Rebecca Rosenblum is an enchanting new author who has a rare talent in that you don’t want her stories to end. She leaves you always wanting to know more about the working class lives who inhabit her stories. It’s as if the vignettes John Sloan, George Luks, George Bellows, and Everett Shinn’s ashcan paintings came to life in modern clothing.
The harsh reality of a girl who works in a factory is clearly illuminated in the story called Fruit Factory:
I wake up and it’s dark. When I pull the
alarm clock towards me to stop
it screaming, my fingers turn green
in the glow from the 4:30. I kick off
the sheets and stand up before I can
I step into the crumpled figure eight
of yesterday’s jeans and
pull them up over the underwear
I’ve already got on…I have enough
to wash my face and drink a glass of
juice today before I get the 4:49 bus
to work. This is Monday.
Six days a week this routine is repeated. And every different co-worker’s exhibition of unhappiness at the factory is given a detailed analysis as well. The future, as well as the present, looks bleak, but the main character’s ability to endure is remarkable.
In Linh Lai, the conflict between a young Vietnamese girl’s fantasy life and reality results in a tragic occurrence. She has been required to leave her home and family and finish high school in Toronto in order to learn English quickly and become successful. Her Uncle Steve, with whom she lives, names her Jinny. She does what she is told and finds a part-time job in a Vietnamese restaurant named Pho-Mi 99 after her third week in Toronto. In her spare time, she watches Chinese fantasies about men “who can fly sideways” and The Matrix in which a man runs up a wall. She practices doing these things in her room. Her need is to feel the power of her body doing spectacular things as an antidote to her helplessness in the monotony of her life. And so she tries to live out her fantasy on a newly-borrowed skateboard with painful results which may or may not be permanent. The relationship of an inept, inarticulate but perceptive father and his uncommunicative, rage-filled daughter is related with all the pain they both feel very sharply in The Words. In waiting for her to come home, Colleen’s father thinks about her body language: “She didn’t say what made her unhappy, or even that she was. But no one moved that fast, turned that sharply, with any joy.” He seems unable to ameliorate her rage about his calling her Collie instead of Colleen. But after she is arrested for writing “words that sounded good…words that God would use” on a bathroom wall, he asks her, “Did you write your name?’ It is a poignant ending. And most of the stories in Once reach into the raw, inner selves of characters who touch us because they know there is a better life out there somewhere but don’t know how to find it.