The Things She'll Be Leaving Behind Reviews

Goodreads, ca. February 2020

The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind

Unsigned review

The twenty-eight stories in Farnsworth’s The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind vary in length, intensity and impact. The short pieces that fluctuate between flash fiction and apologue span just a few hundred words, but in doing so they not only fulfill the basic requirements of a story, they also hint at worlds and ideas that readers can step into and explore with their own imaginations. In “The Blue Button” two office workers deconstruct their office reality and search for “what’s what” as their co-workers search for a missing blue button. In “The Neat Thing about Rainfall,” Kara’s understanding of God, the devil and her own purpose are blurred in a simplistic search for measureless meaning in childlike simplicity. In contrast, the story “Saturday Night in a Mining Town” exposes a couple of bold women who engage in a brief ribald dialogue of how they should pick up a guy they have spotted, and while doing so, reveal much about themselves and their past friendship.

But it is in the longer stories in the collection where we stray into the deep and dark territories of women’s suffering, guilt, and survival. In these tales, anxiety, restlessness and volatility are tapped like raw nerves, and the dangers and menace of events only mitigated by Farnsworth’s savvy use of black comedy and irony. In the title story, with a hallucinated clown as her one true companion, Brenda grapples with the impact that painkillers are having on her physical well-being, her mental state, and the very real needs of her teenaged son. In “The Quake” a woman is held captive for reasons that are never explained, and as she struggles with grief, loneliness, and a faltering sense of reality as she becomes obsessed with the insights of a mysterious light. The story “A Joke Told by Pilots” introduces the reader to Bob whose illicit activities and outrageous lies force Kate to take desperate measures in an effort to control him, the situation, and ultimately her destiny. Other stories like “Evolution” and “Ten Reasons I Won’t Be Going to Heaven” reveal vulnerable women caught in deviant marriages and explore their unique escape mechanisms, while stories like “The Beaver” and “The Shrug” abstract the realities of the women protagonists as they contest cursed friendships and mortality.

Farnsworth is a new energetic voice and, through The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind, takes her place in the thriving list of Canadian short fiction writers.

— Unsigned review


The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind, a collection of short stories written by Vanessa Farnsworth and published by Thistledown Press, is a riveting adventure of both the zany and the ordinary, shown through the lens of interesting and realistic female protagonists. In our age of insipid, lazy, and clichéd literature and filmography, I found it truly refreshing to live the experiences of women with actual depth and character that extend further than either hopeless romantics who just need a man or vapid arm candy.

Farnsworth crafts her characters with such care and insight that it was impossible for me to not to crack smiles as I read these misadventures. In each story I found myself relating with her characters, laughing with them or at them, and sincerely resonating with their emotions and struggles. I do acknowledge that from reading this as a male I may not have the correct perspective to fully appreciate this work, but I did gain valuable insight from it that I hope readers of all genders can also reap.

After reading stories such as “The Canoe” and “Ten Reasons I Won’t Be Going To Heaven,” I continued forward with a secret hope that there would be sequels or continuations of these stories further on. The famous saying goes, “always leave them wanting more,” and Farnsworth certainly delivers on this front in the best way possible, and I still do hope that Farnsworth elaborates on these brilliant stories in her future work. All of that being said, each story was perfect in length and leaves the reader wanting more, yet satisfied with a complete story every time.

Although the stories are consistently high in quality and all have Farnsworth’s undeniably charming style, each story is also completely different. I never felt that I was reading the same story twice. Farnsworth’s range is beautifully demonstrated in this collection as her stories effortlessly jump from the relatively mundane to the extraordinarily bizarre. “The Beaver” is one of my personal favourites of this collection and the best example of how Farnsworth’s writing straddles these two ends of the spectrum with delightfully witty delivery. The story follows a crackpot scheme of two dysfunctional suburbanite drinking-buddies as they sip cocktails and discuss their plans to wreak havoc on those who have wronged them with a stray beaver who has made a home of one of their backyard pools. The story unfolds as the two lushes go from the best of friends to bickering over the slightest of perceived insults, and ends with one of the women hatching a new plan of betrayal.

I would highly recommend The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind to those seeking well-written, charismatic, and realistic female protagonists in literature, or to those who are simply fans of strong storytelling. I found the greatest charm in how realistic these stories can be. They detail the struggles, fears, and insecurities that women actually experience and showcase them to the reader through an entertaining adventure.

— Ben Charles


Before encountering any of the 22 Stories in Vanessa Farnsworth's debut collection, read­ers may note the volume's salient dedication: "For my father, who wouldn't have under­stood this book, but who would've liked the fact that I wrote it." This inscription is both a challenge and a warning with regard to the stories that follow.

Farnsworth is a science journalist who published the 2013 non-fiction work Rain on a Distant Roof, about the Lyme disease crisis in Canada. So it's no surprise that a number of the stories in The Things She'll Be Leaving Behind grapple with illness and death. In the first story, "The Plaid Shoes," a 37-year-old woman diagnosed with breast cancer find solace in life's small guilty pleasures: ''pasta and peanut butter give Claire far more comfort than the broccoli and onions which are supposed to be cancer's worst enemies." That story is followed by "The Shrug," in which a woman on the. verge of death has a conversation with her deceased grandfather through the ceiling tiles above her hospital bed. I

In fact, an invisible thread weaves its way through the entire collection, knitting the stor­ies together like a patchwork quilt. Where "The Shrug" ends with a dying woman staring at the ceiling, the next story, ''Universal Healthcare," begins with a woman ''lying fiat on [her] drive­way, staring up at the clouds." The story after that, "Evolution," opens on a woman retriev­ing a troubling letter from the mailbox at the end of her driveway.

This pattern of narrative and thematic linkage continues throughout the collection, while the stories themselves run the gamut from mun­dane to metaphysical to absurd. Characters go out for drinks looking to get laid, float bodiless through purgatory, or encounter cannibals in a post-apocalyptic landscape. They also grap­ple with heartbreak. In "Breaking Glass," one of the collection's strongest entries, a woman ponders her ex-lover's suicide, noting that the act "took more introspection than most people could muster."

Though Farnsworth's stories aren't always the most accessible, they remind us that the purpose of fiction is not always to entertain but occasionally to confound expectations, provoke discomfort, or probe the various folds of the unknown.

— Stacey Madden