A ‘deliciously dark and clever experiment’

by Kathryn Mockler

Toronto: Book*hug, 2023
$23.00 / 9781771668446

Reviewed by Candace Fertile


Kathryn Mockler’s debut collection of short fiction is a deliciously dark and clever experiment that succeeds beautifully. Across four parts, the book riffs through flash fiction, connected stories, and micro conversations, ending with a past/future blend of hopelessness that will appeal to any cynic—or perhaps even realist. 

The first section, The Boy Is Dead, contains fifteen short pieces beginning with the title story, a grim look at what happens to an unloved and neglected child. The narrator says, “His parents had the boy because they thought it would strengthen their relationship, even though neither of them really had an interest in children.” It isn’t going to go well. The narrator’s voice is neutral, and that ramps up the despair. 

As a first story, this one works perfectly to set the tone of much of the book, a cool consideration of the failings of human beings of any age. Children can be mean, adults turn to alcohol, and many people suffer in completely realistic ways. 

In the second section, We’re Not Here to Talk about Aliens, a first-person narrator recounts her life from age five to mid-twenties by delving into moments along the way. 

Several topics recur: separated families, alcohol, cruel children, desire for popularity, and the problems girls have with boys. The time frame begins in the past as a café has a smoking section, the narrator’s father watches a black and white TV, and people are upset about the Montreal shootings and the Scarborough rapist. 

The stories are likely somewhat autobiographical as the narrator eventually studies screen-writing (and Mockler is a professor of screen-writing and fiction at University of Victoria). This particular section offers an excellent exploration of gender issues, in particular in “Sit Down Beside Megan,” where the narrator goes to her boyfriend’s band practice and is ordered about by the lead singer, a bully and misogynist. The narrator doesn’t want to be there. As she exclaims, “Do you know what is boring? Do you know what is really fucking boring?” and answers: “Watching your high school boyfriend practice with his hardcore band in the basement of his mother’s hair salon.” 

Author Kathryn Mockler

The boredom is bad enough but the power imbalance is the worst. 

This section ends with a slight lift as the narrator watches a little girl skating. The girl falls constantly. But she always gets up. 

The third section, This Isn’t a Conversation, is comprised of pages of a few lines of what looks like a conversation. My favourites are the following: 

—Every day is the same day.

—I know, it’s capitalism 

. . . 

—It’s not too late, is it?

—Depends who you ask.

The pages are filled with pithy and thoughtful remarks. The one slightly annoying factor is that the pages are black with white print, though I suppose the visual reversal emphasizes the utter mess we are in. 

The fourth section, My Dream House, is a fabulously shrewd series of stories about The Past and The Future, characters who are together but have problems. In “Date Night,” for example, “The Past and The Future realized they were slowly growing apart and they needed to work on their relationship. Part of the problem was that The Past didn’t have any hobbies or any friends of their own. The past was too reliant on The Future to plan their social calendar.” 

Things get really complicated when The Present enters the picture. In “The Present,” “The Present stood before The Future and The Past and shook their head like a disappointed parent.” Through the allegory of a couple, Mockler lays bare the challenges/disasters facing us. 

While Anecdotes is certainly not encouraging subject-wise, the clarity and wit of the prose make it hard to put this book down. Mockler (Some Theories) strips out the fluff and gets to the real heart of issues, whether they are individual or global. 


Candace Fertile

Candace Fertile has a PhD in English literature from the University of Alberta. She teaches English at Camosun College in Victoria, writes book reviews for several Canadian publications, and is on the editorial board of Room Magazine. [Editor’s note: Candace Fertile has recently reviewed books by Lucia Frangione, Darcy Friesen Hossack, Robin Yeatman, Emi Sasagawa, Patti Flather, Peter Chapman, Janie Chang, Pauline Holdstock, Ava BellowsBeth KopeGeoff Inverarity, and Angélique Lalonde for BCR.]


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

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