Secrets aren’t good for families. — from “Big Luck Island”
In The Left-Handed Dinner Party and Other Stories—a collection of new, delightful, distinctive short stories—everyone is missing something or someone; every family is riven by secrets and absences. From “The Remedy,” a tale of revenge and justice, to “The Smart Sisters,” a story of tricky family dynamics, Coulter’s narratives portray relationships, loss, and what we learn in the aftermath of death. Ghosts, echoes, memories, regrets...Coulter’s characters are haunted in many ways. With style and sweep that hints at Lynn Coady and Alice Munro, Myrl Coulter is a strong, fresh voice in contemporary Canadian fiction.
The first half of this capable debut short story collection by Coulter (following the essay collection A Year of Days) features narratives in which unfulfilling work, sudden deaths, fractured relationships, and squandered potential take a toll. The stories are nevertheless buoyed by a hopeful outlook. The characters, often getting by in small-town Alberta, decide to quit jobs, leave town, or, in the case of "The Remedy," find the courage to selflessly help another while remaining stuck themselves. Though the story mechanics occasionally follow a similar trajectory that's marked by an epiphany and new found resolve, the vividness of Coulter's hard-luck characters and their situations commands attention. For the second half, Coulter changes tracks with two longer stories that experiment with tone, structure, and perspective. "The Smart Sisters" is a rollicking depiction of three struggling sisters whose late (and generally disliked) caretaker has bequeathed them a life-alternating sum if they live together for a year in his gloomy mansion. "Limbo," narrated by a "reluctant haunter" the heartbroken spirit of a football star who committed suicide is divided into six captivating tales that recount the decades after his death for those close to him. Gentle, comic, and uplifting, the story's craft perfectly complements its humanity and skillfully closes this promising collection.