Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt

Tarry This Night

By 
Kristyn Dunnion
Arsenal Pulp Press, 258 pages, $16.95
2017
Reviewed by 
Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt

In a world not unimaginably different from our own, members of a religious cult wait out a civil war in an underground bunker. Tarry This Night, Kristyn Dunnion’s second novel, is an unsettling tale told in turns by five members of the Family, including Father Ernst, the sect’s once-charismatic polygamist leader. Set in a not-so-distant future and broaching many of the themes currently in the news—political polarization, nuclear warfare, gender inequity, religious extremism, climate change—this carefully crafted, suspenseful novel is a reminder of just how awful things could get if we don’t get our act together.  

Tarry This Night is a study in tunnel vision—or rather, bunker vision. In the dim, dank shelter, the Family is literally and figuratively in the dark as they await the “Ascension.” The narrators share a limited understanding of themselves, their fellow inhabitants, goings-on “topside,” and the doctrine they purport to follow. Reverent and dutiful Cousin Ruth pines for her brother, oblivious to his feelings for another Family member. The curmudgeonly Mother Susan disavows “hussies,” but succumbs to her own private desires in the dead of night. For Mother Rebekah, hopelessness becomes a kind of tunnel vision that leads her to take devastating action. Here, the use of several third-person narrators has disparate effects; while the reader has the advantage of more than one perspective, Dunnion’s restrained hand invokes the feeling that we’re never being told everything. Indeed, the Family’s role in causing the above-ground conflict is lightly sketched, and never explained in full, which might have detracted from the present-tense action. 

This restraint pays off in the second half of the novel, as a macabre turn of events leads to an awareness the characters have been missing. Among the narrators, Cousin Ruth and Mother Susan undergo drastic but believable transformations, driving the interrelated narratives to their singular climax. 

Dunnion is at the height of her powers when describing matters of the flesh: blood is “metallic heat,” burn wounds “pussed and frothed,” Rebekah’s wrists are “delicate bird bones.” Father Ernst is physically repulsive, with his unwashed skin, “pouchy eye,” and moustache, which “parts to yellow teeth.” If this novel has a single failing, it’s that it’s too short. I would have liked to inhabit Dunnion’s chillingly drawn world a little bit longer, especially toward the end. But unlike her characters, who must wait for the Ascension in darkness, Dunnion never tarries, making for a fast and consuming read. 

Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt is a Montreal-based writer and translator whose work has appeared in The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, Matrix, Room, carte blanche, and elsewhere. Her story “Resurfacing” was shortlisted for the 2017 Carter V. Cooper short fiction prize. Visit her at carlyrosalie.com and follow her @carlyrosalie.

If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You

By 
Adèle Barclay
Nightwood Editions, 96 pages, $18.95
2016
Reviewed by 
Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt

“Where are our time machines?” asks the narrator in “Dear Sara I,” the first poem of Adèle Barclay’s debut collection, If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You. Pulsing with an old-world, occult feel, Barclay’s poetry draws the reader back in time with its tarot readers, bearded ladies, riding caps, griffins, and witchery. Alcohol, cigarettes, and erotic desire lend a theatrical, 1920s-era noir feel to the reading.

Yet Barclay’s poems are both contemporary and relevant. Millennial anxieties are a common thread (“I’m so tired / I can’t even curate / a good life” or “our stupid hands / scratching at glass screens”), as is the desire for digital-era connection (“I watched the new Grimes video / hoping to find you in feathers”). The wry, often humorous voice of the narrator feels intimate and familiar, like that of the friend you’re in a semi-permanent state of physical separation with but still speak to every day, by “dial-up telepathy,” text messages, and handwritten letters. But here, the longing is also carnal, marked by blood, bruises, blisters, and body heat. If I Were in a Cage wonders aloud whether closeness is sustainable from afar. 

A variety of expertly rendered settings reinforce this question. Within the first two poems, Barclay moves from the “slick jaws / of Brooklyn” to small-town Ontario, where “a grunge trio’s name / references Alice Munro.” In Montréal, “darkness in winter is anyone’s game,” while the Pacific Northwest is all “witchery, rain, chanterelles, and moss.” “I have destinations / to tally” writes Barclay, and whether it’s San Bernardino, Paris, Michigan, or rural Alberta, her deftly observed details safeguard the reader’s perception of each place. 

“There’s language / and then there’s language” claims the narrator in “Grammar by the Minute,” and Barclay’s language is both keen and vivid (“The faucet / is a siren, the pipes freeze a rusted melody”), while sensations are contorted (“I’ve / turned Saturn / in my mouth / like an olive pit”) to defy our expectations. At times, it feels like Barclay is a magician pulling back the curtains of perception and memory to reveal something more enduring. The opening poem is one of six Dear Sara’s interspersed throughout this collection, and by “Dear Sara VI,” the final poem, time has passed and place names have changed, but it’s love that appears to endure. In its exploration of intimacy, If I Were in a Cage is at its most reverent and mystical. 

Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt’s fiction has recently appeared in (parenthetical), Matrix, Cosmonaut’s Avenue, and Room’s Canadian Gothic issue (39.3). She lives in Montréal, where she is at work on her first novel. Visit her at carlyrosalie.com or follow her on Twitter @carlyrosalie.

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