All the Shining People by Kathy Friedman

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Once again, I will be participating as a jury member on the Shadow Giller, something where we shadow the actual Giller Prize and choose our own winner. Because of this, a lot of my reading will start to shift to many of the books eligible for the prize, sifting through the Craving CanLit site for those eligible titles. Short story collections are always, always on the Long-and-Short Lists so I’m thinking of reading the (many number of) short story collections already appearing in prep for these Shadow Giller duties.

All the Shining People was my first collection read from the list of eligible titles. A debut collection, it’s one where I felt a strong connection to a few of the stories inside. The back of the book describes All the Shining Peoplewith its focus on family, culture and identity, captures the experiences of immigrants and outsiders with honesty, subtlety, and deep sympathy.” Doesn’t that sound similar to How to Pronounce Knife: Stories? Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed this collection so much. (How to Pronounce Knife was the story collection that won the 2020 Giller Prize and was the winner of the Shadow Giller as well.)

Friedman’s very early childhood was spent in South Africa before emigrating to Canada, and many of her stories have a recurring school-age theme running through them – high school and university mainly. I felt as though Kathy grew up in the 70s and 80s because so very many of these stories captured many similarities of what school was like for me – or I could recognize what the characters were going through. Some of the characters are linked into other stories as well.

The stories that stood out for me?:

My very favourite story would be the final one, Hineni. A story of a man just passed faced with seeing the legacy he’s leaving behind, mainly through the eyes of his daughter, or rather how he failed to fully connect with her and he feels as though he has more to do, or experience, or tell, but he’s being led away into the afterlife. He’s trying to hang on just a little longer so he can spend more time remembering.

I marked four other stories down as the ones I appreciated most out of the twelve:

Seeing Clearly. This has a similar theme to Hineni since he’s recalling his childhood: his past, his father, and grappling with the legacy of his father. It’s told through recollections, “He ripped the photo in half and in half again, ripping until he had no history, no security, no burdens. The past was gone.”

Hentie’s Voice. This one gave me all the feelings of what it was like to “survive” school. The feelings of hesitancy, the bullying, the uncertainty of friendships, there was just something in this story that was so very recognizable. “You’d forgotten it was possible to feel so much joy.”

Bad Things. Told from a boy’s perspective, it is another story associated with the feelings of insecurity and uncertainty of school time, this one with the confusion of sexuality at a young age.“Remember,’ he said, ‘courage means doing the right thing even though you’re scared. You always have a choice. That’s what my own dad used to say to me.”

The title story, All the Shining People, was one so strikingly familiar to high school experiences, it is told through dual perspectives, one from a boy, one from a girl about their sexuality, individuality, it is a story examining their relationship with a boy that is considered a social outcast and what their friendship/relationships are to this boy. “We were connected after all.” “…I’d lift him into the air, and then, like a banner, like a banner in a parade and with confetti, with a marching band, I’d watch my love unfurl across the sky, to ripple and wave above the city and all the shining people in it.”

Will it make the Giller’s Longlist? This is only my first collection read so I can’t say with certainty myself right now. Yet, in my opinion it is a strong contender. I have placed many of the other collections appearing on Craving CanLit’s site on hold at the library, so I’ll be spending more time with short stories in the very near future. Indeed I already am as I’m currently reading No Stars in the Sky by Martha Batiz.

For these books eligible for the Shadow Giller, I’ll simultaneously post them over on that site as well. I hope you enjoy taking this year’s journey with me through what the best of CanLit has to offer!