Sheila Heti has skin like buttermilk and once acted in a Barbie commercial. She looks like Mary Astor and dresses like Zelda Fitzgerald: she is all gravel and poise, her eyes take everything in. The Middle Stories reminds me of her, in its enormous delicacy, ersatz beauty, and utterly unique place in Canadian literature where it hovers, like spun candy, above a fairground littered with peanut shells and other common trash. In larger terms, the book is of a piece with Donald Barthelme, Angela Carter, and Anne Sexton’s attempts to contemporize the fantastical, each author asserting, like Mattel’s sublime doll, that “we can do anything.” The assertion is accurate, the work as modern as flying backward through time.
—Lynn Crosbie is the author of six books of poetry and fiction. She is also an editor and journalist. Crosbie teaches at the University of Toronto, where she received her Ph.D in English.
To clarify: The Middle Stories are not fables, although they might remind you of fables. They contain jokes, but the implications of the narratives in which the jokes take place go far deeper than you would have expected when you started laughing. While it’s true that sometimes absurd things happen in the stories, they are not absurdist. Rather, they are startling reimaginings of events and thoughts that are as close to universal as one can assume these days. Sheila Heti is a fiction writer, yes, but one whose writing enlarges the conventional boundaries of the term. If you’ve heard that she is vastly talented, you’ve heard the truth. Finally, don’t be misled by the title. The Middle Stories have beginnings and endings, too.
—Andrew Pyper is the author The Trade Mission (2002) as well as the story collection Kiss Me. His bestselling novel, Lost Girls, won the Arthur Ellis award for Best First Novel, and has been optioned by Jersey Films and Universal Pictures. He is a regular contributor of essays and criticism to Canadian magazines and newspapers.
Ten Things I Know About Sheila Heti
- She has a nice old-fashioned flask that has the word “strumpet” engraved on it.
- She is marrying a non-Jew is and is going to break her poor mother’s heart.
- She has been seen drinking scotch with a Canadian poet, but probably doesn’t like the taste of it (the scotch).
- She wrote a book called The Middle Stories, which comprise marvelously sweet and dark fictions and which stupid people think are fables.
- “Hi! I steal, eh?” is an anagram of her name.
- She is such a nice person that people offer to humiliate themselves for free, and with no guarantee of therapeutic value, in front of large audiences she assembles.
- The Middle Stories is the kind of book that other writers read and say, “Aw, shit. I’m sure I would have done something this neat if only I’d had a few more years to mature as a writer and if I drank more.”
- Not for an instant would she have thought “is comprised of” in #4 on this list, but you may have, which suggests you are in need of her book.
- If asked, she will say she is just a quiet sensitive girl who likes to curl up and read a nice romantic novel on her couch. She may also say she has a catfish in her pants, so it’s probably best if you don’t talk to her.
- Her collection, The Middle Stories, gives the impression of a personal revelation that has been filtered through dream imagery as rigorously consistent as the metaphors of a tarot deck. The stories in it feel oddly familiar even as they strike you as utterly sui generis. If you don’t read it, you’ll feel left out at all the fall parties.
—Michael Redhill is a poet, novelist and playwright. His most recent novel, Martin Sloane won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book and the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award. He is the manager editor of Brick: A Literary Journal.
My excitement for Sheila Heti’s collection began when I read the story “Eleanor” in a Canadian magazine and was scared and moved by every single sentence. “When she was nineteen she had slept with her boyfriend many times. In those improbable days he was always hanging around, pushing her legs over her head. He was always tying her spread-eagled to the bed, always rolling her onto her front, and if not onto her front, then onto her back. . . . He died tragically three years later, and ever after brown-haired men made her cry.” And this isn’t the ending, this is how the story starts! Meanwhile her endings are just as freakishly great. Like the gorgeous last line of her story “The Littlest Dumpling,” a true votive candle burning for all the melancholy souls who lack admiration for the universe, which goes, “The dumpling was just a dumpling and the family was just a family.” Good god, her words are practically Gnostic in their dark, subtle charm. See, a story by Sheila: you don’t just read a story by Sheila. You have to look at her stories, like with the eye style you save for objects in galleries and the multi-colored calligraphy on train cars. For it is true her stories are often exceptionally small, but the size they take up in the world is so deeply contrary to the size they take up in your head. This book is a glimpse of atomic greatness.
—Lee Henderson is author of a collection of stories entitled The Broken Record Technique, which was published by the Canadian arm of Penguin books in the spring of 2002. He lives in Vancouver.
The Middle Stories delightfully refuses to fall into any preconceived notions of what narrative should do. With precise, knife-edged prose, Heti has masterfully wrought a dark and compulsive collection, sprinkled with a touch of hand-wringing neurosis and dirty sex. At once coy and ribald, delicate and vicious, this book is part fairy tale, part brain-twister, and all pleasure. Heti has created the perfect bedtime book for thinking, literate adults.
—Nancy Lee is the author of the acclaimed collection of stories, Dead Girls, which was published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart and short-listed for the Pearson Canada Reader’s Choice Book Award. She lives in Vancouver where she teaches at the Simon Fraser University Writing and Publishing Program and is Associate Director of the Booming Ground Writers Community.