Everyone has something they're good at: one particular personal skill that they use to keep their lives moving forward when their worlds suddenly become difficult or near-impossible. For some, it's denial; for others, blunt pragmatism. Still others depend on an over-inflated view of self to keep criticism and doubt at bay.
In his short story collection Whirl Away, Russell Wangersky--author of critically-acclaimed fiction and non-fiction including The Glass Harmonica, Burning Down the House: Fighting Fires and Losing Myself and The Hour of Bad Decisions-- looks at what happens when people's personal coping skills go awry. These are people who discover their anchor-chain has broken: characters safe in the world of self-deception or even selfdelusion, forced to face the fact that their main line of defense has become their greatest weakness.
From the caretaker of a prairie amusement park to the lone occupant of a collapsing Newfoundland town, from a travelling sports drink marketer with a pressing need to get off the road to an elevator inspector who finds himself losing his marriage while sensuously burying himself in the tastes and smells of the kitchen, these are people who spin wildly out of control, finding themselves in a new and different world.
Like Cheever or Munro, Russell Wangersky delves stealthily into disquieting corners of the domestic sphere, his stories dissecting lives when they are fracturing, lives at stress points, lives much like the roller coaster at the centre of McNally's Fair, an exciting and popular ride gleaming with fresh paint, but about to collapse from hidden rust and broken bolts. Such parallels are his métier and meat as a stylist. Water stains on a wall mirror flaws in the soul (daub on some paint and get rid of the place), and a meal at a diner resembles a relationship, "resolute about not living up to its promise."
The Globe and Mail
Whirl Away is a persuasive, artful collection and Wangersky portrays all manner of characters, mostly Newfoundlanders, with vividness and delicacy: a wide range is present here from a big-hearted, somewhat naive salesman to a sadly compliant lawyer, from a shadow of a forgotten child to an isolated, guileless old woman. True, humour is not often wrung from adversity in these stories; but instead there’s a lyricism in the language that elevates many of these tales to an almost allegorical level, allowing room to move around inside them. The gothic of Flannery O’Connor comes to mind but without that brutal struggle for grace — with Wangersky, grace naturally extends from a thoughtfulness about what has happened. In this way grace attends with a reconsideration of the past, perhaps by even seeing the past in a new way.