Kathy Page’s Paradise & Elsewhere is one of two short story collections on the 2014 Giller Prize longlist — I am currently at the halfway mark in Rivka Galchen’s American Innovations which is the other. Here are the opening paragraphs of Kimbofo’s review of Paradise & Elsewhere; you can find the full review here:
Kathy Page’s extraordinary short story collection Paradise & Elsewhere has been long listed for this year’s Giller Prize. I say “extraordinary” because it’s the best word I could come up with to describe the book in its entirety. Each of the 14 stories within it are magical little portholes into other worlds, or, as the author puts it herself (in the Acknowledgements), “explorations into the hinterland between realism and myth”.
Indeed, reading many of these stories is a slightly dislocating experience. That’s because the places in which Page sets them feel real and recognisable — deserts, rural communities, suburbia, to name but a few — and yet somewhere at the mid-way point of each story, or near the end, she drops in a little detail that makes you realise these are not places you’ve ever been — or are likely to want to visit.
Some are set now, others in the future after an unexplained and presumably catastrophic event has changed civilisation in subtle but oh-so important ways.
There’s definitely an undercurrent of menace in many of these tales. People are never to be taken on face value, never to be trusted, because underneath they’ve all got their own private, self-interested agendas. Many characters are manipulative, dark and dangerous. Others are weak and naive -— and are always taken advantage of.
This all adds up to some pretty edgy and deeply disturbing short stories, I must say, but Page reigns it in beautifully. There’s no pyrotechnics or melodrama, although the climax of each story is often surprising or unexpected. The writing is restrained throughout; there’s almost a journalistic quality to it and I was often reminded of the very best kind of travel reportage that not only transports you to foreign climes but describes the culture, the food, the people and tries to put it into context.
Some tales also read as fables — not dull, overly simplistic, fables, but ones with dark moral messages at the core reminiscent of British writer Magnus Mills.