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Disparate Housewives


M.A.C. Farrant is the author of seven maverick short-fiction collections, including Darwin Alone in the Universe (Talonbooks), Sick Pigeon (Thistledown) and Girls Around the House (Polestar), and the memoir My Turquoise Years (Greystone Books/Douglas & McIntyre). Her work has been short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and the VanCity Book Prize, and adapted for radio and television. She lives in Sidney, British Columbia. Literary Editor Stuart Ross asked her a few questions, through tin cans connected by a considerable length of string.

Your fiction has always existed way outside the mainstream of CanLit, and yet you’re not viewed as some avant-garde crank. How do you manage to be so respectable?
Maybe because of the laughs. Much of what I write has some degree of humour in it. It’s something like a tic. I’ve started calling it comic existentialism. Give it a name so it doesn’t appear just plain weird. But people will excuse anything if they find it funny.

This “normal” family life you appear to lead in Sidney—is it a cover?
Yes. My disguise is that of a suburban housewife, mother, and owner of cats and dogs. It’s a potent combination. I appear harmless and people tell me things, amazing things. But mostly I’m left alone. Go for walks. Buy bread and milk.

What should we know about Russell Edson?
Living American prose poet who goes naked with his imagination. Brave and funny and beautiful work. From his collection The Tunnel (Oberlin College Press), he ends a poem called “The Sculptor” this way: “Once I changed a man into a child by removing certain bones. The result was less than life, yet more than death; it was art.”

It might be said that you belong to a poker club that includes American short-fiction writers like Donald Barthelme, Barry Yourgrau, and Mark Leyner. Do you see yourself as a Canadian writer, the coincidence of geography aside?
Canadian, yes, but also North American. The latter because of the cultural anthropology I’m interested in, particularly the way these things transcend boundaries. Though being Canadian is crucial as an antidote to globalization. As for the poker group, I’d include American writer Lydia Davis.

Need we be concerned about the vampires swimming among us?
The way I treat vampires is this: show them a lot of teeth, smile, and ask them how they’re doing. Gets them every time. No crucifixes needed.

Say an aspiring fiction writer asks you what three books she should read, you know, to start with. What do you tell her?
Read everything by Canadian ex-pat Norman Levine. His sentences blow clean. His stories quench thirst; their construction is immaculate. Beyond that I’d advise her to follow her nose. Discover what causes her spinal hair to stand on end, what causes excitement, and write from there. Nabokov’s essay “The Art of Literature and Common Sense” is also a good guide for shooting the “grim monster of common sense.”


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