Do you have literary aspirations? Of course you do, you’re reading a books blog. Somewhere you have a half-penned novel or a drawer full of short stories that you’ve submitted to the New Yorker (you aim high, I like that about you) that they never actually rejected so who knows, any day now. When you were writing angst-ridden teenage poetry you were certain that you’d be on the New Yorker‘s Twenty under Twenty list (pretty sure that’s not a thing but it was on Gossip Girl) but then you got a bit older, and figured you’d settle for a Thirty under Thirty list which would still make you a wunderkind but birthdays keep rolling by and you’ve decided that maybe it’s better if you’re discovered a bit older; mature, fully formed. Oh I know you. I am you.
Claire Battershill is the writer you wanted to be. While you were busy watching Gossip Girl and telling anyone who would listen that you were going to be a literary star like Dan Humphrey, Claire was studying her craft, writing stories, getting better and better. When you were certain that the short story, loosely based on your last breakup, that you submitted to the CBC’s annual contest was robbed because it was certainly better than the dredge that won you were wrong. Claire Battershill won that contest in 2008 with “Circus,” the title story in her short story collection released this year and it is better than your fictionalized account of the end of your affair with Marco.
Circus is full of quiet stories about familiar interactions; a man trying online dating for the first time, a couple in a loveless, sexless relationship, a family moving to a new house out in the country. Each story is tinged with something that makes it just weird enough to be memorable, but not so weird as to be unrecognizable as grounded in reality. Her language is spare except when she is daringly colorful (even Hemingway would approve of her use of description), she displays a palpable warmth towards her characters and she is one of the most exciting new Canadian writers I’ve read in a long time. Maybe she’ll write a novel after the success of these stories, maybe she’ll be like Munro and always stick with short fiction; either way we are lucky to have her.
Side note: As part of her prize for winning the CBC contest her story was published in Air Canada’s inflight magazine. It was there that an editor from McClelland & Stewart first read her work and that’s how the publishing house came to publish her short story collection. Isn’t that just the kind of coincidence you imagine will lead to your big break?