sounds like an interesting book to check out....
Finding the small truths and ‘weird layers’ of Vancouver
Imagine a city where people get paid to display election signs on their lawn. Such a scenario, as described in Zsuzsi Gartner’s short story Once, We Were Swedes, would have the potential (were it expanded to include federal elections) to transform the Vancouver neighbourhood where Gartner lives, where currently you’d be hard-pressed to find an election sign for a candidate other than a New Democrat. Welcome to Commercial Drive. And welcome to Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, Gartner’s new short story collection – very much grounded in her East Vancouver neighbourhood, with a hyperrealist twist.
“The city is organic to the stories, I would say, for a great many of these,” Gartner says in one of the many coffee shops dotting the Drive, as it’s known to locals. “It’s inextricable.”
With one exception, each story is set on the West Coast -- most of them in or just outside Vancouver -- and so are rooted in the truths and little details of the city: almost-suburban North Vancouver cul-de-sacs backing onto forested areas; White Spot French fries; hipsters tacking up posters on Commercial Drive telephone polls.
“I’ve become less frustrated with Vancouver,” says Gartner, 50, who has lived in the city for 20 years (she was born in Winnipeg, grew up in Calgary and has also lived in Toronto and Ottawa). “The city really lends itself to this kind of examination because of all the weird layers.”
Gartner deals with the truths of Vancouver living through implausibility. The city’s obsession with real estate – and real estate’s impact on nature – are satirized with a monster-house-swallowing mountain. Gartner nods to the city’s history with eco-terrorism by creating a support group for recovering terrorists. There’s also a kidnapping marmot mascot, which Gartner is quick to point out she came up with before VANOC ever introduced Mukmuk, the Olympic mascot sidekick modelled on the endangered Vancouver Island marmot.
“When they actually picked the marmot ... I was thinking people are not going to realize how unbelievably prescient I was,” she says.
Eleven minutes into the interview, though, Gartner changes the subject away from Vancouver: “You haven’t asked the why 12 years question.”
Gartner’s debut short story collection, All the Anxious Girls on Earth, was published in 1999 – to great acclaim. Better Living is her follow-up, yes, a dozen years later.
The short version of the answer is: It’s complicated. It involved the birth of her son Dexter a few months after Anxious Girls came out, and later the diagnosis and treatment for a severe anxiety disorder.
“I was doing a real face plant, with issues around food phobias and around the safety of my child that got really, really, really bad until it reached a nadir and I had to get help and deal with it.”