A Hard Witching and Other Stories
Britta Santowski is a freelance writer in Victoria.
Picture a house on the outskirts of small-town rural flatland
Saskatchewan. “Behind the porch rails, behind the house, there is a
red barn with the loft door hanging slightly off one hinge, flapping and
creaking in even the slightest wind. There is a rusted out half-ton
behind it … Beyond the trees, so far in the distance they can hardly
be seen, the smooth, pale Sand Hills shoulder up from the prairie.”
Welcome to Sand Hills, Saskatchewan, where everyone knows everyone
else—if not by name, then by reputation or family semblance. Nothing
out of the ordinary transpires here. Childhood lust shapes sexual
awareness and introduces shame. Dreams of urban living die with
marriage. Death embellishes life. Not much happens in these stories,
which explore grand themes of love, aging, loneliness, and surrender.
They are more an exploration of a state of being.
Baker has the admirable ability to successfully write from many
perspectives: a young boy longing for the attentions of a neighbouring
teenager, a young girl learning adult family secrets, a newly married
woman, a middle-aged bachelor, and a newly widowed farm wife. Lavinia of
“Redberry, Ministikwan, Buffalo Pound” marries into the life she
sought to escape, accompanied only by a borderline abusive husband. Also
unlucky in love is Perpetua Resch of “Bloodwood,” who has only
enough love in her for her immediate family: mother, father, brother,
and sister. Perpetua cannot love her husband, even though his love for
her is profound. In “A Hard Witching,” the recently widowed farm
wife Edna has extravagant fears of being wronged.
In this collection of eight stories, Jacqueline Baker does an
outstanding job of depicting rural small-town life.