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Nude on a Fence

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Success Stories

by Eliza Hemingway


ISBN 978 0 9698170 3 1
Arts Angels Publishing, 2006
269pp, paperback
Retail price $17.95 (Canadian)

Open Book

Review by Chris Williams

This is a book of short stories mostly set on and around Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It is a rather accomplished set of stories.

Mostly it is about relationships, their unlikelihood sometimes and their almost inevitability at other times. Mostly it is lightly and humorously written. Now, what’s this Nude on a Fence thing about, apart from making a good title?

Ms Hemingway describes it thus, in her introduction: "…I wanted readers to experience frailty. A nude person is not sexy. Without the protective, familiar covering of shirt and jeans a human being is susceptible…Very few of us have been…caught without our underwear…But most of us have been in unfamiliar or embarrassing situations." That is rather an extreme précis of the introduction, but gets across what I think she means. Nude on a Fence equals vulnerable and probably embarrassed. Many of the characters in this book or either vulnerable and/or embarrassed.

For example, the first story features a wife who has been abandoned by her more or less useless husband; by his inconveniently dying just as they were about to move to a new house she doesn’t really like. It is rather isolated, with the only real company being her eccentric, somewhat misogynistic next door neighbour who fishes, drinks large quantities of bourbon and, when he thinks no one is looking, gardens in the nude. She looks, is intrigued and finally…no, that would be telling. Suffice it to say the second Nude on a Fence in the book happens in this story. The first is on the cover, taken from an oil painting by the author. I liked both nudes.

There’s a story about a lion tamer; there’s a story about a woman with a pretty hopeless husband in hospital while she’s heading for the stage sans underwear, cue Mountie; there is a rather beautiful story about a painter watching a swimmer, a story with a truly poignant ending; there’s a story about a painter who wows the art world with what he thinks a fake. Each time the story involves relationships. Quite often they involve painters, as is the writer. In at least three of the stories nasturtium flowers get eaten. Some of the stories are humorous, although sometimes the humour doesn’t work.

Forty pages of the book are taken up with Shipwreck, which is described as a novel in progress. What there is of it so far, is fascinating. A retired man running boat trips with spooky tales, murder and gothic horror. I’m not sure how it’s all going to knit together, but I definitely get the feeling it will.