Beatings, cannibals and bad letters: Scrabble Lessons says accept life, move forward

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Leslie Vryenhoek is the author of the newly released short story collection "Scrabble Lessons." Submitted photo

Like when you draw a 'Q' with no 'U's to help out, the game of Scrabble has a way of suddenly presenting challenges.
Yet whatever comes your way, as the tile-shuffling mother in Leslie Vryenhoek's short story "Scrabble Lessons" instructs, "You win by working with what's on your pew and getting the most possible out of each turn."
The short story "Scrabble Lessons" provides the hook and title for a new 15-tale collection from Vryenhoek.
While the author is currently based in St. John's, "Scrabble Lessons" (and no, she did not contact Hasbro on the trademark name, but said she uses the word as a tribute and under its multiple meanings) is being published by Vancouver Island's Oolichan Books.
On Tuesday, the day of the collection's official launch in St. John's, the author told The Telegram the stories included in the book explores "loneliness and people trying to connect to one another, and the kinds of things that happen in there that you can't foresee or forestall."
In all of that, like drawing letters in a game of Scrabble, said Vryenhoek, there is an element of chance involved. And in the end, whatever your letters or fateful experiences, life goes on.
"You have to just keep moving through it and accept it," Vryenhoek said.
To emphasize the idea of come what may, Vryenhoek moves story to story from the somewhat trivial images like drawing letters in Scrabble to more extreme examples in events, situations and relationships.
For example, in the story "Faultlines," Vryenhoek lands readers smack in the aftermath of a teen swarming. Set in an adult-run intervention in the aftermath of the mob assault, the point of view sits with an adult, with the author exploring what can and cannot be accepted in the proceedings: "It wasn't all my, the first girl starts, palms turned up. Of course she would open with that. There were others, two at least, but only these two are held accountable - no one else was charged, and no one ever told us why."
In the roughly two-page, first-person story "Disappearing Act," Vryenhoek looks at the challenge of personal identity, while in the story "Hungry for Something," the author explores the relationship between a relatively normal couple, when one of the two begins exploring their need to actually eat the other.
"The first bite is chewy - chewier than he had expected - but also fragrant. It smells like Sharon; it tastes like a rusty mix of blood and bitterness and desire," Vryenhoek writes.
The tale of cannibalism was inspired by a dream, said the author.
"I had a dream that someone was eating my leg ... but it was a very, very loving gesture," she said of the story's source.
The story ultimately explores the challenges imposed by a figuratively, as much as literally "parasitic relationship," said the author, "one where the people consume each other."
For those unsure of whether or not Vryenhoek's work will appeal to them, the story "All She Swallowed" has been included in local audio book publisher Rattling Books' "EarLit Shorts 4."
The story - also included in "Scrabble Lessons" - was narrated by the author for "EarLit Shorts 4" and is available to download as an audio single for a couple of dollars at: www.rattlingbooks.com.
"I also recorded 'Cycle,' so hopefully that one will become available too," said the author.
Meanwhile, the completely creative collection of "Scrabble Lessons" is available now in bookstores and for order online.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Hasbro

Geographic location: St. John's, Vancouver Island

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