“You Haven’t Changed a Bit”
By Astrid Blodgett
“You Haven’t Changed a Bit” by Astrid Blodgett is a collection of short stories set in the western Canadian provinces. Blodgett is an accomplished writer from Alberta, but, while she has been writing for quite a while, this is her first published book. It is also a nominee in the Best Short Story Collection category of the High Plains Book Awards, which will be awarded on Oct. 25.
While many other reviewers have praised the collection of stories, I find most of them particularly depressing. Blodgett is a very careful writer, and there are numerous passages that ring with almost poetic beauty. Her characters are believable, and in some cases we feel strongly about them. But the personalities and motivations of the characters bother me. Most are people who are headed sharply downward in their lives. Even when they seem like regular folks, there is something at work that leads them to a generally unhappy ending.
Two of the stories — “Let’s Go Straight to The Lake” and “Tattletale” — portray old high-school buddies who have decided to get together after a long separation. It seems as though they have expected (or at least one of them has expected) that nothing will have changed. But it has, of course, and their meetings are full of tension and only serve to stress the differences that time has brought about. One has grown, while the other hasn’t.
The signature story “Ice Break” (featured on the back cover) is about an ice fishing trip that goes all wrong. It involves seemingly normal people in a situation where everything goes wrong.
One story I particularly liked, “New Summer Dresses,” is about an idyllic day when two couples and one of the couples’ two young girls go on a picnic on the plains and down to a river. The writing is expressive, and the reader can almost picture herself in the scene. Yet there is an uneasy undercurrent to the story, and it ends on a low point. As Steven W. Beattie, writing for National Post describes it, the story takes “a sharp detour into a much darker and creepier territory in its climactic stages.”
I wish Blodgett well. She is a talented writer with great ability to produce beautiful passages and realistic characters. I just hope in her next book that the stories are more upbeat and positive.