Last night, I visited another book club. This time, I was in for a special treat. Jessica Westhead, the author of And Also Sharks was also in attendance. Catalina Novoa, bookseller at The Bookshelf, had invited Jessica to the November meeting.
Nine of us listened as Jessica read from the title story. One of the ladies commented that Jessica's speaking voice and writing voice were one and the same. We all agreed. She brought the book to life and then proceeded to share her motivation for some of the stories in the collection.
While riding her bicycle in Toronto, she thought about shoplifting and wondered how she could take it to a whole new level. The result is "Coconut," In this piece, the protagonist progresses from shoplifting to abducting a baby from a stroller on a city sidewalk.
Jessica spoke at length about "Plant Lady." While working overtime at an earlier job, Jessica met a plant lady who reprimanded her for forgetting her name.
She based "The Healing Arts" on an actual encounter with a belligerent photographer at one of her husband's early photo shoots. There was no violence, but the incident stayed with her and she decided to stretch the drama in this short story.
The main characters in her stories can be considered misfits, outsiders or losers. Such characters are often disliked by their co-workers and experience discomfort in their long-term personal relationships. As I read through the stories, I found myself laughing at their quirks and, a few pages later, grieving or feeling embarrassed for them.