We take many journeys when we read; the most interesting ones are those that writers lead us to by creating worlds that bring us to destinations which can be illuminating and sometimes surprising.
Sophie Stocking, a writer from Alberta and the author of the novel, Corridor Nine, does just that with her collection of short stories, Walking Leonard and Other Stories. The stories are about change and take place in the environs of small-town Alberta. They follow characters who are facing dilemmas and uncertainty in their lives.
The book opens with the story, “Rabbit Trails,” and introduces us to 10-year-old Shakti, a girl hiding from her parents because she has done the unspeakable, destroyed an important family crop. We learn that that this is not the first time she has done so. To the parents, the girl’s actions are irresponsible. To Shakti, she is protecting her family’s welfare. The story is one of protest, but its also the story of a girl’s love for her family. She wants her parents to change their ways but they choose not to listen and she finds herself on the outside. She takes refuge in the natural world around her, in the animals and birds that loom large for her. Stocking excels with the blending of fantasy and reality that keeps the girl anchored.
In “Walking Leonard,” Clarice, a high school student about to apply for further schooling, is hesitant about what she wants to do; her desires are much different than what her parents want for her. The family at this time have a dog, a Weimaraner named Leonard that Clarice walks every day. She likes to walk the wasteland, a place forbidden by her parents as too dangerous, but she goes anyway and one day she meets man she calls “Jesus.” He tells her about a coyote that chases walkers and dogs; he also tells her that “when Coyote shows up expect change, an ending.” (53) By the closing of the story change does take place and Clarice is able to feel free of the expectations her parents have of her, to get on with her life, her future looking bright.
The last story, “Archimedes,” explores old age and dementia. It also speaks of balance. Saul has Alzheimer’s and his wife, Mollie, copes with the illness in the best way she can. But it frustrating to see her husband deteriorate from adulthood and regress into childhood; she has not the patience nor the energy anymore. Saul, who once was strong and could open, “belligerent jam jars” with his strong hands, is now a trembling old man. (130) Stocking’s lyrical language casts a warm light on the character and we can empathize with the situation created.
Their children, Lina and Peter, think it’s time their father went to a care facility but Mollie sees on a visit with a neighbour, the disadvantages of Saul going into one. Mollie is determined to take care of him herself. Again, by blending the story of the Sword in the Stone, a story of fantasy, with the ongoing situation, Stocking weaves a story of heartache and grace.
Stocking’s stories draw us in and we identify with each character; Shakti, who finds nature offering what her parents do not, Clarice, who discovers another world much warmer than the cold and arrogant one of her parents, and finally Mollie who knows that taking responsibility is the order of the day. There are many things to ponder with each story, and as readers we can discover something new with each reading.
Walking Leonard and Other Stories
by Sophie Stocking
Guernica Editions, Spring 2021, 170p.p., $20
Mary Barnes is a writer living in Wasaga Beach, Ontario.