Once: A Review


Author: Rebecca Rosenblum

Biblioasis, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-897231-49-4

CAD .95/US .95

Once, by Rebecca Rosenblum, is a collection of short stories that immediately grabs our attention. The stories are grounded in the reality of our daily humdrum, portraying the lives of people we’ve met, or walked past, most likely without noticing. A waitress at the local diner, skaters at the bus stop, Jamesy, the kid with earbuds but no Ipod, whose grandparents shower him with mixed tapes on his weekly visits.

Rosenblum takes the commonplace and unfolds it into full view. Take, for example, Chilly Girl. We identify because we’ve been there. We’ve been too cold in an over-air conditioned room. Or we’ve forgotten a sweater before going to the movie theatre. Who would guess that returning a pair of borrowed socks would put the character on the cusp of a new life?

In Words, the character, Colleen, is unsure of how to deal with her mother’s sudden death and equally sudden reunion with her part-time father. She goes to Bible study, the only way she can rebel against her pot-smoking, musician dad. “I want to say, I want to say, I want to say…” Rosenblum illustrates Colleen’s desperate attempt to communicate as she unleashes her words in the form of intellectual bathroom wall graffiti.

In The House on Elsbeth, Rosenblum successfully portrays the impotence that many of us feel – even if only for a moment – when faced with domestic violence. Housemates have gained cheap rent because of one roommate’s own encounter with violence. When they hear fighting on the other side of their townhouse wall, the housemates are careful of their roommate’s reaction, and stupefied by their own inaction.

“A single snarl of anger, braiding alto and tenor until the blow fell, again, again, again… ‘Does he own that place too?’ We all knew he was going to ask but actually mentioning the neighbors aloud was startling.”

The art of Rosenblum’s work is this: Something remains in your memory and you’re reminded of it later, whether it’s through graffiti in the movie theatre bathroom, skateboarders in a parking lot, or an arguing couple. Pho 99, a story which brings together two working class women, teenaged skateboarders, and a Vietnamese waitress, really hit me when I noticed for the first time in my hometown a similar restaurant, Pho 234. Complete with skateboarders in the parking lot.

The characters are people living in the moment. They don’t reach great heights or achieve big dreams, but they make do with what they have. Nor is there a clean-cut resolution. In her own poetic and precise style, Rosenblum sees the beauty in the everyday and tells the story of the everyday. Everyone, everywhere has a story.

Once, a collection of sixteen short stories, is the winner of the Metcalf-Rooke Award and published by Biblioasis.

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