All the Shin­ing People

Kathy Fried­man

  • Review
By – July 5, 2022

Kathy Friedman’s All the Shin­ing Peo­ple is a raw, mov­ing col­lec­tion of sto­ries sure to keep read­ers engaged. The twelve sto­ries revolve loose­ly around Toronto’s Thorn­hill neigh­bor­hood, home to many Jew­ish South African emi­grants. Although these fam­i­lies left South Africa behind — many dur­ing the wan­ing days of Apartheid — their pasts are irrev­o­ca­bly con­nect­ed to the present. The sto­ries in All the Shin­ing Peo­ple show­case the com­plex ways in which trau­ma cross­es bor­ders and gen­er­a­tions, inter­twin­ing itself into dai­ly life. The set­tings of the sto­ries vary wide­ly: from down­town Toronto’s grunge par­ty scene, where a young mis­fit looks for a sense of belong­ing; a hip­pie encamp­ment in Tulum, Mex­i­co, where a trans man real­izes he deserves uncon­di­tion­al love; to the roof of a funer­al home, where a dead man’s soul remains on Earth to face his life’s short­com­ings. Each of the per­son­al bat­tles waged by the char­ac­ters is dif­fer­ent, but togeth­er they hint at the uni­ver­sal nature of the human expe­ri­ence, which is pre­sent­ed as both painful and joyful.

All the Shin­ing Peo­ples for­mat might remind read­ers of canon­i­cal short sto­ry col­lec­tions, such as James Joyce’s Dublin­ers or Sher­wood Anderson’s Wines­burg, Ohio; each sto­ry plunges the read­er into the con­scious­ness of a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter, but tak­en togeth­er the col­lec­tion shows the nuanced ways in which these char­ac­ters are con­nect­ed. Unlike its lit­er­ary pre­de­ces­sors, how­ev­er, All the Shin­ing Peo­ple fea­tures a diverse set of char­ac­ters, includ­ing char­ac­ters who are queer and strug­gling with their men­tal health, whose com­plex­i­ty makes them come alive on the page.

One of the most inter­est­ing aspects of All the Shin­ing Peo­ple is the ambi­gu­i­ty that per­me­ates each tale. Tidy hap­py end­ings are rare with­in the col­lec­tion. Iron­i­cal­ly, this is part of what makes Friedman’s writ­ing so cathar­tic; when the char­ac­ters stop striv­ing for per­fec­tion they often find room for con­tent­ment. For instance, the sto­ry Loose End” is told from the per­spec­tive of Stephanie, an unhap­py young woman who is attend­ing a protest as her brother’s chap­er­one. Look­ing up at Quebec’s tall build­ings she thinks: Up there, all you’d have seen was cama­raderie — joy­ful, his­to­ry-mak­ing. You wouldn’t feel how much it hurt, being ignored, locked out, shunt­ed to the wrong side of the fence.” Accept­ing her fate as one of the crowd, Stephanie embraces her role as a pro­test­er, mov­ing ahead into what read­ers can hope is a more peace­ful future. That accep­tance is what makes All the Shin­ing Peo­ple such a mov­ing col­lec­tion, espe­cial­ly in our his­tor­i­cal moment when there is so much pain in the world. Like Stephanie, we can nei­ther ignore it nor fix it all, but must forge a path through the messy, com­plex world in which we live.

Discussion Questions