"What You Get At Home"
Dora Dueck’s "What You Get at Home" is a short-story collection that delves into the history, hearts and minds of Mennonites living in Canada and South America.
Adherents of a Christian sect that began in the 16th century, the Mennonites have become known for their commitment to pacifism and opposition to war and violence. Appropriately, many of the characters in Dueck’s stories find peace despite their numerous hardships and heartaches.
The theme of longing and homesickness weaves together stories based on the unusual circumstances of the lives of the characters: a young Catholic woman who moved to South America with her Mennonite husband or an old man seeking answers about the death of his mother in a Russian concentration camp.
“My Name Is Magdalena” is a particularly touching account of one woman’s flight from Russia and her attempt to learn to write in a new language.
“The Rocking Chair” explores the tension between three adult siblings after their father’s death, as a piece of furniture simultaneously divides a family and is their catalyst to heal old wounds.
The final seven linked stories in the collection follow the immigrant Liese from Paraguay to Canada through her memories of childhood and her marriage to a Canadian Mennonite man and her difficulties adjusting to a new life.
The characters in "What You Get at Home" find comfort and resolve in the unlikeliest places. Appropriately, Liese, the narrator in the title story, achieves a sense of belonging through remembering her mother’s words: “You were such a strange little bird at times. But I thought to myself, she knows how to read, so what difference can it make, missing a day of school? She can read, I thought, so I know that she’s going to be fine.”
As is often the case with good writing, sparse words evoke powerful emotion, and Dueck’s collection is immensely satisfying and personal in a way you don’t often find in contemporary fiction. She takes the time to delve deeply into the souls of her characters to find the right word, phrase or cadence that brings their journeys to life as, with the aid of memory, they find the strength to carry on when their struggles are at their most challenging.
"What You Get at Home," a finalist in this year’s High Plains Book Awards short-story category, is Dora Dueck’s first collection of short fiction. The second oldest of a family of eight children, Dueck grew up in a Mennonite community in Alberta. An editor, writer and historian, she has published two novels, "Under the Still Standing Sun" (1989) and "This Hidden Thing" (2010) for which she won Book of the Year at the Manitoba Book Awards in 2011. She lives and writes in Winnipeg.
Corby Skinner is the director of the YMCA Writer’s Voice and the 11th annual High Plains Book Fest.