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.