Western Taxidermy – Barb Howard (2012, NeWest Press, Edmonton)
This collection of short stories by Albertan Barb Howard initially comes across as quirky (the book jacket blurb calls them “tender, satirical, and occasionally absurd”), but there’s some real meat here as Howard explores the nature of power and control – more specifically, who giveth and who taketh away. “Basic Obedience,” about a father who suspects something isn’t quite right about his daughter’s relationship with her boyfriend, really packs a wallop – I can’t get that one out of my head. And the frightening backstory to a newly-engaged couple’s seemingly frivolous stop at a crazy roadside attraction in “Last Seen at Teeny Town” is a good gut-check, too. There’s a heart of darkness in most of these tales, despite their brightly-wrapped packages.
Plus, you gotta like a book that features a taxidermy gopher, right?