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book review

Binnie Brennan

Longing and loss are given not one, but many, distinct voices in A Certain Grace, the debut collection of short fiction by Binnie Brennan.

A grizzled truck driver delivers an injured butterfly from the North's killing frosts to Florida's more hospitable warmth, and in doing so, tempers the grief of losing his wife. Returning to his childhood home, a son remembers his father's death and the rites of passage around learning to shoot that defined and damaged his brothers. And in Her Private Sorrow, Addie, the mother of a dreadlocked daughter "who travels the globe saving souls and breaking hearts," is plunged into pained nostalgia for an adored father, her dying ex-husband and the daughter she can't reach in order to break the news.

The very best of Brennan's thoughtful writing is on display in the latter, from the striking prose as Addie laments the early days of motherhood – "… talcum powder wisps of auburn soft against her cheek as the baby leaned toward her coming childhood" – to the knowing insights into a woman unmoored by middle age and fate: "It is a strange and lonely grief that of the ex-wife of the deceased, one that exhausts her."

Endings can make grumps out of short-fiction readers and writers alike, and while Brennan achieves a wholly believable voice in Addie – self-doubt spiced with a delightful archness – the story's ending falls a note shy of a satisfying authenticity.

This isn't the case with every piece in this collection. Brennan, a violist with Symphony Nova Scotia, knows much about sustaining pitch. And in her title story, A Certain Grace, she does not falter. A series of vignettes about the narrator's deceased grandparents, it has the saltiness and abandon of an East Coast reel, one you don't want to end, an effect that augurs well for what's to come from this writer.

Krista Foss's short fiction has twice been a finalist for the Journey Prize and has been long-listed for CBC Canada Writes. Her slow progress on a novel and subsequent caffeine consumption, make her a café favourite in her hometown of Hamilton.

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