A version of this article can be found on the Broken Pencil Website (see under "Works of Non-Fiction")
Rebecca Rosenblum’s debut novel "Once," a collection of sixteen short stories, won the Metcalf-Rooke Award. Her stories have interesting beginnings: "Eva’s place is busiest in the evenings- lots of fried cheese and ass-grabbing near midnight," and "she’s watching another movie about a man who can fly sideways, kick his enemy’s skull and then land gracefully on the other side of the now dead body," and "we got the house on Elsbeth for the summer because, one sleety day in April, Leah’s stepfather backhanded her hard on the jaw."
The stories involve a variety of characters in distinctly urban settings. There are waitresses, warehouse labourers, laundry workers, office techies, skateboarders, recent immigrants, and guys who squeegee your car windshields at off-ramps. There are stories about friends made and lost growing up, romantic choices and their consequences, and stories that attempt to make sense out of murder and various other injustices. The stories feel credible and real, without much to suggest they are not. The common thread that runs through the stories is that of possibility: possibility in such things as love and career, but also the possibility that things are not as bleak as they might seem.
There is the promise, in "Chilly Girl," of a man who can make her feel warm again. This is among the best moments in this collection, a story I can only describe as possessing a sort of fantastic realism:
"Once there was a girl who was unusually cold. No one liked to hold her hand. She wore toques from October to April. She ruined picnics by wanting to go home when the sun went down. She could cradle lit candles in her bare hands and never get burned. Once she was seated near a draft at a wedding banquet and her lips turned blue. Once she forgot to wear a sweater to the movies and her teeth began to chatter. Once she looked at her cup of tea and then at the man who had bought it for her at a sidewalk café and said, ‘I wish I could be in a cup of tea right now.’ He didn’t call her again."
Her depictions of place and character are succinct and interwoven well, both evoking strong imagery, in stories such as "Kids These Days":
"Pho-Mi 99 had never had a review, or a full house, or light bulb of less than 100 watts, but truly, it was something. Beyond the purple "Persian" rugs and the Mix 99.9 ambience, there was the clearest, richest pho this side of Dien Bien, weightless glass noodles, rose-cream red tea. Of course, a lot of the diners were kids who didn’t appreciate anything, who thought congee was a funny word, fished the petals out of the red tea, dine’n’dashed. I, on the other hand, was working from home while my wife was living in a sublet and regretting my failure to love her with any certainty. Her words. So I had plenty of time to eat Vietnamese food and talk about it, or anything, with anyone who wanted to talk to me. And Koenberg (the chef) liked an audience."
Some of the stories may seem at first glance perhaps too mundane, too much like real life, not an "escape" as literature is supposed to be. But the characters and the situations resolve themselves in interesting and unexpected ways, subtly revealing something unseen in the world. And that seems to be the point of all these stories: that life, as ordinary and dull as it can be, despite its losses and persistent disappointments, is full of the wonder of possibility.