I feel for the women in Sunday Drive to Gun Club Road, an excellent short story collection by BC author, Marion Quednau. Vive la différence! does not always apply. Paired with stereotypically insensitive paradigms of manhood, these women—from whose points of view the stories are mostly told—are reduced to bickering with their polar opposites or warding off their intrusive helpfulness.
Take the opening story, “Snow Man,” where this clash of temperaments shakes the foundation of a marriage. Of his wife’s concern for a visibly grieving neighbour, the husband observes:
“He had almost forgotten that women like that sort of thing, men displaying their feelings. Men acting more like women. Because that’s what it amounted to, didn’t it? Men like some sort of mirror image of the female agenda….” (16)
As if to prove his point of women’s superior emotional intelligence, the wife reflects on her husband’s disdain for the weakness he sees in their neighbour:
“She sensed Harold’s envy. It seemed to her an almost childish fear, the way little ones like to hang on and make a fuss. She wondered whether to laugh, but thought that might belittle the serious thing cropping up between them.” (17)
Quednau’s observational gaze turns as well to the foibles of her narrators, women who are not blind to their complicity in their dissatisfaction. In “Ex-Racehorses” Leigh attends her ex’s birthday party and laments:
“She didn’t trust herself any longer, that’s what it amounted to. If she guessed a man had kind eyes he was bound to be holding some unnatural grudge; she was good at being wrong. She couldn’t seem to fasten down on anyone worth worrying about, except as lingering regret.” (51)
Quednau excels in the revelatory detail, the apt metaphor. In “Found to be Missing”—a meandering, mostly plot-less story that maps a tenuous marriage—a couple’s shared obsession over a lost young hiker’s fate becomes a proxy for the missing and unspoken in their marriage.
“It was clear she’d caught him off guard. That’s happened more than once since they’ve been sharing news of the search on Mount Seymour. She can sense a shift in power between them, as though she might have an inkling about the lost trekker hidden in her, as part of her own landscape. A landscape Max doesn’t understand…” (170)
Or again in “Twine,” when, after a gutsy POV shift, we meet the protagonist, a Good Samaritan with dubious intentions who takes in a stranger after an accident. Quednau gives us the character and family dynamics of the tall young man with a couple of brushstrokes.
“Head and shoulders above the rest, his father used to say of his expectations regarding his lanky son. It had given the youth a stoop early on.” (96)
That “stoop early on” tells us everything we need to know the legacy of exaggerated expectations that underpins this dark story.
Quednau broadens the focus elsewhere beyond the conjugal. There’s the family in the excellent title story in the habit of taking drives in the country to view houses they have no intention of buying. Or the priggish book critic in “The Reading,” who has a life-altering encounter with an audacious young writer.
Quednau’s prose, while poignant, is frequently quite funny, brimming with wryly observed detail. Of an argument beginning to brew between family members in the title story:
“…there was a sparking in the air, like when you forget to rip off the foil before putting an instant dinner in the microwave.” (39)
All this mostly self-inflicted mess isn’t depressing, the humour in these acutely rendered stories seems to be saying. It’s just humanity. And, whatever our failings, our natures are hardwired for connection. And so, in the end the hapless couples invariably stagger back together.
After the misunderstanding brought on by the grieving neighbour in “Snow Man,” the story reaches the kind of conclusion I admire—one that speaks volumes without having to say much. When his wife suggests they get a dog as a kind of marker of their mutual appeasement, the hidebound husband reflects:
“Kate was laughing now, he could feel her ribs inflate and then ease, like small bellows inside his hands. He supposed it would be mainly Kate’s dog. That she would want it on the foot of the bed or asleep with her on the couch some nights. He guessed he wouldn’t mind.” (21)
At times, these women must achieve emotional balance without their doltish partners. After the narrator of “Onion” runs off her unsympathetic husband, she finds solace, again through the vehicle of a dog, a rescue who stands in for her own budding self-acceptance.
“At first the dog had whined and scratched at his confines, left his initials on every door, and he still needed constant reassuring. But I could tell when I scolded him for walking on the dining room table… and he grinned at me, baring his teeth in shame, that he was finally getting a sense of humour.” (92)
Quednau is known for her long-form fiction. Her novel, The Butterfly Chair, won the 1987 Books in Canada First Novel Award. But she is also an award-winning poet and she brings the poet’s eye for concision and imagery to this collection’s rich blend of humour and insight.
Sunday Drive to Gun Club Road
by Marion Quednau
Nightwood Editions, 2021, 224 p.p., $21.95
Lucian Childs is a Canadian-American writer living in Toronto, Ontario. His debut work, “Dreaming Home,” is set to be published by Biblioasis Spring 2023. He is a co-editor of Lambda Literary finalist, Building Fires in the Snow: A Collection of Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in the literary journals Grain, The Puritan, and Prairie Fire, among others. Find more at Twitter @lucianchilds and on the web at www.lucianchilds.com.