Lost Boys

Review Lost Boys, SaskBooks, November 2019
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

Lost Boys is a short story collection with three-way heft: physical (eighteen stories), technical (diverse voices and plots; excellent characterizations; realism and magic realism are each employed to great effect), and emotional (wow). Effective art makes us think and feel, and in this, her first book, BC writer Darci Bysouth has mastered the tricky business of making the world seem both smaller and larger, and she’s made this reader’s heart turn over.

Innate talent? I expect so, but Bysouth also honed her craft at the University of British Columbia and the University of Edinburgh, and her work has appeared in respected literary journals and anthologies; these facts tell me that she paid her literary dues before breaking into the ISBN world with this fist-to-gut collection.

I could speak of the equally convincing male and female narrators; the recurring themes of sibling relationships, poverty, addictions, and mental illness; or of settings that range from the “sheep and potholes” of Scotland to dark Canadian forests. I could write about the double entendre, the details, the poetic language i.e., “The water was such a long way below that it looked like some other thing,” or how many of Bysouth’s stories lead us inside lives that would make most of us squirm, i.e., the girl who was a cutter: “My art is the razor notches on my thighs, oh God, daddy how I love those little mouths chafing against my jeans.” There are so many “I coulds,” but I want to concentrate on two stories I consider masterpieces: “Petey” and “Sacrifice.”

Like most of the stories here, “Petey” is told in first person, but it’s told by an unreliable narrator — unreliable, because he’s a drunk. He’s a drunk because his wife left him with their daughter “before Lily had said her first word;” there’s been an accident; and he’s on leave from work and expects to be fired. Seven-year-old Lily brings home an injured bird and we follow this whisky-soaked father down a rabbit hole of fantastic destruction until the story’s last impactful line, which carries so much gravity it compels one to reread the story, immediately.

“Sacrifice” is written through the perspective of Rachel: a single, aging, childless social worker in an office where everyone else has dependants/loved ones and rich lives outside of work. Rachel’s the employee who brings cupcakes to work because “there may be children visiting the office.” She “always admires the accomplishments of other people’s children.” Because this story is so credible, when it moves from one nightmare to the next, any reader with a heart will feel theirs drop at what unfolds. Extremely well set-up, full-circle story.

The stories here do tend toward darkness. In other words, they reflect the world as it is experienced by many. I admire Bysouth’s bravery and skill in writing about what hurts, and Thistledown Press for bringing her insightful stories to the world. Again, wow. I was so moved, I needed to sit and be still after reading these phenomenal stories.

— Shelley Leedahl

https://reviews.skbooks.com/lost-boys/