Canlit Review: This Cake is for the Party

Finalist for the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize  

Longlisted for the 2010 Frank O’Connor Award

Synopsis from Thomas Allen Publishers: Sarah Selecky’s first book takes dead aim at a young generation of men and women who often set out with the best of intentions, only to have plans thwarted or hopes betrayed.

And I think that nails it just right. Every individual in these stories was so real. So today and so now. We know these people, either you know someone like them or we see a little of ourselves in them. There is a sadness though to every person in these stories. Each character is dealing with some kind of loneliness, loss, betrayal and it just all felt so very real, (I think I said that already?).  As if Selecky is sending a message to tell us that, oh I just don’t know how to put it into words….she is not laughing at us, not really poking fun or judging, but maybe just showing that the little things we obsess about in life are superfluous.

People are so afraid. They hoard their things. Don’t they know that it’s all going to be gone one day anyway? None of this is going to last. (pg. 216, One Thousand Wax Buddhas)

As in my earlier foray into short stories, the first one just ended for me and it wasn’t so great, I felt it came abruptly to an end and I didn’t “get it”. But then as I continued along, I found myself completely engrossed. As in all short stories, my hang up is that they come to an end too soon, and for some I was hoping for more.

My favourites? Well, for starters, my very favourite of the 10 was, “Paul Farenbacher’s Yard Sale.” That story was wonderfully fabulous and that ending brought me to tears. That was a great little story! A sweet tale about the elderly neighbour that has passed on and his family is having a yard sale of all his belongings. His widow is moving in with another man, the son is not at all coming to terms with the loss of his father and that they are cheaply selling his possessions off. But the real heart-wrencher is Meredith. Meredith lives next door and developed a strong bond with the loving father-figure Mr. Farenbacher. That ending! Oh, so sad! So perfect and so real!

The last story in the selection, One Thousand Wax Buddhas, was beautiful and heart breaking as well. Again, something about these older men that care so much for their wives. Including one that has some mental issues, or a “beautiful mind”, but that doesn’t matter, she is beautiful down to her toes and he only wants to take care of her. It touched my heart, and was a very enjoyable read.

Then I would have to say it was “Go-Manchura“. I really felt sorry for Lilian! She is sucked in to believing in the products she’s selling for one of those pyramid schemes and she invites two couples, her “friends” to her parent’s northern cottage to give a demonstration and start building her wealth, that the product’s marketing portfolio touts will happen. Poor Lilian, used for a get-a-way for one couple and then the other couple doesn’t bother showing. Nina and Brook’s rudely and boldly tell her they are definitely not there to buy in to this crap. You just so deeply feel Lilian’s loneliness and sadness and how used she is by two worthless, so-called friends.

So, overall, each of these stories dissects relationships and all of their complexities, beauty and pain. A great collection of stories!

For a second opinion, read Steph’s review from Bella’s Bookshelves here. (it’s a good one!!) And a review from the Canadian Book Review here.

Sarah Selecky has her own website, you can check it out here.

And just for a touch of whimsy, all thanks to Pinterest, you get to look upon little book cakes, meant for a great party: