Violet Quesnel

Room, vol 36.3, September 2013
This (very) short debut collection revolves around the life of Violet Quesnel, an enigmatic young woman whose struggle with bipolar disorder largely defines her relationships with her family, and Pierce, her high school sweetheart. In eight linked short stories spanning several years, Stephenson paints a vibrant portrait of her title character.

While the subject matter occasionally dips into melodrama, with laundry lists of family trauma, Stephenson infuses her collection with enough honesty and quirky humour to keep it engaging. Highlights include Violet's frustration when forced to fill out her daughter's birth certificate without naming the father in "The Certificate," and her first period in "The Stain," which she naively blames for her grandmother's commitment to a psychiatric hospital. I also enjoyed the final story, which depicted an argument between Violet and her young daughter, because it has an unexpected and almost off-putting, but strangely apt conclusion.

The stories in Violet Quesnel are not in chronological order and in many cases overlap each other, but Stephenson cleverly reveals new information with each chapter that casts different light over the ones that preceded it. For example, Pierce's rose-tinted impression of Violet in "Trumpet." which teeters dangerously close to the manic pixie dream girl trope, is deconstructed with Violet's version of events in "Wet Socks." Another notable story is "Knitting," which completely alters the reader's understanding of events in "The First Time" and "The Stain."

While these stories rely too much on each other to be self-contained, in many ways Violet Quesnel feels less like a collection of short fiction and more like a draft of a novel — one that I sincerely hope to read one day. As this collection is part of Thistledown Press' New Leaf Editions Series, which is dedicated to first books by emerging writers, this may very well be the intention.

— Meghan Bell

Saskatoon StarPhoenix, December 29, 2012

The title character, Violet, is a fascinating young woman who happens to have a bipolar disorder. She's exceptionally bright, has an uncanny ability to read certain situations and relay them with deft wit, and then has a complete perceptual block in other areas of her life that causes her to make spectacular blunders.

Besides seeing Violet through her own eyes, we see mostly her blunders through her family's eyes. There's the sister who gladly helps her pack to run away, eager to get this train wreck out of her life, and her long-suffering father who "has to drop everything to save her sorry ass from the loony bin."

Then there's a longish story told by an arm's-length boyfriend. He could never figure out Violet, but remains utterly intrigued by her. Through his renewably unprejudiced opinion, and through little glances from Violet at her own light, we see a woman who could so easily be passed over as too much trouble, but whose startling real worth is hidden behind a curtain of mental illness. — Bill Robertson