streets, inaccessibility of work or housing, and the general feeling of being forgotten (or purposefully ignored) by city officials give the stories a sense of universality. In one of the “Nowadays and Lonelier” snapshots, a narrator reflects on the number of war memorials in the city: “No one lives in the city anymore, as there is no longer any space for parking or driving or cafes or restaurants. But all the men who died in the war are there again in bronze, and that makes everyone happy.” As a resident of the West Coast, this description viscerally conjures Vancouver, but the city is never named. This could be St. John’s, Toronto, or any number of urban centres around the world.
The collection seems, at its surface, to be an investigation into isolation and, as the title suggests, loneliness. Gray-Cosgrove returns multiple times to a theme of creative self-destruction, where artists choose drugs, alcohol, or good first impressions over authenticity. This observation never feels like critique, however, but rather a purposeful emphasis on what must be sacrificed in the name of reputation. For Gray-Cosgrove, the urban world seems to leave little room for true connection, and what people choose to fill this space with cannot be condemned.
Much of the collection ruminates over how personal choices become the subject of public critique. The blurry distinction between private and public is reiterated in considerations of the trauma of the opioid epidemic that underpins much of Nowadays and Lonelier. Very personal experiences become part of the greater fabric of a story, understood by most only through news headlines and Twitter threads removed of their nuance and humanity. The weight of public scrutiny is emphasized by Roy, in “Corpus Christi” who, as his childhood abuse becomes a nationally televised news story, feels “like his guts were hanging out, on display for the whole island, the whole damn country to dissect.” As Gray-Cosgrove states in her acknowledgments, this collection was penned as the opioid crisis approached its “horrifying peak.” The author thanks those “keeping people alive, and curse[s] the forces that have let so many we love die.”
This double-edged acknowledgment is the asterisk to reading this collection as a study of community. Whether we like it or not, those that support us and those who wish us ill are part of the greater ecosystem of city living. Yet, as the stories in Nowadays and Lonelier show, regardless of how insular and lonely our suffering may feel, we are far from alone in our struggles. Across the city, and in the broader ecosystem of cities globally, there are others experiencing the same sense of smallness up against the powers that be and are coping with this in a myriad of ways. And in this camaraderie, at least, we might take heart.
Zoe McKenna recently completed her Master of Arts from the University of Victoria and also holds a Bachelor of Arts from Vancouver Island University. Her thesis, as well as a great deal of her other reading and writing, focuses on horror writing in Canada, especially that by BIPOC authors. Her previous work has appeared in VIU’s Portal Magazine and the Quill & Quire. When not reading, writing, or reviewing, Zoe can be found hiking a local mountain or in front of a movie with her two cats, Florence and Delilah. She is always covered in cat hair and wears almost exclusively dark clothing to prove it. Find her on Twitter @zoevmckenna. Editor’s note: Zoe McKenna has also reviewed books by Ed O’Loughlin, Meghan Bell, Genni Gunn, Penny Chamberlain, Brooke Carter, and Donalda Reid for The Ormsby Review.
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