Victoria’s Daniel Griffin makes his CanLit debut with a collection of short stories that are mostly about the demands of relationships. It is rather unusual that four of them deal with grown-up brothers and sisters.
In the title story, Mark and his sister Sheri are on their way to visit their ailing grandfather when they pick up Tim Mundson, a hitchhiker. They drop him off at a doughnut shop and much later discover that he has left an insulin kit in the car. By the time they go back, Tim has gone, so they head for the address in the kit.
The story takes an unexpected twist: Mrs. Mundson doesn’t know what’s become of Tim and doesn’t seem to care; neither does his brother Allen. They’d rather talk about the carvings Allen has brought home from Africa. Mrs. Mundson says: “He bought them all with Canadian Tire money. Got me to send him wads of it. All them people he was trading with were so ignorant they thought they were getting rich” (76).
In “Florida,” Hal does not endear himself to his sister Suzie when he takes her truck against her wishes, puts cigarettes on her account at the Quickie Mart, and knocks a kid off his bike. Again, the story lurches away from the expected.
The first half of “The Leap” is narrated by Lisa, who tells about the bravado antics displayed by her wheelchair-bound brother Marv in a pool hall. Author Griffin switches to the third person in the second half, which flashes back to how Marv’s legs became paralyzed.
“Martin and Lisa,” the fourth story to feature a brother-sister relationship, invokes a deus ex machina (a car accident) for a dramatic twist. The story would have been quite acceptable without it: Martin and his wife enjoying a party, driving home after too much drinking, and running out of gas not far from home.
Two stories are notable for their poignant moments. In “The Last Great Works of Alvin Cale,” visual artist Skyler tells of his relationship with his son Alvin, also an artist. We learn that Alvin fathered the illegitimate daughter of Skyler’s model Sylvette, a bitter irony given Alvin’s illness and lack of children with his wife Sally.
“X” finds Ryan’s mother summoning Ryan to her cottage to catch raccoons, using this as a way of getting Ryan to herself so that she can find out more about his ex-girlfriend’s pregnancy.
Perhaps the best of the ten selections is “Lucky Streak.” Narrator David is an out-of-work forty-year-old whose wife Marti, a legal secretary, decides to help their financial situation by moonlighting as a massage therapist.
One morning [Jason Everett] emailed her complaining of back problems and they set up an appointment for that evening. Marti and I temporarily converted the living room into a massage studio – candles, scented oils and New Age music. We turned the space heater on half-an-hour before the appointment and covered the furniture with a few hand-batiked scarves from Marti’s hippie-dippie days. I waited outside with [our toddler] Sophie. (84)
Life grows more worrisome when Jason becomes Marti’s only regular client.
All in all, Stopping for Strangers offers a satisfying variety for the fan of short fiction. p
Dave Williamson is a Winnipeg writer whose newest book is a comic novel called Dating.
Stopping for Strangers
by Daniel Griffin
Montreal: Esplanade Books (Véhicule Press), 2011, ISBN 978-1-55065-320-5, 142 pp., $18.95 paper.
Reviewed by Dave Williamson