Fierce by Hannah Holborn


Truthfully, I wasn’t optimistic about Fierce when I started it. This Canadian collection of shorts stories and a novella features more emotionally and physically damaged people than it should be humanly possible for one writer to conjure. Doesn’t the author, Hannah Holborn, know anyone even remotely normal?

But then a strange thing happened during ‘The Indian Act’.  I sort of fell in love.  Suddenly these crazy, damaged, sad people started making sense to me. ‘The Indian Act’ follows the fortunes (and misfortunes) of Liam, a kid who is shuffled from one foster home to the next until he finally finds a family who is decent and loves him and his best friend, Callie, whose mother just up and leaves her.

‘We Danced Without Strings’ tells the heartbreaking story of a mother coming to terms with her daughter’s diagnosis of Angelman’s Syndrome; a condition which includes an absence of speech, facial abnormalities, a protruding tongue, hand-flapping, jerky gait and, strangely, a permanent smile and easy laughter.  “If we let her,” the mother muses, “she would be happy.”

‘Ugly Cruising’ gives us a glimpse at another kid, Elvin, with another horrible condition: Treacher Collins syndrome.  “He has a torso and all the usual appendages,” Elvin’s younger sister, Cricket, notes “but what he does lack is a nose and a chin and a voice to confront others with.”  Cricket’s family deals with with Elvin’s condition in various ways: his mother, Wanda, drinks; his father, Bing, makes lame jokes and Cricket and her teenage friends apply horrible theatrical makeup and go Ugly Cruising.

The book’s novella, ‘River Rising’ is a beautiful conclusion to this book.  The story follows the lives and fates of the people of a small northern town called Everlasting. Central to this story is River, a teenager who has spent her life mourning the mother she barely knew.  The choices she makes are both inevitable and heartbreaking and, ultimately, hopeful.

Although there were a couple stories I just didn’t warm up to, by the time I closed the book on Holborn’s strange cast of misfits I felt sort of sad to be leaving their company.

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