The connection between two people can be confirmed in a variety of relationships; mother and daughter, lovers, or a boss and employee. The dialogues and stories that result from the bonds people experience are individualistic and universal at the same time. The Two of Us by Kathy Page is a compilation of short stories that made the longlist for the Giller Prize. This set of stories reflects the commonality of all face-to-face relations between two people, and yet how astoundingly different the partnerships are depending on the role each individual plays in the given scenario.
Initially, it is difficult to find a common association between each of the stories and it appears they are inextricably disconnected. After meditating on the various stories that Page writes, there is a theme that arises between the tales. Each of the stories is written in intense and vivid detail that hooks the reader in and then concludes before the climax of the story is revealed. “Pigs” is about a husband and wife and ends with the woman thinking about killing her husband, but we never find out what happens next. The setting of the story is carefully laid out and the characters are so well described they feel real, and yet the reader never finds out the concluding element in each of the relationships in the set of short stories.
The lack of a conclusion in the stories is initially maddening, but as they continue it becomes apparent how much these awkward in-between moments reflect reality. Oftentimes in the set-up of a story, it has a distinct beginning, middle and end — it is clear-cut. Life does not work like this, and abandoning the traditional set up of a story gives it more authenticity. My discomfort as a reader reflects my desire for the perfect ending. Instead, abandoning my longing for perfection to embrace the rhythm of Page’s set of stories deepens my acceptance of the never-finished stories in real life.
“The right thing to say” follows a couple who live in Canmore, AB, that are trying to have a baby. The mom-to-be is pregnant and they are having testing done to find out if the child has a genetic defect that would affect the health of the baby. This story hits close to home, and the descriptions of the setting are incredibly vivid. It almost feels as if the reader is sitting next to the worried couple in the hospital. This story reflects the various settings that Page uses, switching between England and Canada. It is interesting because Page is a British author who has resided on Vancouver Island for several years. The stories reflect her intimate familiarity with the two settings and helps the reader to really have confidence in in what is being described.
There is a futuristic element to a few of the stories as well. In “It is July Now”, the tale focuses on a character named Piret who is from Sweden and lives in a socialist society where almost nothing is owned privately. A middle-aged American woman comes to intern at the school and attempts to befriend Piret several times, though it is mostly unsuccessful. There is a stark contrast between the strict and stringent lifestyle of Piret and the American woman who is happier and more free with her money. The story between the two characters ends off without a distinct conclusion and it leaves the reader wondering whether the two women become better friends.
The concluding story of the anthology brings the set of stories together in a fascinating way. “Open Water” features a swim coach named Mitch and one of his swimmers, Tara who lives in Vancouver. Mitch works with Tara for years on her swimming and when she has the opportunity to go to the Olympics, what happens next will leave the reader shocked.
Page does a very subtle and determined job at showing the reader that life is awkward and the unexpected happens, yet it becomes almost soothing in this series of stories. In one of the stories mentioned, the reader will find intimate commonality with their own life in The Two of Us, and walk away with a stronger understanding of the complexities of the unfinished ending in real life. The anthology comes highly recommended, and definitely a study of the most detailed and intimate way to describe a person and their life through the written word without giving everything away.