Native son or transplant, the Village is a special place. It is colored by the myriad people who live there, by their emotions and by their experiences. For high school student, Christian, and a man named Julian, they quite literally see the colors of lives, future and past respectively. For artist and museum curator, Michel, and sketcher, Andre, they pour the emotions of the city into their work. Personal trainer, Aiden, breathes golden fire and the taste of his own icewine brings winter, Jesse, the bitterest of sweet memories.
Something magical and mysterious runs through the city. It brings the disparate spheres of each character together along a tangent. Sometimes, this link is tenuous and ephemeral—the name on a clothing label produced by local fashion icons is all there is to connect two spheres. Other times, the link is like an ouroboros—a notebook from a boy’s adolescence reappears in his adulthood, bringing with it answers to questions asked long ago, while asking new ones.
Yet in each story, there is a common theme: love is love. Some are stories of getting together, of finding another kindred spirit. Some are stories of rekindled romance or a great love lost.
As you can tell by the 5-star rating, I simply adored this collection of short stories. Burgoine has subtly built a stunning alternate reality of present day Canada. The story crafting is truly superb. The kick-off story features a closeted teenager named Christian who befriends a fellow misfit/malcontent named Dawn. Christian and Dawn have different connections to track star, Bao, but any ideas of romance get kicked to the curb when Christian’s ability to see what might be described as “auras” of color clue him into the emotional states and wellbeing (or lack thereof) of people. What follows is a collection of short stories that are all subtly interconnected, even if only in a superficial way. Personally, I appreciated and rather enjoyed simple references in passing to the other stories or characters in this collection. If nothing else, this allows the reader to feel like they are in on the secret, that this world is all somehow one and the same despite a parade of characters who display various paranormal-esque abilities, and (and this is crucial for me) in such a way that avoids the story sounding like everything just oh-so-conveniently interconnects. Crucially, I didn’t notice that every story has a definitive link to another one (maybe it does and I missed it, but that’s something to look for on a second read through—and this book is certainly worth a second or third read through).
That crucial first story sets the tone for the book; the characters are introduced with compelling narrative that made me pay attention to them from the first line of text—every time. Each character and side character (sometimes main characters in one story are worked in as side characters in another) felt genuine and individual. This is no mean feat considering the first three chunks did leave me feeling like this would maybe be a parade of endless angst filled get togethers. To be sure, there is plenty of angst and plenty of getting together; however, there is also a nice selection of painfully bittersweet stories. My favorite of the collection was probably the one about Jesse (a vinter) and Dennis (a deaf man who ends up being a dishwasher at Jesse’s vineyard). While there is clearly joy shared between these two characters, there is deep emotional pain, too. Plus, the magic or mystery (or, more truthfully, misery) of Jesse’s “ability” means his story follows a “linear” pattern, but allows intense flashbacks from his lover’s perspective that makes it feel almost non-linear. I also appreciated that the characters run the gamut in terms of age. There are teenagers, young adults, middle aged adults, and elderly folks in various starring and supporting roles. This, too, helped keep my interest in the story.
I found Burgoine’s prose as delightful to read as it was well-suited to the stories themselves. Going back to the first story about Christian and his “aura” sensing ability, Burgoine’s descriptions were evocative and alarming. This matched a teenager discovering his ability for the first time and feeling freakishly alone because of it. Bodybuilder Aiden’s ability also manifests in ways that are visible only to him and other similarly-abled people—but because his grandmother shared a similar ability and talked about it with Aiden, the descriptions of Aiden’s ability in his and Miah’s story are much more lyrical and beautiful. In addition to the quality of the prose, there are a few flat-out humorous moments as well.
As a few examples, here is one where Bailey, who owns a newage shop in The Village, is trying to convince Gabe, who has self-confidence issues, to ask out the hot mural painter working across the street from their shop:
“Don’t sell yourself short, Gabe. I mean it. You’re short enough already.”
“Ba-dum-bum,” Gabe said, but he smiled. “You’re here all week.”
“Don’t forget to tip your waiter.”
Maybe it’s a bit subtle, but I really liked that this exchange did not simply end with “ba-dum-bum” and that Bailey rolls on with the bit about the waiter.
Another quick example was this line from “Struck,” which features Chris as a book slinger in the mall who is stocking shelves with YA book:
Chris balanced a dozen copies of the latest teen hardcover in his left arm…The books were getting heavier by the moment. It was probably all the angst.
Burgoine’s collection of short stories is an absolute treat to read. Each new story introduces a small set of engrossing characters that are as unique as they are relatable. He encompasses the gamut of romance, from unrequited young love to love lost, from the slow burn to instalove. Some of these themes are even present in the same set. Again, I must commend the usage of this broad array of characters as well. The MCs from stories crop up, mostly in passing, in the stories of others. This lends a powerful sense of cohesion and, yes, reinforces the idea that this is a community. Between each story, there are snippets a few paragraphs long that expound on the nature of emotion. It took me a while to figure out this can be read as a loosely over-arching narrative—one that provides another common thread linking the stories.
If you are hard pressed for time, this makes for a great read because each short story can be knocked out in 30 minutes or less. Burgoine excels at this form of storytelling, providing plenty of detail and rich descriptions of time and place. Each story has a build up that works well with the climax—sometimes to gut-wrenching effect (for me, that was “The Finish”). I highly recommend this book, especially as we wend our way towards the end of summer, beginning of fall where a bit of the supernatural would not go amiss.