Proudflesh

Saskatoon StarPhoenix, May 17, 2014

Another first collection is Proudflesh, by Swift Current writer P.J. Worrell, this one a group of short fictions. The title, we learn in the story Change of Life, is the permanent scar tissue that forms on a horse after an injury. "Proudflesh," her father tells his young daughter, "is stronger than healthy, untested skin." It also provides a central metaphor for the hearts of the tough women and men in this collection.

Worrell has learned many of the lessons of modernism of the last century and applies them rigorously to her characters and narratives. People here - many of whom have been entirely bypassed by political correctness - don't turn out all that well, and if they do, it's by accident. There's a big karmic nada staring them down.

In the opening story, Asters, a grandmother not thrilled to be taking her grandchild for a walk, gets into big trouble on some unfamiliar terrain. In the next story, Goldie's Tumour, a man stops off in his old hometown to look over "One-ofeach-ville. More like nothing-ville," and in Change of Life, a woman who's going through just that, recalls that the "Women's Movement tried to convince Joy she could have it all - marriage, family, career, self-actualization. Bullshit." These are not happy folk.

For a change of pace, Worrell takes one of her practical Canadian women to Ireland for a wee frolic with a leprechaun and in another story drags the Old Woman of Beare out of Yeats's poems for a dust off and a bit of a ghosting for an impressionable tourist.

Back in Canada, we see a man on four successive weekly visits to the local café get asked about his invalid wife and we can surmise how she is from his minimal responses. Then there's the woman in Modern Apparel with Holocaust survivor envy. She becomes so fixated on an elderly Jewish woman's clothing store in Montreal that she eventually loses most of what she has back in Regina, a bizarre irony. Best of the lot is Chicken, a series of letters, all in response to a dead man's obituary sent out by his son. As the letters progress, a changing picture emerges of the deceased, challenging everything the son knew.

Some of Worrell's fictions are stories, as they're labelled, a couple are vignettes, such as Showdown in Fort Benton, and closer Ten Reasons to Blame Your Mother is a list. She's not afraid of a little experimentation, P.J. Worrell, and it mostly serves her well.