I’m not sure why I haven’t read many short story collections this year but that seems to be what happened. I’m happy to make amends with Leesa Dean’s debut collection. For me, the mark of a good short story is one which, when it ends, causes me to pause and look around for a minute or two.
I had read the title story of Waiting for the Cyclone previously, when it was first published in The New Quarterly and I liked it so much that I put Dean’s as-yet-unpublished book on my To Read list. Dean’s stories focus on women – tender, daring, unsure. Women who travel, women who fall in love, women who take chances, women who don’t. Reading the stories in quick succession, the characters did begin to feel like one very unlucky woman. Interesting but not a great decision-maker. Partly, I think, this comes from the settings. Central America is a common one, as is Vancouver and the British Columbia Interior. Dean is clearly familiar with these places but the repetition gives the impression that the stories happen in one world rather than multiple ones.
Dean’s women are the type who mostly go along with what’s happening and so end up in difficult and uncomfortable situations – like going on vacation with your ex-boyfriend or driving your best friend to the dentist directly after he’s told you his wife doesn’t want you to be friends anymore. Yet they’re not weak women and they’re not stupid and somehow Dean makes them sympathetic rather than frustrating. Perhaps they’re women who are always looking for the best in the others, the best outcome. And what’s not to like about that?