Sweet Affliction, Anna Leventhal, 190 pgs, Invisible Publishing, invisiblepublishing.com, $19.95
Journey Prize-nominated author Anna Leventhal’s first book is an assortment of 15 stories centered in and around Montréal. The collection’s cast is a gaggle of urbanites whose personalities are equal parts sincere, darkly comic, and outright caustic.
Opening story “Gravity” focuses on one sister purchasing a pregnancy test for the other on their way to a wedding, a moment that causes both to realize that their lives are potentially out of their control. In “Sweet Affliction,” a woman with uterine cancer caused by a nearby chemical plant oscillates between sarcasm, naivety, and tacit resignation as society’s evolution slowly weeds her out of existence. The story is charming in the ways it unsettles, frequently embracing comedic tangents to offset some of the trauma. Shifting gears, “Moving Day” presents a dystopian civic holiday in which all renters must move from their abodes in a tale of equality and capitalism gone awry.
The stories “Helga Volga,” “Glory Days,” and “A Goddamn Fucking Cake” are the strongest and most affecting in the collection: in the first, a young couple threatens to buckle under the sexual freedom they’ve allowed into their relationship; the second details a young boy’s burgeoning passion for Bruce Springsteen via stream-of-consciousness writing, and the last introduces readers to Bonnie and Bruce, who share the most complex, funny, and relatable banter of any story in this collection.
Many of the remaining stories in this collection fell flat for me, not because of poor writing, but due to a lack of interest or empathy I felt toward their plots and characters. And while several tales are loosely linked by characters and events, the connective tissue felt much more for the author’s benefit than the reader’s and did not increase the impact of any one story.
Doubt and insecurity echo throughout the book. As these stories show, the collection is at its best when Leventhal cuts deepest into her characters.