reviewed by Jennifer Spruit
What Canadian writer can pose as a post-adolescent Korean girl, make a person want to play Rachmaninoff, and create sexual innuendo out of a grade school science project? Ian Williams, that’s who. Williams’ short story collection is an exquisite trifecta. Three sections of three stories each, with the second section consisting of three trios. If that sounds unusual, wait until you read the story that has a basement! All of the pieces in this collection attend to the topic of meeting expectations, often through education or pursuit of a talent, and often in ethnic communities.
In the title story, two university students study for their Korean class, creating a betting game out of vocabulary flashcards. The pot is breaking up or staying together, depending if you’re Goran, the Serbian grad student whom all the Korean girls treat as a younger brother, or Soo, a girl who worries that her calves are too big for her body type. The voice is intimate, firmly placing the reader in Soo’s parents’ store in Koreatown as the two of them battle towards an epic flashcard duel that Williams preserves as a record of their relationship.
“Breakthrough” explores how to tell a loved one (or just an ex – or worse, the wholesome girl who eats pie and gets into tizzies) that actually, they might have HIV. While some of the temporal shifts were confusing, the antics of the exes, Kaitlyn and Jeremy, are uproarious. Jeremy, a guy with pretty-man syndrome who doesn’t want to hurt Pony’s feelings, just sleep with her, is guilted into Kaitlyn’s herbal remedies: “a carton of blueberries, ‘powerful antioxidants’ which he’s afraid will stain the bathtub. The water goes cold. The blueberries float like goat turds” (p. 62).
Continue reading Review: “Not Anyone’s Anything” by Ian Williams