Window Dressing


117 pages
ISBN 0-88750-962-2
DDC C813'.54






Reviewed by Chris Knight

Chris Knight is a copy editor at Canadian Press.


If reading fiction is like listening to someone speaking, this
short-story collection merely tilts its head a little and says, “ahem.
...” The stories have a lot to say; they just say it quietly.
Bailey’s characters are not flashy, but inside they carry memories
they are trying to cling to or forget, soft regrets, lust and greed. The
notion of someone speaking is strong in this book, because the
half-dozen works in it contains are all in the first person, and all
have to some degree a confessional tone. The longest, “Stolen
Dreams,” is in fact a rambling “Dear Jane” letter; and if it
doesn’t read quite like a letter, we can still forgive Bailey, because
it is nevertheless a wonderful, haunting goodbye.

“I have no faith in explanations,” says the letter writer, Carl
Renforth, in “Stolen Dreams.” “Too often they are disguised
excuses.” This is typical of Bailey’s protagonists; they recognize
human frailty and the impossibility of communicating their deepest
feelings and most secret acts, and then go ahead and attempt the
impossible anyway. Often they cannot even fathom their own thoughts:
“I awoke to a pillow that was damp with sweat, or tears—though that
is doubtful,” says the speaker in “Logs,” the morning after a
chaste conversation with a prostitute who wants his help in setting up a
savings plan.

The paradox is that the reader can actually gain some insight into the
human condition from listening to the muddled thoughts of Carl Renforth
et al. The characters may have loose ends in their lives, but their sad
situations emerge clearly in Bailey’s emotionally evocative prose.
“I didn’t think I would ever hear from her and that caused me to
feel a certain guilt. As if I’d cheated her in some way,” says the
protagonist of “Logs.” It isn’t easy to feel with these
characters; but to feel for them, all one has to do is lean close ...
and listen.


Bailey, Don., “Window Dressing,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,