John Ruskin attached a tower to his bedroom on his mountainside estate, Brantwood, on the shores of Coniston Water in Cumbria. Unlike Sackville-West’s, his tower room windowed on all sides, almost a capsule, offered a corner in which to escape from recurring nightmares or to watch the stars.
"Glimmers of Elena Ferrante’s softer side."
To begin her 2016 post on the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s blog, Licia Canton wrote, “In 2012, a driver pulled up behind me while I was putting a box in the trunk of my car. He crushed my legs between two bumpers. I was bedridden for four months, and then I started physiotherapy. […] People would ask me how my legs were doing and I would smile and tell them I was doing well. I was, physically—but I didn’t tell them I wasn’t able to write.” This horrific and somewhat gruesome trauma is the center of Canton’s 2018 book The Pink House and Other Stories (Longbridge Books). The accident appears in several of the stories, beginning with “Because of Leonard Cohen,”—mentioned in the 2016 blog post—and spreading out to several stories from different perspectives. Canton’s blog post describes using writing as a cure, a form of “narrative therapy.” Indeed, creative healing is the driving force of The Pink House, but it is not the only motivation. The book also tackles such themes as art, motherhood, Italian-Canadian identity in Quebec, family structures and hierarchies, as well as how all these aspects of life support a person during the journey of healing.
Dealing with trauma is at the core of The Pink House, but the depictions of motherhood across generations shine as Canton’s skill in capturing small, everyday pressures is exemplary. I would even go so far as to say the pages hold glimmers of Elena Ferrante’s softer side. “Refuge in the Vineyard”, “Watching them Laugh,” and “Goethe’s Lap” all deal with generations of parents reflecting and rejecting each other’s parenting styles. As a mom of two kids under five, I found myself nodding along with all the daily struggles that pile on the mothers of Pink House. In these stories, the pressures of motherhood—living in defined and strict timeslots, chaos at the dinner table, frustrating purchases from grandma—aren’t dramatic or even particularly unique, but in naming them Canton opens her arms in empathy to all the moms who are trying their best and always catching up.
I have fallen in love with Canton’s short photographic stories that deftly and quietly depict real life, but not every story satisfied. “In the Stacks” and “Massimiliano and Rita,” while engaging and dramatic, seem out of place. Over the course of both stories, the relationship of the two title characters grows. They find themselves together in one of life’s most intimate moments: birth. Massimiliano decides on a whim to accompany Rita to the hospital where she has scheduled a Caesarian. He does this only having known her from one encounter. After that, we hear nothing from these characters. How does this relationship progress? Are they friends for life? Lovers? Does it go terribly wrong? These characters, with only a tangential connection to the characters of other stories, are left flapping in the wind. That said, I was drawn into their drama. I only wonder if these stories would be better told elsewhere.
Pink House and Other Stories is Licia Canton’s second book of short stories. In 2008, she published Almond Wine and Fertility, later released in Italy in 2015 as Vino alla mandorla e fertilità. Canton holds a Ph.D. from Université de Montreal and a MA from McGill. She served on the board of the QWF, is the editor-in-chief of Accenti, and was once the president of the Association of Italian-Canadian Writers. She lives in Montreal with her family. Canton is steeped in Montreal’s literary scene and Italian community, and it shows in her work which is so rich with cultural details that any Montrealer would know—the Bell Centre pick-up area, Leonard Cohen fanaticism, St. Leonard’s Italian history. Pink House, while largely concerned with a trauma, is a beautiful portrait of the lives Canton is surrounded by. It is honest, gentle, and loving.
© 2018, Leigh Kinch-Pedrosa
[Photo: Mickael A. Bandassak]
Leigh Kinch-Pedrosa is the general manager of Confabulation Montreal, an organization dedicated to the growth of the storytelling community in Canada. She is a co-founder of The Confab StoryLab, Confabulation’s education arm. Leigh has taught storytelling for the Lister Family Engaged Science Initiative at McGill University, District 3 Start-Up incubator, and Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science’s #PublishorPerish program. Leigh has produced live events for CBC Books All Told, The Intercultural Storytelling Festival of Montreal, Wildside Theatre Festival, Broad Science, the New Storytellers Conference, and Off-JFL. She has told stories for Tales from the Black, Yarn, Vanier College, Confabulation, and Phi Centre’s exhibit Lucid Realities. She is also a contributing editor for Salon .ll. of Linda Leith Publishing.