CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 24. . . .February 21, 2014
Astrid Blodgett has assembled a baker’s dozen of her short stories under the collective title of You Haven’t Changed a Bit. The cover illustration, which shows a moth emerging from its chrysalis, was a brilliant choice as it captures the complexity of the expression, “You haven’t changed a bit.” Certainly, the moth’s external appearance has definitely changed, but the insect’s essence, which was present throughout the its egg, caterpillar and chrysalis stages, remains the same.
Blodgett’s 13 character-driven stories, which are set in Alberta, range in length from 7-19 pages. And, although these stories were written for an adult audience, many (most?) should resonate with older teens who are approaching the end of their high school years and are beginning to recognize that change of one sort or another awaits them.
One of the best things about most short story collections is that the stories don’t have to be read in the order in which they are printed. Consequently, a reader can begin reading a story, and, if a connection is not made, the reader can jump to the next story, perhaps returning later to any “skipped” stories. If I were still a classroom teacher, I likely would suggest that my students begin reading You Haven’t Changed a Bit with the book’s third story, “Ice Break”, as I think that teens still living at home might be able to connect personally with some aspects of the story’s situation. Dawn is the middle daughter of three girls in a family in which the father is about to go ice fishing on a nearby lake. Though the mother is somewhat concerned that it’s late in the ice-fishing season and that the ice might be becoming rotten, she doesn’t insist he not go, saying, “I know how much you love it.” However, she does suggest that he take Dawn, with her intent being that the father spend some quality time with one of his daughters. Dawn, who really doesn’t enjoy these forced one-on-one times with her father, bribes her younger sister, Janie, into coming with them, the inducement being a crisp five-dollar bill. What makes the story so engaging is Blodgett’s telling the story by moving back and forth from the present to the past, with the present involving the truck’s sinking through the ice and the past being Dawn’s recalling the series of events that led up to the accident and her father’s successful efforts at getting her out of the front seat of the sunken truck before turning to Janie who was belted into the back seat. For Dawn, things have changed significantly as her decision to bribe her younger sister contributed to the death of two family members.
Family dynamics come into other stories, such as the book’s opening piece, “Don’t Do a Handstand”, which finds Karen, a relatively recent newlywed, learning that her husband’s brother, Otto, has not changed one iota and that he is still manipulating the lives of his siblings. When Krista Martin receives a letter from the Canadian Red Cross in “Zero Recall”, it informs her that “we can no longer accept [your blood]” and that she should confirm their finding with her own doctor. For Krista and Ben, her husband, the elephant in the room is the question of how Krista contracted something which caused the Red Cross to rule her permanently ineligible to donate blood. [As an aside, it is odd that Blodgett would use the Red Cross in this story when that agency’s blood collection responsibilities were passed over to Canadian Blood Services in 1998.] “Let’s Go Straight to the Lake”, the story which contains the line that became the book’s title, contains a most dysfunctional family, and the story’s contents show that change, or the lack thereof, is often in the eye of the beholder. “Banana and Split” finds sisters estranged for more than a decade because of an unresolved misunderstanding while adult and juvenile characters try to right wrongs in “Tattletale”. Changes in romantic relationships make their way into “In the Meadow” and “Butterflies” while change, in the form of mental illness, is at the core of “Getting the Cat”. Innocence is lost in both “New Summer Dresses” and “Giving Blood” while deception is at the core of “No Matter How Nicey-Nicey the Parents Were” and “The Gold One”.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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