Review: Keeping the Peace by Colette Maitland
April 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
$21.95 (paper); 978-1-927428-01-6, 256 pp., 5½ x 8½, Biblioasis, May. Reviewed from manuscript.
Strictly speaking, there’s not much new about Colette Maitland’s debut short story collection. 15 of the 19 pieces that make up Keeping the Peace have been published elsewhere, and Maitland is remarkably consistent in her themes: loss and trauma in small-town Kingston, Ontario. But taken together, her characteristic sketches of broken and breaking working class homes form something unexpected: a community.
As a whole, Maitland’s Kingston is subtly structured. Characters weave in and out of each other’s stories almost imperceptibly: in “Until Death Do Us Part,” Martha and Keith, on the brink of divorce, attend an open house at the scene of an extra-marital affair-turned double murder. On the stairs, they pass Lynette and Foster Reed, a middle-aged couple who appear later in “Spark.” The Reeds are test-driving new cars to replace the one their son died in, bought at Jimmy Blodgett’s car lot. Blodgett is a good friend of widower Vinnie (“Shoot the Dog”) who drives a bus for St. Cecilia’s school, and so on. A nuance unique to the collection emerges: the realization that when trauma pulls the families of a community apart, they turn to familiar institutions – the high school, the local car dealership – for connection. Of course, some familiar institutions – the military, the church, the Kingston Penitentiary – also play a role in dividing those families in the first place. Maitland’s not judging, only documenting, and that’s the collection’s best virtue.
But if Keeping the Peace is a sketch of community, then it lacks many of the perspectives that would give it life. Maitland’s protagonists are invariably female but that doesn’t mean the secondary characters – the men, teenagers and elderly – can’t be fully formed as well. Instead, the teenagers are, almost without exception, tattoo- and piercing-ridden; the men are insensitive and often abusive; the elderly are all dementing (though Maitland portrays dementia well). Even the women are depicted to a type: bitter, brittle and often expecting too much of the world. The resulting community is slightly stiffly drawn: it works, but no one could live in it, let alone visualize it from more than one angle.