Canadian writer Johanna Skibsrud follows up her Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning debut novel The Sentimentalists with this collection of thoughtful, carefully crafted short stories.
From young runaways out in the world, to parents ensconced in the home, This Will Be Difficult to Explain features characters at the intersection between youth and maturity, at the point of suspension before life appears to crystallise – as well as those who are beginning to realise that this may have already happened. In ‘Cleats’, for instance, a middle aged woman experiences panic as she finds herself – literally – stuck in the mud, thanks to the gardening shoes her husband has given her.
Skibsrud’s primary concern is the way life seems to vacillate between being diffused and open-ended, and concentrated and closed – making it, ultimately, difficult to explain. In ‘The Electric Man’, the heroine describes her habit of attempting to look at the world through the space between her thumb and her palm, “in small sections…the size of a dime”. This, of course, is the art of the short story and Skibsrud’s collection is firmly rooted in the canon of short story writing. The whisky-soaked, kitchen-table-tied ‘Angus’s Bull’ is decidedly Raymond Carver-esque, whilst ‘Electric Man’ clearly shows the legacy of Katherine Mansfield, the former’s words echoing those of the latter when she describes the desire to “get into blades of grass”.
Though the forms of the stories may be familiar, they are nevertheless refreshing. Take the wonderfully sidelong description of falling in love in ‘Signac’s Boats’, as suddenly finding yourself “simplified” when you’d thought it would have made you “more complex.” And though most stories focus on private lives, ‘Fat Man and Little Boy’ (which has been long listed for the Sunday TimesShort Story Award) opens the collection up onto the public tragedy of Hiroshima. This is probing writing from a promising writer.