Lines of Truth and Conversation


186 pages
ISBN 0-88984-271-X
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


Joan Alexander’s first collection of stories is peppered with
references to Holocaust survivors. The theme of emotional survival
occupies centre stage in many of the book’s 10 urban-based tales. A
number feature adult female protagonists coping with the aftershocks of
profoundly dysfunctional childhoods, with the absent father serving as a
recurring motif.

In the collection’s most fully realized story, the unflinching
novella-length “Five Months,” a woman nurses her dying—and
thoroughly ungrateful—father-in-law; her dutifulness, however
masochistic, affords her the unprecedented opportunity “to explore the
territory of having a father. Of being a daughter.” In “Home for
Lunch,” a jaded wife and mother embraces make-believe in order to
survive: “There is no heaven on earth. Hope must be devised.
Pretend.” In “Too Much to Tell,” a troubled veteran of support
groups concludes that personal survival hinges on filling one’s life
with meaningless activities.

Flashes of quirky humour alleviate the essential darkness of these
incisive, disquieting tales. A customer asks the proprietor of a doomed
independent bookstore if she thinks “a beautiful Oxford edition of The
Lady of Shalott [is] too eerie for a girl of four.” A woman is driven
to distraction by the clicking sound in the back of her husband’s
throat. In “Five Months,” the funeral home dispatches an Econo-van
to pick up the father-in-law’s corpse (“It’s a business,” the
dead man’s son blandly observes).

Alexander’s singular, forceful voice offers a welcome respite from
the banal effusions that typify our celebrity-obsessed culture.


Alexander, Joan., “Lines of Truth and Conversation,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,