CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 22 . . . . June 22, 2007
Sutherland's first book of short stories, Summer Reading, won the 1995 Saskatchewan Book Award for First Book, the Brenda MacDonald Riches Award. Born in Scotland, Sutherland grew up in Saskatchewan and now teaches law at York University in Toronto after completing an LL.M. at Harvard Law School. Her stories reflect the diversity of her experiences in Scotland, the United States, and Canada. Sutherland has made presentations and written about charter equality rights, feminist legal theory, sexual harassment, childhood sexual abuse, law and literature, and tort law. In addition to her academic responsibilities, she currently hosts an online literary blog at http://katesbookblog.blogspot.com, Kate's Book Blog: Books that make me think. Eight of the 14 stories in the collection have previously appeared in books, magazines or journals.
The stories involve females of all ages, ranging from fourth graders to adults, and deal with a broad range of topics, among them friendship, relationships, teenage angst, love, sex, drugs, generational and marital conflicts, coming-of-age, self-awareness and self-knowledge. Based on a popular skipping song, the title appears as the third story in the collection, "All In Together Girls," and focuses on the rivalries and subtle cruelties girls visit upon each other.
Many of the stories show teenagers facing a variety of challenges as does the anchor story, "Open All Night," that features bored teenagers whose manipulation of their parents rebounds and leaves them with limited options and no place to go. The theme of abandonment appears in several stories. In "Cool," Beth abandons her friend for the new girl who encourages her to skip dance class, hang around with older teens, and party. When the new girl moves away, "things have changed," and "they didn't change back." Denise, "The Story of Her Life," prefers the undemanding and relaxed atmosphere of the neighbours' home to her parents’ expectations and the formality of her own home. Will, "After Grad," allows "all the insecurities, the fears he's been suppressing for months [to] fizz up to the surface," and he betrays his buddy and loses his girl friend in the process. Nicole, the naive country cousin of "She's a Rocker," saves the city sophisticates and leaves her mark when she leaves. "She's barely gone and I already miss her."
Mother-daughter relationships directly play a part in stories like "Tales from the Peebles Hydro," "Outside the Frame," "The Necklace," and "The Story of Her Life" and indirectly in the other stories. The problems inherent in relationships of all types recur in the stories whether the protagonist is looking back as in "Making Love While the Kettle Boils" using the technique of crossword puzzle clues to chart the dissolution of a relationship or in "Checking Out," documenting a "casual thing," with "sex now and then" that turns ugly when Hope, who usually chooses "men in need of rescue" chooses a man who seems already "fixed" only to discover recovering alcoholics often revert to type. "Outside the Frame" juxtaposes mother and daughter's marital experiences and their techniques of coping with philandering husbands and unfulfilling lives. Mom, "Tales from the Peebles Hydro Hotel," was a "working class Scot" who "thought it was her job to smash my [teenage] illusions, to prepare me for the real world." Years later, "she was afraid I'd grown too cynical and she wanted to foster whatever softness was still there," to "keep a bit of optimism alive in me."
Settings range from Sutherland's birthplace, Scotland, in "Notes for a Documentary," to Cambridge in "Checking Out," to Saskatoon in "Aerial View of a Dinner Party," "Open All Night," among others. Sutherland's Scots' heritage emerges in "The Story of Her Life" and "Tales from the Peebles Hydro Hotel." Familiar landmarks, like the Bessborough Hotel, highlight the details of Saskatoon as the setting for several stories.
Well-paced prose, controlled language, skillful rhetorical devices, dexterous character development, realistic dialogue, exploration of the prosaic as well as the fantastic in daily living, multiple viewpoints, and humour illustrate Sutherland's ability to allow her fiction to explore rather than create truth. Many of the women learn, to their dismay, that self-knowledge comes at a cost, yet the tone of the collection remains positive and optimistic under Sutherland's guiding hand. Multiple layers of meaning intrinsic to the stories present challenges to the reader; however, mature teens and adults will appreciate the shrewd observation of women's lives featured in All in Together Girls.
The volume is suitable for short story collections in high school and public libraries.
Darleen Golke, a former teacher-librarian, lives in Abbotsford, BC.
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