Monday, October 8, 2018

Myrl Coulter's The Left-Handed Dinner Party and other stories

"Secrets aren't good for families."

That's printed on the back cover of Myrl Coulter's book The Left-Handed Dinner Party and other stories and it's well-chosen as a summary.

It's nice when they make it easy for you.

Not that there aren't secrets in these families. The stories take place on the western Canadian plains; Myrl Coulter herself lives in Edmonton, but these are set in a smaller town. The ten short stories--two stretch to something closer to novella length--often circle around three generations of a family with the middle generation missing or dead. When the secrets are revealed, and they aren't always, even to us, the resolution is generally bittersweet and not definitive.

But that's the way life is, isn't it?

I thought the stories were mostly very good, with one or two weaker. The best was the last and longest, which also resolved an earlier story that it was linked with. Coulter has a nice understated prose style that works. Here's the end of that last story; it doesn't really give anything away to quote it:
The red sports car was parked on the street. Sitting in the passenger seat, an old photo album resting on her lap, Jean Andrews waited to meet her grandson.
Or the end of the title story:
The day after school was out, Dina backed out of her driveway, a small U-Haul trailer attached to her car. She paused a moment beside the SOLD sign, then drove up the hill. Oldest and Youngest sat sulking in the back. Dog rode shotgun in the passenger seat. At the intersection where the main road ran through the city, Dina looked right toward downtown. And then turned left.
As you could guess, those are small epiphanies to domestic stories. The spare presentation is quite effective in context. This is Coulter's third book; it came out last year from the University of Alberta press. Her first two are memoirs, it seems. I might go read them, even though memoirs are not my thing. But it made me hope she's working on a novel, and that I definitely would read.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!


  1. This is a new writer for are most of the Canadians on my #CanBookChallenge. I have 3 short story collections on my TBR list for this challenge. I hope to read all of them but that depends on the most important mood! Memoirs: I've had so luck this year ...I read 7 and a few were very memorable: Christ Stopped at Eboli (Carlo Levi) and Darkness Visible (W. Styron) and an Australian writer...Maggie Mackellar "How to Get There.

    1. She was new for me, too--I was poking around on the U of Alberta Press website and this looked interesting so I got it from the library.

      I can't ever figure out what I'm going to read in advance--just pick up whatever looks new and shiny at the moment. It's great you make a list and stick to it!