Next up in our Spring 2023 Preview series is Lauren Carter’s Places Like These, a psychologically complex and astute short story collection which plumbs the vast range of human reactions to those things which make us human—love, grief, friendship, betrayal, and the intertwined yet contrasting longing for connection and independence.
A grieving teenager confronts the unfairness of his small-town world and the oncoming ecological disaster. A sexual assault survivor navigates her boyfriend’s tricky family and her own confusing desires. A mother examines unresolved guilt while seeking her missing daughter in a city slum. A lover exploits his girlfriend’s secrets for his own purposes. Whether in Ecuador or San Francisco, small-town Ontario or northern Manitoba, the landscape in each of Carter’s poignant short stories reflects each character’s journey.
“Places Like These by Lauren Carter offers a magnetic and clear-eyed examination of the times in our lives when we can say we’ve truly lived. Told with Carter’s unmistakably world-bending lyricism, the stories in this collection splinter with moments of seismic recognition; they tug at the places in ourselves we’ve forgotten existed but inform who we are. An unforgettable read,” writes Hollay Ghadery, author of Fuse.
See below for an excerpt from the title story, in which a widow visits a spiritualist community to attempt to contact her late husband. Places Like These will be released on April 18, 2023, and is available now for pre-order now from our online shop or from your local independent bookstore.
Excerpt from “Places Like These”
For weeks, I have been seeing Robert. Turning the corner of the grocery store as I walk in for frozen dinners and yogurt, disappearing into subway cars. Always he is wearing that light brown jacket he had in the eighties and a pair of worn, baggy blue jeans. He looks like he did the summer of ’88, when we took the train to Moosonee, when we began travelling, started spending money on ourselves, when we gave up, as my mother called it right up until she died.
“He has a message for you,” Joanie told me, and said I should go. Three times in one week I heard about the place: the article in the doctor’s office, when I went for my mammogram and flipped open Budget Travel to those glossy pictures of the community’s iron gate, the summer-camp-like amphitheatre, and a medium peering down at her spread of tarot cards; then there was a book face up in a sidewalk remainders bin, bearing a black-and-white image of Victorian psychics; and finally, the reassuring baritone of Michael Enright’s voice on the radio —Next up, a town where the dead can talk—reverberating through my quiet apartment as I walked, towel-clad, to take a shower. I froze, leaned a naked shoulder against the plaster wall, felt a shiver under my skin. “You have to go,” Joanie said. “He is close. Even I feel that.”
IN THE HOTEL LOBBY, a framed sign says Absolutely No Séances! It’s crooked, hung on a wood-panelled pillar. A dusty Persian carpet is spread on the hardwood floor beneath a set of wicker furniture. The pink-and-red cushions clash with the rug. The place is old, smelling of mildew overlaid with the cloying fra- grance of artificial vanilla from the plug-in air freshener. Out on the front veranda, half a dozen rocking chairs thump against the hollow floor. I hear people chattering, mostly women with their daughters and girlfriends, eager to reach their loved ones, find the person who can penetrate the distance, pull back the dead as if hauling fish from the depths. I’m the only one who seems to be alone, apart from a skinny white-haired man in polyester tan pants, thick-soled white shoes, and a plaid flannel shirt, even now, even in the high humid summer. He’s sitting on the wicker love seat, looking down. Against his leg he presses a glossy brochure, and even from all the way over here, in line for my turn at the desk, waiting to receive an iron skeleton key with a large purple plastic tag marked 42 in worn gold numbers, I see the tiny image of a woman, hair short and black in a polished cap like a beetle’s carapace. I wonder if she’s the one I’m meant to go to, if spotting her miniature, smiling face like this, like a slight, secret thought that pulls you up into consciousness in the empty wasteland of the night, is a sign. But when I turn back from scrawling my signature in the register, he is gone.
Lauren Carter is the author of four previous books of fiction and poetry, including This Has Nothing to Do with You, winner of the 2020 Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction. She has also received the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer. Her debut novel, Swarm, was longlisted for CBC’s Canada Reads. Carter’s stories and poems have been published widely in journals and longlisted multiple times for the CBC Literary Prizes. Her short story “Rhubarb” won the Prairie Fire Fiction Award and was subsequently included in Best Canadian Stories in 2015. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. An Ontarian transplanted to Manitoba, Carter lives just outside of Winnipeg, where she writes, teaches writing, and mentors other writers. She writes regularly about her creative process at www.laurencarter.ca.