True confession: I don’t generally read books like Marion Reidel's We Drank Wine and Other Stories. What – no space travel? No time conundrum or invisible cats?
But if it’s confessions you enjoy, then this book should suit you. To my surprise, I found plenty to love about it. These stories scratch beyond the glazed surface of everyday experience to a place where one may need a little wine to get through. The characters sizzle and snap, sometimes literally. Their version of life is juicier and spicier than my own, for which I’m quite grateful. But the truth is, there isn’t much that happens in their world that isn’t happening somewhere in your neighbourhood - it’s just that we are all so darn good at hiding it.
I say "their" world, for though this is a collection of short stories, they are bound together by a thread of common characters, events, and locations. The experience of reading this is not unlike a tasty novel broken into bite-sized servings and scrambled so you're never sure whose plate you’ll be munching from next.
We Drank Wine is primarily a women’s story, by a woman, about women, but told in a way that will draw laughter and provoke thought in anyone. The issues these ladies face are common; the way they respond perhaps not so common - delivering a jolt of fun. Reidel’s writing flows in a manner that is easy to read, yet gripping in its raw imagery and emotion.
The collections starts in the tone of a memoir, one of those stuffed with humourous vignettes that are reliably popular. The stories are a fictional mash-up of all-too-real people in all-too-familiar circumstances. You’ll recognize some of these people. They may be your neighbour, your best friend, your brother, your kid – maybe even you. You may feel, as I did, that you snuck into someone’s chest pocket and can’t escape being carried a little too close to their fire.
Most of the stories are told in the third person, allowing us to observe the characters from both inside and out. We take turns following different individuals, digging into their private fears and motivations. We follow their friendships all the way from cringe-worthy one-upmanship, to steadfast, mutual support. We follow their marriages, watching some start in a spark of hope, some end in a flash. Occasionally we follow their children at close range. Though I found the teen relationships fit a bit awkwardly in the mix, they do flesh out the breadth of conflicts their mothers face. As parents know all too well, the challenges of keeping up with modern ways can stretch one into unfamiliar territory. Judgements can fly, standards may fall, but the world goes on – with or without our permission.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. In this case, the clever design gives a good hint at what to expect. You will want to wipe it regularly to see if any of the stains on it are from your own cup, while you lazed in their world with your own comfort drink.
Perhaps the book’s dedication to her “Bent Elbow” sisters gives a clue to where Marion’s stories arise. If she has been lucky enough to share in such intimate, enduring friendships – the kind many of us can only wish for – then we might consider ourselves lucky for this hilarious, satirical peek into this rare kind of world.
To those of you are wondering, you’re sure to find some space cadets here – but sorry, no rockets.