Life Skills

Geist Staff

Life Skills (Coteau Books) is a collection of stories by Marlis Wesseler, who, according to the publisher's blurb, "lives in Regina with her husband Lutz and son Evan"—an example of the biographical minutiae that book lovers learn to ignore—or at least to forgive feckless blurb-writers so often tempted to offer them. But such is not the case with this book, whose only weakness is that there isn't nearly enough biography in it: for, with each of these stories, one turns again to the author bio, yearning for any kind of detail that might connect her—"in her own life," so to speak—with the substance of the stories she tells. These stories, some written better than others, are all equally compelling for the simple reason that they seem completely to be true, in just the way that good autobiography seems to be true—hence the questions: who is this Lutz guy? And where does the kid Evan fit in? We want to know these things, and much more. Along with the minimal bio, the publishers have printed a generic author portrait (hand on chin, thoughtful expression, etc.) that in any other book would serve more or less well as the usual Signifier of a Book-Writing Kind of Person that we all know how to ignore because they are always so embarrassing. But the stories in this book drag us inexorably toward life and away from art, so that we are forced to look again and again at the author photo, wherein, of course, there is nothing to be found. This is a slim volume beautifully covered with a photograph by Michael Gilbert that turns us painfully back toward Art: an image only to be described as simulating perfectly the art of the photo-realists whose inspiration and challenge is the eye of the camera itself.

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