Friday, July 27, 2012

And Also Sharks by Jessica Westhead

In her short story collection And Also Sharks, Canadian author Jessica Westhead has a sharp ear for dialogue. Here's an example from small talk at a party in 'What Would I Say':

"... I took her to that place, what's that place called. You know, the restaurant that's loud, with the salad they make from things that fall out of trees? That's where we went. [...] And I told Appollonia about my chapbook and she said -- if you can believe it -- 'What's a chapbook?' Oh dear. So I explained it to her, and she was thrilled for me and asked me could she buy it in the bookstores, and I said no, she could only buy it directly from me. Poor thing, she has no idea how it all works.

She doesn't know anything about the scene either, but I guess why would she? Just because she knows all these people through -- how does she know all these people? She's really kept that to herself. Although she's never even heard of sp@cebar, which is amazing to me. To be that out of touch with what's going on in the world. You put out his last flipbook, didn't you? She said to me, 'Well, what does he do?' And I said, 'He engages with the absence of sound. He communicates his poetry through gestures and facial expressions.' And she said -- you'll get a real kick out of this -- 'Isn't that what a mime clown does?' I said to her, 'Appollonia, sp@acebar is not a mime clown. He is a soundless poet.' She really doesn't have a clue. I mean, I've never seen one of his performances, but at least I know, you know?"

Westhead's stories feature awkward characters who are often oblivious to their own social shortcomings. For a deftly funny take on modern urban life, you won't go wrong with And Also Sharks.

Readalike: Better Living Through Plastic Explosives (Zsuzsi Gartner).

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