A diverse and engaging anthology, The Things We Leave Behind will resonate with a wide variety of readers. I found myself drawn in from the opening line of most of the stories. Each contributor has interpreted the theme uniquely, immersing the reader in poignant moments that range from humorous to sorrowful, from light-hearted to heart-breaking.
Unfortunately, I found the introduction to be more than I needed. I’ve never appreciated having a story explained to me before I read it—I prefer to dive in and draw my own conclusions, experience and interpret it in my own way. As such, I wished I had read just the part of the foreword that celebrated Canadian literature and introduced the theme of the anthology, and stopped short of the four pages of synopsizing that followed.
That said, these short stories are by no means short on emotion or depth. They weren’t all for me, but that is the point of a collection of stories—different readers will be drawn to different pieces. A particular favourite is the breathlessly spiraling On Edge by Barbara Lehtiniemi; it’s a tremendously relatable story that left me with a smile.
“And you need someone like that in the country where problems are not unusual but tangled into the fabric of everyday life . . . and you’re more of a hand wringer than a problem solver but you hope people don’t think that even if you do.”On Edge, Barbara Lehtiniemi
I’ve taken a second and third read through Five Sorrowful Mysteries by Ronald Zajac. The first time I read it, I scrawled on a post-it note: “I think I like it? Maybe?” It is one of the stand-out pieces of this anthology, and as I peeled back the layers, I found meaning in it that demands more than a cursory skim.
“He never even went to the funeral; he found out about it too late. Cancer sucks. So do life and distance and the inexorable erosion of unattended friendship.”Five Sorrowful Mysteries, Ronald Zajac
Ace Baker’s Menos Coca, Mas Cacao genuinely surprised me with its clever repetition and sudden twist. I was engrossed from the opening line:
“The land is my love—a land of happiness and hopelessness, of beauty and brutality.”Menos Coca, Mas Cacao, Ace Baker
Not only did I recognize the landscape many of the stories were set in, but I also recognized myself in them. For better or worse, we all have things we’ve left behind.
“Yet not all choose to grieve what they’ve left behind.”
The Things We Leave Behind is an anthology of eight short stories published by Chicken House Press. These stories offer a glimpse at Canada’s geographic landscape—spanning the Yukon, Canadian Prairies, Great Lakes, and metropolitan Toronto while starring protagonists who are well-storied in loss.