Sunday, November 21, 2010

Review: Bats or Swallows, by Teri Vlassopoulos

Published: October 2010

Finally got around to it: November 2010

Invisible Books is another small Canadian press that produces books with an unconventionally high dedication to artistry. Their authors are (usually) previously unpublished, and the books themselves tend to have a unique aesthetic flavour that, similarly to products from Gaspereau Press or ChiZine Publications, certainly stands out on the shelves of a bookstore. Teri Vlassopoulos’ first collection of short fiction, Bats or Swallows, with its beautiful watercolour exterior, is just such a title—instantly recognizable as an Invisible product.

The collection itself—eleven short stories in a tight 133 pages—shows a confident progression of ideas, many of them relating to farewells, as Vlassopoulos gradually transgresses from childhood discomforts and absentee siblings who are suddenly growing apart, through friends, family, teenage years, young adults struggling to follow love across borders, and coming to a close with a look at the subdued methods in which lovers later in life hurt one another—without shouts, without cursing, without the drama of youth to provide any unnecessary severity to the quiet moments when one knows the end is near.

There’s a level of attention to the structure of this book and how the stories progress, gradually revealing more sincerity as they become increasingly heartbreaking, that causes the book itself to feel less like an assortment of disparate tales and more like a mosaic of sorts. Upon first reading, I felt as if the book itself was back-loaded, with the more adept and well-written tales coming in the latter half. In retrospect, that feels intentional—as if to illustrate this transgression of ideas married through the transformation of maturity and how, as it would a person’s relationships, age and experience can only transform a writer into what they had one day hoped to be: an observer of the human condition.

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