Winner, 2016 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Fiction
Finalist, 2016 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
The stories in Specimen are a unique exploration of science and the human heart; the place where physical reality collides with our spiritual and emotional lives.
In “The Blood Keeper,” a young academic travels to North Korea to work on her dissertation and embarks on a dangerous affair. In “Mamochka,” which was nominated for the 2012 Journey Prize, an archivist at the Institute for Physics in Minsk, must come to terms with her daughter’s marriage to a Chinese man in Vancouver. In “Peptide P,” scientists study a disease that seems to affect children after they eat hotdogs. In “Side Effects,” a woman’s personality is altered, and not necessarily for the better, by botox injections. In “The Big One,” a woman and her daughter find themselves trapped in the rubble of an underground parking garage after an earthquake.
Stylistically varied and with settings that range from North Korea and Minsk to Vancouver and Gdansk, Kovalyova is daring and confident new voice in Canadian fiction.
These stories of science, unfamiliar landscapes, and all-too-familiar heartbreaks are a vehicle for Kovalyova's bold experimentation with the short fiction form. In "Peptide P," written in the form of a case study, a scientist notes that "we became alerted to the possibility that so-called parapsychological abilities might account (at least partially) for the resistance to HB disease." The fictional Heart Break (HB) disease literally breaks down heart cells, but the story allows Kovalyova to explore how one might survive heartbreak, without resorting to standard romantic tropes. The stories build to the longer "The Blood Keeper," in which Vera Mishkin follows her father to North Korea, falls in love with a colleague there, and plans a bold escape from the country. If many of the stories bear recurrent themes including the loss of a parent, immersion in scientific research, and the life an immigrant, then "The Blood Keeper" wraps those themes into a single vessel and beautifully examines the loneliness wrought by those experiences. Kovalyova is a lecturer in molecular biology at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University, and this is a debut collection that successfully and gracefully bridges the divide between the worlds of art and science.