The Little Black Dress


116 pages
ISBN 1-55128-005-1
DDC C813'.54






Reviewed by Dennis Denisoff

Dennis Denisoff teaches English at McGill University and is the author
of Dog Years.


When Cary Fagan’s previous books, City Hall and Mrs. God and History
Lessons, first appeared, they were both commended for their charming and
sensitive representations of quotidian life. His latest collection, The
Little Black Dress, deserves the same accolades that his earlier
publications received. One is led to question, however, whether
Fagan’s undeniable skill is being used to its greatest advantage.

The Little Black Dress is a quick read. It consists of 12 extremely
short stories or sketches, most of which were written, Fagan tells us,
during a trip to France. The majority of the stories offer brief, vague
descriptions of unexciting events in the lives of various people,
generally middle-class, white, heterosexual adults. Sometimes a child or
a loner takes centre stage, but the dominant issues are the nuances and
difficulties of straight relationships. A married couple rediscovers
sexual passion when the wife dresses up for dinner. A married couple
rediscovers sincere affection when the husband reveals his insecurity.
An unmarried couple rediscovers their mutual affection after the
boyfriend becomes less anal retentive.

While the narrative structure of the stories is conventional and thus
becomes somewhat grating, Fagan does include a number of interesting
narrative and stylistic strategies. “Woodenheads,” though somewhat
heavy-handed in its moralizing, is most notable for the originality of
the story line and the deftness with which Fagan handles it. “Baa Baa
Black Sheep” also shows that Fagan can move beyond his favorite themes
to analyze less-familiar examples of human dependency. While the
narratives themselves are basically nothing new, Fagan’s style of
writing and sensitivity to language remain impressive.


Fagan, Cary., “The Little Black Dress,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,