Review: Literary Quicksand (The Marzipan Fruit Basket)
I received a signed copy of The Marzipan Fruit Basket by Lucy E.M. Black from Inanna Publications in exchange for an honest review. This is the second of Black’s published works that LQ has reviewed to date; if you’re interested, Joli wrote a review of Black’s novel Eleanor Courtown a few weeks ago.
My review of The Marzipan Fruit Basket
I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Marzipan Fruit Basket is not a full-length novel, but a collection of short stories. At the time of reading this, I was on a bit of a short story kick, so it fit in perfectly, and yet stood out so much from the others. These stories burst with character and drew some serious emotional responses from me. I selected 3 of the 24 stories to tell you about here; while these were my favourites, all 24 are pretty fantastic. Please tell me in the comments if you have read The Marzipan Fruit Basket and if so, which one you loved the most!
“Gridlock” made me ugly cry. Only a few pages long, it describes the frustration of a couple stuck in traffic. Suddenly, this contempt is juxtaposed with the reason the highway is blocked; there is a procession of cars for the Highway of Heroes (for my US friends, this is a corridor along the 401 Trans-Canada between CFB Trenton and the coroner’s office at the Centre for Forensic Sciences in Toronto). I felt that this story perfectly summed up the Canadian response to our forces in the Middle East in the last few years. We ignore, turn our heads, even when those who have gone before pay the ultimate response. And we have that innocence and privilege because of those who continue to make efforts in peacekeeping all over the world on behalf of our nation.
“I look over at the adjacent car and get a final glimpse of the little girl. She surveys the roadway happily as her car also moves forward. She is still bouncing a little. Untouched by the young man who has died before his time and the pain of those left behind. I press the button to close my window while my partner turns on the air.”
Early in the novella, “School Days” is the fourth shorts in The Marzipan Fruit Basket, and it’s here where we see this strong theme of displacement beginning to solidify. Following what I can only assume is an excerpt of Ms. Black’s teaching experience in “South End”, “School Days” promptly takes us into a young girl’s life. As she begins to fight the expectation set by her sister, she encounters resistance; from the scholarly institution that she wants to accept her so badly, then from home, where her father hurls insults and possessions in response to her University application. I loved “School Days” because it brings into focus the continued struggle that girls face when wanting to be smart and educated. I certainly identified with pieces of this story. Whether a teacher, parent, or other influential character in a girl’s life, all pose risks to a girl’s dream.
“Garden Story” is the last story of this beautiful little book. It is merely one and a half pages long, but that’s enough. It sent shivers up my spine as it described the formation of a love story built around a garden. I didn’t miss the metaphor; at the beginning, the nameless “she” is introduced to Phlox (bleeding heart), in anticipation of winter, Galanthus (snowdrop). Together, they plan for the green of spring.
“And then one night, wrapped in quilts, they stood shivering on the terrace to watch a shooting star. Above the ravine, it blazed a trail in the dark.”
What a beautiful ending.
About The Marzipan Fruit Basket
• Paperback: 160 pages
• Publisher: Inanna Publications (June 20, 2017)
The stories in this collection are unified by a sense of dislocation. In each of the pieces, there is an underlying element of disturbance and disharmony. Resolution conscious choices and come to terms with new realities. A perspective that views the complexity of life journeys as a manifestation of intentional decisions, circumstances beyond one’s control, and the need to reflect upon the combination of both in order to become fully realized, drives the narrative voices.
“Water don’t always quench a deep thirst,” speaks one of her characters, but Lucy E.M. Black’s characters are a fresh drink of water in all their complexities. This collection is a glass brimming full with heartfelt narratives of people piloting through the denseness of life. Beautifully dark and light and honest and deep in the vulnerabilities we dwell in and share. A charming and gifted new voice in the growing landscape of Canadian literature.” —Gianna Patriarca, Gianna Patriarca, author of Italian Women and Other Tragedies and All My Fallen Angelas
“There will be no need for an editor to red-line superfluous text in Lucy Black’s debut story collection, The Marzipan Basket. Stories drive in a straight-line narrative, drawing, pulling, the reader into an emotionally epiphanic event in the life of the protagonist, often interwoven with that of an I-narrator and, with strong images, revealing a depth of feeling you will recall and relate to from your own experience. Ever-present in the lives of the characters are the pain and consequences of abuse, cruelty, indifference, abandonment, loss and loneliness, struggle, poverty, and love. These stories reflect moments in time; slices-of-life to which there are no resolutions; in this, author Lucy Black trusts her readers to envisage their own coda.” —Rhoda Rabinowitz Green, author of Slowly I Turn, Moon Over Mandalay, and Aspects of Nature
“Lucy Black arrives into the world of Can Lit with this compilation of beautifully written short stories that speak to the heart-felt intimacies of both her characters and her readers.” —Donna Morrissey, author of The Fortunate Brother