paulo da costa is concerned with the passage of time and its effects on generational attitudes and memories. Da costa’s writing is recondite, preferring a lyrical, almost poetic style of narration. The stories in The Green and Purple Skin of the World (Freehand Books, 206 pp; $21.95) have an unhurried, meditative aspect that suits the material, but can also be wearisome over the course of an entire collection.
The Table is typical of many of the stories in the book. Not much happens on the level of plot; the author is more concerned with dissecting the relationship between a mother and her son, and using that relationship to examine the way the past intrudes upon and influences the present. The son, who refers to himself as “the guardian angel,” has brought his mother (who refers to him as “the pest”) a new IKEA table for her kitchen. The mother’s old table is scarred and battered, and the son feels that it is time to replace it. His mother, however, thinks the old table is just fine, and can’t believe her son would want to substitute a factory-made piece of furniture devoid of character or history. The clash of tradition and modernity is fairly obvious, but da costa handles it with admirable subtlety, infusing what could have been a clichéd situation with a surprising poignancy.
Other virtually plotless stories address similar material, but with less emotional resonance. The opener, Flies, features two pairs of males — an older couple and their grandsons — eyeing each other suspiciously from opposite sides of a street, and making somewhat tepid observations about the folly of youth on the one hand, and the decrepitude of age on the other. In Another Sunday, a young boy displays abject disinterest in his father’s heartbreak at his favourite soccer team’s championship loss.
Not all of the stories in the collection are told in such a languid manner. The title story is epistolary; Those Who Follow is told from the alternating perspective of a hunter and the cougar he is stalking; and there are even a couple of speculative fictions. Not Written in Pencil eschews a lyrical approach in favour of a first-person narration by a working-class tough who takes his frustrations with his philandering wife out on an unfortunate interloper in a bar. But the narration here feels affected and forced — “This little incident with Cody tipped her over the punchline”; “enlightenment is a damn fancy-schmancy destination” — it never sounds authentic.
Much better is the alternating perspective in My Real Mother Would Never, told, respectively, from the point of view of a young girl who has run away from home and her mother, who is frantically searching for her. The mother’s sense of helplessness is palpable; she is reduced to a kind of child herself when she calls her own mother for advice about her missing daughter. The girl, meanwhile, is driven by a sense of betrayal at the news that her mother’s new boyfriend is moving in with them; this treacherous emotional territory is traversed sensitively and with an indirection that is admirable, and helps elevate the material and earn the uplift in the story’s happy ending.
Steven W. Beattie’s Shortcuts column appears monthly.