Oh, My Darling: Shaena Lambert's short story collection up for CBC Bookie Award

Shaena Lambert on love, longing, families, contemporary life... and golden beavers. "Oh, My Darling" is one of the year's hottest short story collections.

Vancouver author Shaena Lambert

Shortlisted short stories

Shaena Lambert’s short story collection “Oh, My Darling” is on a roll, having made the shortlist for the CBC Bookie Awards, as well as the Globe Books Top 100.

Lambert describes "Oh, My Darling" over the phone: "It's about love and longing, you know? It’s about love and longing and families and contemporary life.”

The stories in “Oh, My Darling” may also remind you of the George Clooney vampire flick “From Dusk Til Dawn”: small, compelling tales in their own right, until they pivot on a dime and become entirely new creatures.

This is particularly true with the title story of "Oh, My Darling", which features a rather distinctive narrator. Lambert described it as a mix between Humbert Humbert and Jack the Ripper.

The Bookies are determined by we, the readers; but it's much more than just a popularity contest for Lambert: "You get a Golden Beaver certificate. It’s very charming.”

And very Canadian.

Intrusions and creativity

Diagnosed with breast cancer while writing the stories for "Oh, My Darling", Lambert's healing process led her to write what would become the title story. Its voice appeared from somewhere strange, like an intrusive thought.

"If you’re lucky, a voice just comes to you," said Lambert in describing the process, that unmistakable hint of excitement in her voice. "It’s part me, part not-me. If writing is really alive, it feels like it’s part not-you."

Lambert’s style might remind you of macro photography mixed with sportscasting. These seemingly-divergent elements converge to bring the reader inside the hearts and minds of Lambert's characters. This sort of storytelling is hot during Oscar season this year: Best Picture nominees “Her”, “American Hustle”, and “Gravity” are extremely internal stories, featuring characters who are experientially alone.

But now we are back in the bedroom. And you are moving toward Aisla -of-the-many-hates, powering like a battleship across the detritus on the floor, and you are holding Aisla down, you have pinned her shoulders to the mattress while Aisla screams, Get off me, and you say, Not till you say you’re sorry; and though Aisla is half your weight, she is fast as a cat, and she wrestles from your grasp and grabs your hair. I can’t stand you, she is screaming. I can’t stand you.

Shaena Lambert also nails that sense of place: both the location and the people who populate it. This is immensely gratifying for a country whose cities are routinely turned into elsewheres by the film industry.

Check out this excerpt from another story in the collection, titled "Crow Ride":

Muriel was given the leaflet at Whole Foods. Not inside the doors, where Swiss chard was mounded high in a Christmas display. Outside. Beside the peonies from Chile, a dollar a stem.
A young man with dreadlocked hair danced toward her. His hands, yellow from grime (or was it natural dye?), contrasted sharply with the sleeves of his woollen sweater. He produced a flyer from his satchel, flicked it inside her comfort zone, and flashed her a smile.
Surprisingly bright teeth.
“Crow ride?”
Muriel tried to sidestep him, but he boxed her in against the peonies, blood maroon and seashell pink. They must have travelled on ice for thousands of miles only to land in this cold harbour, this rain-forest mist. Up close the man smelled of the brine in feta cheese. How old was he? Twenty. Twenty-two at most.
She said, “I don’t know what that means.”
Again that grin. He pointed to the flyer. “We bike to where all the crows roost at sunset.”

Yeah, you just went to the Whole Foods on West 4th in Kitsilano, just as Lambert intended: "Whole Foods is a kind of artificial paradise.”

Dipping into the well

"Stories lend themselves to flow, says Lambert. "I don't structure anything with the story. [...] when I face a blank page, i don’t try to sit down and compose a draft. I just take out an empty page and start to do little drawings."

From that foundation, Lambert's stories take on a completeness, a believable texture that amplifies the drama. We care about characters that we can understand.

Lambert is also not shy on social media, but has learned when to slow it down: "It’s good to disengage from social media" when writing, she said, "You get pulled in a different direction when you’re asked to engage with others. It's amazing how quickly [we] have a creative experience and share it with the world. We get this kind of shallow surface to our interactions. We’re constantly emptying our brains by Facebooking our ideas too easily."

You don't have to go full Luddite, but keep in mind that you may be draining the well too quickly by sharing every thought that pops into your head: some of those thoughts, if allowed to grow, could sprout something larger than what a status update or Instagram filter can handle. Lambert says, "I think it’s often with creative people [that] you get a little spark of something, an 'A-ha!' moment that sinks into your spirit. I try to record it into a book, let it germinate."

The same is true for creative writers who also write for their day-jobs, says Lambert: "Some writers become something completely different in their off hours. Some writers are rodeo champions or dentists or doctors. Then they have a well they’re drawing from in their other life."

Your reading assignment

You can read the first story from "Oh, My Darling" for free via Amazon Kindle: decide for yourself if it's beaver-worthy.

If you haven’t yet voted in the Bookie Awards, you still have a few days left: polls close on February 5, just before the stroke of midnight.

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