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256 pages, Hardcover
First published July 27, 2021
From his tone she guesses this is a joke, though she has no idea why. She could ask, but doesn’t. He leans back against the counter, crossing his feet. “Schopenhauer knew that human desire caused pain and difficulty in the world, but our will is intractable. We want what we want. So what do we do about this? How do we find relief?” He pours them each another shot. “The only sublimation is through the aesthetic. Through the appreciation of art.” ~ The Brooks Brothers Guru
Sometimes she saw her life as a tender thing that was separate from herself, a tiny animal she had happened upon by chance one day and decided to raise. It was terrifying to think how small it was, how wild, how easily she could fit it in the palm of her hand.
If you could have seen her as a little girl, my Rosie, then you would know what happiness looks like. She laughed all the time. Her bed was piled so high with stuffed animals you couldn’t even see the blankets, but Rose insisted on taking each of the animals into bed with her, so none of them would be lonely. I still don’t know how she went from that little girl to the skinny teenager who skipped school and spiked her hair and pierced her tongue and lower lip and who just laughed at me when I told her the truth — “ You’re going nowhere, Rose ” — and who grabbed my wrist and twisted it until my tears came and said, “You’re nowhere, Mom, you’re the definition of it,” and who marched out of the house as she had a hundred times before during that long bad year, only instead of coming back at three in the morning, or the next day, she never came back at all.
Tamar watched Albert quiz Aziza about the creepy neighbor, what he’d said and done, while the girl grew first flustered, then sullen. Albert never knows when he’s gone too far, doesn’t understand that he’s acting less like a protective patriarch than his own brand of creep.
We’d never socialized outside of work. In fact I didn’t socialize with anyone from work, even Margaret, who was close to my age and lived in my neighborhood and whose cats I took care of when she went to visit her aunt in Nanaimo for two weeks every July. I liked everyone fine, but forty hours a week is already a lot of time to spend with people who’ve entered your life by happenstance.
The explanations tumbled out of her father and her friend, each of them completing each other’s sentences, her father’s large hands slapping the table every so often gently, keen to touch Kelsey’s shoulder or hand but holding back, for Vanessa’s sake, she could tell. Kelsey had started out working as an intern, become a trusted advisor, and somewhere along the way graduated to girlfriend. They’d kept the relationship secret, because they wanted to tell Vanessa first, and doing it long distance didn’t feel right. But now they were happy, happiness spilled from them, sloshed like liquid from a drunk person’s glass.
Of course I’d told Iris how much the book had meant to me. In all our time together, there was nothing of myself — my earnestness, my confusion, my desire to have a different life than my parents’, without any idea of what that might look like, or who I might have to be to inhabit it — that I had held back from her. I may even have talked about it while we were in bed together. It was impossible to me that she could have withheld this information.
Lewis had worried that Vicky wouldn’t approve, but she only waved her hand and said, “Go with God.” The children loved that he was friends with Stan. They called Wednesdays “Dads Night.” “The dads are going out!” they said. Otherwise they called him Lewis, not dad, and hearing this made Lewis feel warm, a warmth that was part shame, because it did not yet seem deserved.
In my memory all of her was gleaming. She tried to take the dart from me and I wouldn’t give it until she told me her name. When I let go, my palm was pricked with blood. We live together now in Cat’s condo with a dachshund named Murray who has hip dysplasia and a terrible personality and whose presence in our lives is my greatest regret. I know I’m lucky to have such a manageable regret. I’m lucky in a lot of ways.
The strain of her two desires — to seek the connection and to reject it — paralyzes her, and she lies rigid, every muscle tensed. If she were to speak, she would dissolve, or break in half.
I knew Bobby’s. It was a sad diner out on the highway where Nicole and I used to go when we were teenagers. We’d eat pie and flirt with middleaged men and then leave suddenly, knowing they’d settle the bill. We thought we were so dangerous. We thought being girls was such a game.
Once Karen asked me about my friends, and I said I had lots but not many I liked, and she asked how I could have friends I didn’t really like and I said, “I’m sorry, have you ever been around girls?” and she laughed in a tone that made us both feel sad.
He prayed that Phoebe would never come back, never try to take the baby from him, that life in their apartment had been so hellish she wouldn’t want a single reminder of it, even one composed of her own flesh and blood. To his endless surprise and gratitude, these prayers had been answered.
The person I was really looking for, of course, was Dmitri — because who else would share my memory, who else would understand? If he’d been in the room I would have rushed into his arms and begged him to forgive me for having driven him away. But he wasn’t. I had to keep to myself the strangeness of seeing those paintings, so thick and dense with luster, reminding me how little and how much can last.
I first read Mulvany’s book, The Woman I Knew, when I was thirteen years old, an impressionable age. Although I should say I was impressionable at all ages, especially where books were concerned. I wanted books to press themselves upon my body and mind, to change me in every way a person could be changed.There are, amazingly, no characters in this book: they are all real, breathing people, with backstories or no backstories, and futures, or no futures. I enjoyed every one of them and actually felt closely related to a few. I also read and finished every story. I’ve been able to do that with only one other writer, Alice Munro, so this collection came as a complete surprise to me. These were all emotionally satisfying and moving, and every one had a little Easter egg of joy or angst or grief to savour. I usually complain loudly about Canadian writers who don’t highlight Canadian settings, and there were few to none identifiable here, but many of Ohlin's people seem to think and react in an innately Canadian way. Or at least in a way I could relate closely to.