Belonging, displacement, alienation, desire--familiar fictional themes certainly. And the terrain here is mainly downtown Ottawa (not often thought of as a city that makes the heart beat faster); the language is precise, yet unadorned--but in these unsettling stories it is Andre Alexis's achievement to produce quiet dramas of nightmarish threat and the macabre. Nearly all of his characters are isolated by the grip of circumstances beyond their making or of their own imaginings, and the oral and cultural traditions of Trinidad and Canada are combined to searing effect.
Young Michael at a family wedding in "The Night Piece" is haunted by a story he is told by a boy not much older than himself about the Soucouyant, a vampire slowly killing him by biting his back and the soft flesh behind his knees. In "Despair: Five Stories of Ottawa" Martin Bjornson's 50-year-old parakeet says his first and last gallows-humour words--"Jesus, my corns are killing me" and keels over. His single sentence unleashes actions of despairing consequence.
Plants grow out of the mouths of the poor, disembodied heads cackle and jeer, Andre is tormented by the fear that his wife Andree is cuckolding him with Andre ... The closing sentences of "Kuala Kumpur" express the inventive interplay between the real and not-real of these impressive stories: "Everything else was hidden in a confusion of emotions...A confusion, a welter, a tangle, a tumult..." --Ruth Petrie