Reviewed by Anna Foschi Ciampolini
A traumatic real-life experience provides the main inspiration for The Pink House and Other Stories, Licia Canton’s latest collection of short fiction. When the author was involved in a serious accident, she was confronted with a sudden loss of physical prowess and independence. Her temporary descent into powerlessness affected her deeply. Almost all the characters in her collection of short stories bear some emotional scars or are marginalized by age, ethnicity and other discriminatory factors. However, most of them keep their hope intact and refuse to surrender. The stories are told from the female perspective since the protagonists are women, mothers or expecting mothers. Most are immigrants. Resilience, hope and family love are the strong and ultimately healing elements guiding them through their trials. In “The Motorcycle,” an old, frail immigrant man wants to renew his licence “to drive everything under the sun.” His stubbornness at first irritates the insurance agent, then moves her when it reminds her of her own immigrant grandfather. In “Watching Them Laugh” three generations of women are sitting inside a coffee shop and sharing a piece of cake Their interaction is a metaphor for the immigrant experience. The slice of cake that Nonna saves for her granddaughter is an understated celebration of the sacrifices, frugality and determination of first-generation immigrants.
Since several short stories are interconnected, Canton’s ability to develop a gradual, multi-layered exploration of human emotions is best revealed in two sets of related stories: “The Woman in the Red Coat” and “The Driver.” The author skillfully analyzes the feelings of both the victim and the culprit of a nearly fatal car accident. She allows both to express their suffering. This dual perspective fully acknowledges their humanity. The reader can understand and side with the victim’s anger and indignation but can also see how the car driver’s initial indifference and cowardice turn into guilt and deep depression. The other set, “In the Stacks” and “Massimiliano and Rita” starts with a casual exchange between two strangers that soon turns into an unlikely friendship. It is a well-constructed tale of two solitudes with a surprise ending. The sexual tension between the characters is very subtle but quite evident throughout the two segments of the narrative. The ambiance also highlights some interesting connotations of the Italian immigrants’ experience within a Francophone and Quebecois cultural context.
The female characters and narrators in The Pink House are strong women, with their roots firmly planted in the rather conservative Italian immigrant culture. They can build their professional career and reclaim their own identity while still honouring their traditional values. In return, the family provides warmth and nurturing. However, some short-stories offer an acute insight into the pressure that women face in the professional field. In “Because of Leonard Cohen,” a woman writer experiences a writer’s block because of her bout of depression. She realizes that she needs to “take a leave” but feels pressured to perform. Her inability to keep up with the demands of her career leads to self-doubt and self-blaming. “Soft Pastels” follows a traumatized woman writer through her gradual healing and the rediscovering of her inspiration with the help of her therapist.
Licia Canton’s writing is deceptively simple. Her narrative flows so elegantly and is so enthralling that the reader is tempted to rush through it. However, given the complexity of themes that surface through her stories, it is worth pausing and reflecting on the deeper issues that the writer skillfully weaves into each tale.
Licia Canton is a writer, poet, literary critic and translator. She is the author of The Pink House and Other Stories, (2018) and Almond Wine and Fertility, (2008) and has co-edited ten anthologies. Her works have been widely published in international anthologies. She is the editor-in-chief of Accenti, a literary magazine published in Montreal. Licia Canton holds a Ph.D. from Université de Montréal and an M.A. from McGill University. She is the recipient of 2018 Prize Italia nel Mondo of the Fondazione Italia.
The Pink House and Other Stories is published by Longbridge Books.