Where to find coconut milk? Her long-term boyfriend, the gorgeous Ivan, has promised a Green Thai Curry supper. That might help distract her from her mind jangling with professional uncertainty. The ABE program she teaches with is being cut. She’s enjoyed the work more than expected, but she doesn’t have any kind of seniority that would help her hang on to a position. And Ivan, a musician, works on short-term gigs, so there’s not much financial security there.
Truth be told, there’s some emotional static emanating from that relationship, too. Although it has not reached the level of verbalization yet, Wanda is coming to realize there is a gap in her trust for Ivan. There’s a stagnancy to their union. And his unusual closeness to his friend Trish, the pixie-ish visual artist, doesn’t help.
And then Wanda hears something, And then she hears it again. And then there is a man shooting people in the aisles.
Perhaps this is the ultimate modern urban fear. An ordinary errand tilts sideways into random lethal violence. A simple, even boring, chore is suddenly possibly the last thing you will ever do:
At the end of the aisle, she looks both ways, like she’s about to cross the street. People scramble behind the meat counter. She looks towards the right, towards Produce. There is a fire exit in the corner. She can just run, run as fast as she can. No signs of danger to the right.
She looks to the left and there he is. She knows it’s him before she sees the gun. He’s the only calm person in the store.
What happens next is brings Wanda massive, invasive, international attention. The news media is one thing, camped out on her lawn. But it’s 2017 and that means someone has filmed what happened at the grocery store on their cellphone. That goes viral, and before you can say meme, Wanda’s a trending hashtag. She’s barraged with interview requests, stuffed teddy bears, and offers to monetize her sudden fame. She’s not interested, though Ivan thinks she should pursue some of them. There are emails from complete strangers, some with Salinger-esque echoes, resonant with loner confrontation, potentially threatening. Those get vetted by the police, who trace them to an unexpected source. Then a religious group harasses her for her professed lack of faith, trolling her with sermons and pamphlets. And throughout, Wanda is struggling with what happened. She’s enduring the classic symptoms of trauma: flashbacks, panic attacks, survivor guilt.
This novel, Bridget Canning’s debut, has great emotional range in a compact timeline. St. John’s is detailed with borderline weather and distressed economy, and alive with music festivals in Bannerman Park and commutes along Pitts Memorial Drive and rum and cokes at the Ship and walks along the Rennie’s River trail.
Wanda is an unflinching protagonist. She doesn’t let herself off the hook. Not for her looks, not for her lapses in judgement or character. Much of the story unfolds in a running internal commentary that is authentic and caustic and funny (“The Asian woman’s long dark hair drapes forward. Like in that Japanese horror movie, ‘The Grudge.’ Jesus, Wanda, don’t compare her to ‘The Grudge.’”). Dislodged and distracted by fear, a toke, and flickerings of PSTD, she still takes her own, and other’s, clear-eyed measure. She’s clear-eyed.
“The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes” is crafted with immediate, often urgent, writing, a satisfying read, and good work.
As The Old Folks Would Say:
Stories, Tall Tales, and Truths of Newfoundland and Labrador
by Hubert Furey
$19.95 232 pages
A reader takes these 20 short narratives and doggerel as given, mostly-true stories salted with a bit of hand-me-down pedigree and wordplay. They include “The Great Chuckley Pear Debate,” “An Unlikely Hero,” “The Girl on the Veranda”: this is light-hearted fare, a little “on”, celebratory of particular characters and places (the nice cover encapsulates this). Author Hubert Furey is known as a storyteller and it’s easy to hear his voice in the text, as in “Outport Stakeout”:
To date, the mystery of the strange apparition in Tickles has never been solved, and probably won’t be–until they put a new fence around the cemetery or bring in really detailed weather forecasting or something, and then we’ll have a perfectly rational and normal explanation, as befits our modern times.
Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.