A matriarchal nomad, selling thrifted clothing to provide for the multiple ex-lovers whose artistic endeavours and lifestyles she supports. A young Amish woman, plagued with the inability to bear children, left with the burden of a mental state in decline and a frustrated husband. The incomparable, definitive feelings of blossoming teenage lust and sexual confusion between two high school friends. These are stories, but more than that, they are lives that, for a moment, I am placed inside of, experiencing the ins-and-outs of the human condition through the eyes of those whose shoes I’ll likely never wear.
Took You So Long is C.I. Matthews’ debut offering; a collection of short stories published by The Porcupine’s Quill, an artisanal book publisher based in Erin, Ontario. Through 19 fictional tales, the reader travels through rural nowhere Ontario, delving into complex issues that seem to bubble just beneath the surface of each story.
Have you ever been driving from your hometown to a bustling city centre and caught yourself staring out the window at the tiny villages, townships, and communities you pass through, wondering what goes on in the lives of those who live there? In stories like Factitious, a detailed account of an outwardly normal friendship is plagued by the abuse of a dominant personality belonging to an abusive and sick individual; Matthews draws back the curtain, revealing a labyrinth of complicated, delicate, and painful narratives. She reminds us that, no matter how ordinary a life may present, each individual possesses afflictions of their own.
Skilled in providing unique snapshots of very real human experiences, Matthews plants us in each story directly and abruptly, without holding our hands to walk us in. The lack of a definitive starting point in each story allows us to trust our own intuitions as we weave our way into the heart of the plot, finding that our subconscious sets a stage that is often surprisingly familiar to us. Though the tales detailing themes of infidelity, insecurity, inferiority and instability are not written about us, they are all relatable to our own experiences. No matter who you are, there is a character in this book you will embrace with empathy, and there is a portion of each story you will feel personally connected to.
Matthews crafts sincere storylines with an authority that illustrates a breadth of knowledge and wisdom surrounding how people function, feel and interact. The use of realism deprives us of the templated “beginning, middle, and end” we are so accustomed to and leaves us to endure the unflinching, sometimes unexciting actualities of real life.
Rather than wrapping each story up with a bow, we are often left with lingering questions. As I travelled further through the book, my expectation for conclusive endings diminished, and I was able to experience each account without the impatience of awaiting an impending closure.
Her subtle use of a clearly extensive vocabulary delivers effective and expressive language that serves each story with flawless comfort and individuality. “His face is blank, like a chalkboard during summer vacation” is an example of the unique brand of fresh, relatable analogy that stands out in her writing.
Personally, I feel as though I experienced the lives of those in my hometown in such a linear way until now. There is a spectrum of upbringings and a scope of home-lives that I’ve, at times, naively discounted, choosing to view small-town living through rose-tinted glasses. When we fail to acknowledge that everyone living in a certain vicinity is not allotted the same privilege in life, we tend to view the population around us as no more than a backdrop for our own lives. These stories inspire me to pay more attention to those around me, to leave my preconceptions in the past, to listen openly, to embrace dissimilarity and to meet others with compassion.
Written by Marshall Veroni