And Also Sharks. Jessica Westhead.

Westhead, Jessica. And Also Sharks. Cormorant Books, Toronto, 2011. F;9/17.

Here’s another review of a book I don’t have much in the way of notes on, but which I liked. The author is part of a group of good young female short fiction writers that for me include Julia Elliott, Mona Awad, Otessa Moshfegh, and Julie Orringer. I think they share a sort of aggressive insistence on personal point of view and style, and they use sometimes logically unrelated detail instead of the traditional hooks of storyline and pictorial description to get our attention and sometimes create depth.

Here we meet a bouquet of characters who are definitely garden-variety but somehow also weirdly exotic. Ordinary folks whose life events reveal… something ordinary presented as bizarre, or the other way around. A man at the office who is criticized for being jealously preoccupied with his colleague’s wife discovers that she is in fact having an affair with a third man. A girl who obsessively shoplifts steals an infant and seems without things appearing out of the ordinary to treat it as her own child. Two couples who frequently socialize misunderstand the innocent effort of a new neighbour to be friendly. A couple’s disagreement about spending priorities reveals a fundamental marital incompatibility. People openly ingratiating themselves with others appear both pathetic and as if their behaviour is perfectly okay.

Critics call Westhead’s style wacky, deadpan, wry. Some recognize the ordinary being weird and weirdness being ordinary that I found compelling. Somehow an obvious in-the-face irony might credibly not be ironic at all, like a Vasarely op-art print that can be seen two different ways without changing.

Accordingly, I have trouble with my usual numeric scores, but this one is definitely worth a look.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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