When Eliza Robertson graduated from UVic’s writing department in 2011, she was already well on her way to becoming a talented addition to Canada’s lit-scene. The award-spangled writer won The Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award in 2009, was shortlisted for the Journey Prize in 2010, and won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize last year, to name but a few of her accomplishments. Though never brash and ever subtle, Robertson parades this experience and expertise in her much-anticipated debut short story collection, Wallflowers.
At once touching and disturbing, Wallflowers spans a diverse range of narrative forms: some stories are told through letters, others are told backwards, but all maintain an elegance and precision of language that is haunting to the literary reader. If you consider yourself a word dork, this is the collection for you. The sentence-to-sentence writing is phenomenally textured and each page provides new and unexpected language delights.
As a collection, Robertson’s stories fit together naturally through the reoccurrence of an image or theme: the hummingbird, slug, and fire motifs woven throughout the collection provide lightning-flash insights into the writer’s mind. Regardless of these connections, however, each story declares its independence from the others, whether through an alarming shift in voice, content, or narrative form.
If you prefer plot-driven stories, this may not be the collection for you, but Robertson’s stories are never boring and are well worth a try if you are beginning to delve into the literary form. Each story is uniquely human, dissects family dynamics, and leaves a lingering impression. The characters, though quirky, are ultimately relatable and propel the stories forward.
As a total word geek, each of Robertson’s stories delighted my writerly sensibilities; however, personal highlights in this collection included: “Where have you fallen, have you fallen?,” which is told in reverse chronology, “My Sister Sang,” which recounts a sister’s grief through short and poignant vignettes, and “We Walked on Water,” which won Robertson the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
If you are a seasoned short story reader, or looking for a way to get into this diverse and challenging form, then Wallflowers is well worth a read. This collection is particularly inspiring (or intimidating!) if you are currently working your way through a fiction degree. Take comfort, or fuel your jealousy, from the fact that Robertson wrote much of this collection during her time at UVic.
Correction: Due to an editing error, the original headline in print and online erroneously referred Robertson’s short story collection as a novel. The headline has been amended to reflect this.