The dedication at the beginning of The Path of Most Resistance (House of Anansi, 2016) states: “For those who fight the hardest to win the smallest of battles. You know who you are.” And that is what the baker’s dozen of Russell Wangersky’s short stories are about: winning small battles, typically in a passive aggressive way, either overtly or in a less conspicuous manner.
“Rage”, the first story, finds Ian, a journeying pharmaceutical rep, wondering why other drivers are so angry: “Why does everyone seem so angry today, Ian wondered. Everyone was angry except him.” This leads Ian on a train of thought process of self-realization terminating in a slightly macabre answer to that question. “Rage” really sets the tone for the rest of the stories contained in this collection: an average, everyday person (or persons) pushed towards, then over the tipping line.
Mr Wangersky really excels in describing the minutiae of everyday life, relationships, in particular, which give each story a firm footing in reality. For example, in “Bide Awhile” he talks about a line that exists between Mike and Bev:
“There is a line. Every couple knows its feel, its shape, its shaggy, feral dangerous smell. Every couple flirts with it sometimes in the heat of argument or battle, sometimes they get close to touching it. The smart ones pull back, swallowing the almost said before it can burst out…But sometimes neither can give up. And lines get crossed.”
The collection ends with “Heavy Load” which parallels a man’s all-too-careful oversight of his job and its heavy responsibilities with his lack of such in his marriage. Project manager Robert Campbell has time to reflect on his wife’s leaving as he painstakingly micro-manages the movement of a massive load down a highway to the docks in the middle of the night.
The Path of Most Resistance is a gratifying collection of short stories, some humorous (“Snow”), some startling (“Bide Awhile”), but all containing some small assertive resistance presented by otherwise unremarkable people. I enjoyed reading it to a great degree and it will find a place on my short story shelf alongside such recent short story collections from Wayne Curtis, Danila Botha and Catherine Hogan Safer.
RUSSELL WANGERSKY is the author of five books. Most recently, his crime thriller Walt was named one of the top crime books of the year by the National Post. Wangersky has won or been nominated, for numerous awards for his writing, including the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the B.C. National Award for Non-Fiction, the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction, the Thomas Head Raddall Award for Fiction, the BMO Winterset Award, and the National Newspaper Awards. He is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist and lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.