||Cape Breton University Press
A collection of short stories, "gems from a practiced and gifted writer whose insights and imaginings are ... beautiful and mysterious."
Barnes & Noble.com
If there is one connecting thread to these thirteen stories, it is the idea of secrets and things withheld from loved ones. The life of coal miner Doc MacSween reflects the overburden of the disaster in which he played a part. Katia carries a secret child in her heart while her sister allows her to suffer in silence. Monica returns to her former school as a teacher to relive the pangs of a hopeless crush. An old man shields his wife from her best friend's penchant for walking off with other people's belongings. In the title story, Loose Pearls, Anna tries to pass on a disturbing chapter of family history before it is lost altogether.
While sometimes tinged with humour, the stories often slide into the dark side. A spinster deals with a neighbourhood stalker by trying to put herself inside his head. A well-meaning but slow-witted young man causes injury to those supposedly trying to help him. A boy is preyed upon by the very people in whom his parents place their trust.
But there is hope as well. A wife dealing with her brother's suicide sees her husband's wild schemes in a new light. The neighbour of a mother whose daughter is missing shows her how life goes on.
And sometimes it is up to the reader to decide, as when Susan, a long-suffering housewife, literally finds herself at a crossroads.
Susan started the car. She had her hand on the gearshift when the kites floated into view. She took the boundary road along the back side of the fairground and parked there. Bending low, slipping through the stiled fence, she was reminded of something. Youth. It wasn’t gone. Not yet. Not all of it. She was still slim as a willow, lithe as a teenager. She hopped up, achieving an easy balance as she sat on the top rail, legs dangling.
A young father spooling a multicoloured butterfly kite was torn between his toy and his toddler. Running in aimless circles in the daisy-strewn field, the little girl was propelled by gravity down the slope.
Sensing Dad’s dilemma, Susan hopped off her perch. “I’ll take it,” she said. “Go after her.”
For just a moment she saw herself through his eyes. A woman his mother’s age, a little angel pinned to her shirt.
He passed off the spool, and then it was hers, the dancing, swaggering kite. Caught off balance, she wrestled joyously with the wind. And then, just as suddenly, the moment of bliss was manoeuvred back into his hands, both of them laughing. In her heart she was eighteen again, blushing roses.
Cape Breton Post
Literary pearls stand for our burdens and our triumphs
Published on June 6th, 2010
Thanks to Cape Breton University Press, Glace Bay writer Donna Troicuk’s talent is on display in a collection of short stories entitled Loose Pearls. The volume is a welcome addition to the literature and culture of this island.
Troicuk’s 13 carefully written stories are infused with intelligence, imagination and style. They succeed best when they mirror the culture of Cape Breton. I allude, in particular, to her excellent opening story, Overburden and her award-winning story Loose Pearls. There are, however, many stories to like in the collection, but I am partial to two others, Tuesday and My Pretty Garden.
The title of Troicuk’s collection has resonance. The loose pearls are like strung natural pearls — many-faceted, valuable, with some pearls of great price. Primarily, these literary pearls in one way or another stand for our burdens and our triumphs.
The stories Overburden and Loose Pearls are rooted in the Cape Breton way, yet achieve universality. The first story works on the literal and symbolic levels: overburden created coal and industry; one miner finds himself excessively burdened and transformed by the trade.
War veteran and later deputy mine examiner Roddie MacSween sees his life as a tragedy because of one incident: Intimidated by a manager, he permitted mining to continue when he knew that methane levels in a Caledonia mine were too high.
Five miners died. He is therefore burdened with a secret which is destroying him. The story succeeds because of local colour and dialogue, as well as the strong portrayal of Roddie’s inner agony. The writing is economical. Flashbacks are handled extremely well.
As well, Troicuk’s excellent story Loose Pearls deals with the burden of memory and its consequences. Set in Glace Bay, it presents a contrast between the old values of an immigrant Ukrainian family and the watered-down values and traditions of the same family in the new world. The story opens in a Ukrainian village, with a child running into her house from a stranger approaching with a carpet bag. She warns her mother. Tension is created by the imminent arrival of the woman’s husband from work in Canada to bring his family to the new world. Then the action shifts to an Easter gathering in Glace Bay years later when Ukrainian traditional foods are replaced by Canadian.
One person is missing from the gathering, however, Magda, a sibling not like the rest. Magda eventually arrives. But the significance of the scenario that opens the story and the difference between Magda and her siblings is gradually explained. Characters are well drawn here. Dialogue and setting carry the story.
The story Tuesday describes a husband’s control of his long-suffering wife and his wife’s determination to forge an existence of her own. At the end, one senses that the wife will move on.
My Pretty Garden is a chilling story about a stalker who moves into an apartment next door to a spinster pre-occupied with her expanding garden.
Her interests are growth; his predation. The story oscillates well between the needs and wants of the stalker and the gradual build-up of fear in the lady once she realizes that the stalker is present.
Loose Pearls represents a good beginning for an author whose writing career will flourish. It’s available at Coles.
The Nova Scotian
Cape Breton’s D.C. Troicuk pens triumphant first book
JUDITH MEYRICK BOOKS & BITS
Sun. Jun 13 - 4:53 AM
Loose Pearls & Other Stories by D.C. Troicuk (Cape Breton University Press, $14.95)
This first collection of stories from D.C. Troicuk is quietly understated as life flows gently below the surface of daily life.
Family cold wars are buried deep, and sometimes the glue holding things together, no matter what, is tainted by dislikes and resentments and bound inextricably by duty. The boiling point is not an explosion but rather an understanding that takes hold, a clarity of vision which builds until her characters begin to see the reality of their truths.
Wendy brings home strays, young men who remind her of Billy, her brother, who vanished many years ago. We never know why, but we know that Wendy never stops searching. An underlying sense of responsibility causes her to forgive transgressions and overlook the obvious, maintaining a code of silence, even when it is clear that she will become complicit in a crime.
In Katia Suffers, Katia’s life has become bound to the service of others. She cooks and cleans for her husband and cares for her hypochondriac sister with a "high tolerance for the list of maladies Vera collects from women’s magazines." But she lies awake at night, "casting wishes like nets."
A young girl finds out she is pregnant. A pervert’s victim cowers indoors. "I am the proud owner of a newly renovated deck where I cannot sit, a lawn I cannot mow, a garden that that has become a bug buffet." Her pivotal moment is when she realizes she is not powerless.
Troicuk is an excellent teller of tales. She writes with a clarity of vision that brings focus to her stories, and the setting and her characters speak to the rich flavour of Cape Breton Island, without drifting toward folksy. These stories are simply Cape Breton.
Troicuk’s first book is triumphant, and surely an indication of things to come. The good news is that her next book, a novel, is already in progress.
D.C. Troicuk lives and works in Cape Breton. Her work has appeared in several journals, including the Antigonish Review, the Pottersfield Portfolio and Canadian Living.
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