Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Review: Vanishing and Other Stories by Deborah Willis

I don’t read short stories very often, but the back cover of Vanishing and Other Stories by Deborah Willis promised secrets, missing loved ones and dark humour, so how could I resist? And now I find myself feeling somehow not qualified to review this book—what do I know about short stories after all? (And what other gems might I be missing?) The 14 stories in this book all feature some kind of absence, from dead or missing wives to disappearing fathers and lost innocence.

My favourite story is probably the title story, “Vanishing,” which is about the disappearance of a local writer. What I loved the most about this story is how circular it feels, as if the writer’s disappearance somehow creates ripples both before and after the fact, as if not only does the past change the present, but the present also somehow alters the past. I don’t mean to make this sound messy or confusing when in fact it’s subtle and elegant and intriguing.

But it’s hard to pick a favourite when Willis manages to write not one but three stories in the second person that I actually enjoyed (when this is a device I generally loathe). Of the three, “Traces” is my favourite, which is about a wife addressing her husband’s mistress. (It didn’t hurt that the story was set on Salt Spring Island, which I’ve visited many times.) Although I saw the twist coming, that didn’t stop me from marvelling at how perfectly second-person narration fit this story.

The story that felt most true, that made me imagine it was autobiographical, was “Sky Theatre,” about an ordinary kid who is briefly pulled into the orbit of the most beautiful girl in her school. In fact it was two of the stories about kids, this one and “The Separation,” that seemed most real to me—as if Willis had inhabited those girls’ lives from the inside.

The only story I didn’t like was “This Other Us” about a trio of college students who live together until one of them suddenly moves out. What happens next is disturbing and I disliked being left hanging at the end, unsure of what was going to happen to the narrator. It felt
important that I know, because I hated one of the possibilities—the ending actually left me feeling betrayed.

Willis writes with a deft hand, often weaving back and forth in time, and sometimes, as in the title story, folding the story back onto itself in such a way that you rethink the whole notion of time as a linear concept.

In the end, I’m not sure I’m doing these stories justice. Let’s just say I highly recommend that you read them and see for yourself, even if, like me, you think you don’t like short stories!

Vanishing and Other Stories was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction in 2009.

Thank you to Harper Perennial for sending me this book to review.

Vanishing and Other Stories is on blog tour with TLC Book Tours in August and September. Visit these other blogs for reviews:

Booksie’s BlogEleanor’s TrousersThe Lost EntwifeRaging BibliomaniaAll about {n}In the Next RoomCozy Little HouseRundpinneConfessions of a BookaholicLife in the ThumbLibrary Queue

Other reviews:

Cozy Little HouseKevin from CanadaLeafing Through LifeMrs. Q: Book AddictPANKRayment’s Readings, Rants and RamblingsSasha & the SilverfishThe Brown Tweed Society


  1. I used to say I didn't like short stories, but have read a few collections this year that I liked, so I'm on the lookout for more good ones. Glad to see you enjoyed this collection.

  2. I'm always looking for good short story recommendations. I think this collection would be appealing to me.

  3. I have this one up on my TBR shelves. Like you, I'm not big into short stories, but there was something about the blurb that really caught my attention. I'm so glad I went outside of my comfort zone and got this one!

  4. Like you I have a hard time reviewing short stories because I don't read them often. But I think you did a great job here - I really want to read this collection now!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.