Montreal writer’s Sweet Affliction is infectious

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jul 4, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

There is something both exciting and nerve-racking about having a book by a new-to-you author land on your desk. In this case, the new-to-me author is Anna Leventhal, who lives and writes in Montreal. Her collection of short stories, Sweet Affliction, was just published by Invisible Publishing, a small non-profit press based in Halifax and Toronto.

I do not envy fiction writers, especially not in this country in this century. I especially don’t envy first-time authors, even if they have been published in well-known venues such as Geist and Maisonneuve. It’s a tough act to create and complete a novel or a book of short stories, even tougher to be published, and tougher still to have your work reviewed. The latter problem comes from the fact that so many publications no longer run reviews of books, or have had their books section seriously reduced due to the economic climate, and so on.

Of Sweet Affliction, I will say this: Anna Leventhal is a very good writer and this collection of stories is wonderful. At times snarky, at times chilling, they drew me in completely and educated and entertained me. I’m going to lend my copy to a friend to read, but I will want it back, because this is a book to read again. It was both a relief and a delight to enjoy the stories as much as I did.

Leventhal hails from Montreal and draws upon her knowledge and love for that city in creating her stories. Disclosure: because I wasn’t aware of her before receiving her collection, I did something I rarely do, resorting to Google to find out a little about a writer. I also learned that Moving Day is a real thing in Montreal, although Leventhal subverts the ordinary routine of the day into something more speculative or science fiction in her story of the same name.

Leventhal’s stories are peopled with imperfect characters, which makes them that much more believable and memorable. There is the woman with terminal cancer who collects positive adjectives that create new meanings when added to a noun — like “sweet affliction,” the title of the collection. A collection of tenants are given snapshot profiles in Moving Day; a man with two pet rats worries what will happen to the survivor when one dies; an angry woman goes every year to a Yule party where the hostess forgets its one guest’s birthday.

Regular readers will know that I have a deep love for short stories and have been feeling highly vindicated in that love due to recent literary prizes being won by writers of short stories: Lynn Coady collected a Giller Prize for Hellgoing; Alice Munro has won pretty much every prize of significance, including, most recently, the Nobel Prize for literature. Leventhal’s stories are not like either of these two authors’ works, but they are as compelling and skilfully written. You should purchase this book, or urge your local library to bring it in, and read it for yourself. I expect to hear more from this talented author in the future and so should you.

Jodi DeLong is a freelance writer. She lives in Wolfville.

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