The Breakdown So Far by M.A.C. Farrant

By M.A.C. Farrant. Talonbooks, 157 pp, $17.95, softcover

A woman of moral certainty attends a dinner party. From the far end of the table, she yells, “Hey, did you hear the one about the corporate takeover of our minds?” Meanwhile, “all the sharpest, brightest, so-called most interesting people—including my husband—were gathered at the other end. All the fun was happening down there.” In another of the 73 micro stories that make up The Breakdown So Far, a woman decides she will become a penis historian. “I will visit public gatherings with my bullhorn and holler, ”˜You men might like to untangle your penises from the bowels of your boxers!' I may be carted away as a maniac, but I won't be deterred.” In a third, a woman prepares to give a reading at a variety show. “Her main rival is the comic. He has a projectile vomiting act” that gets a standing ovation. “Suddenly her act seems stale.”¦What new angles are left?”

Vancouver Islander M.A.C. Farrant has made a career out of these tiny tales (ranging in length from one line to a couple of pages); this is her eighth such collection. The stories are reminiscent of the assemblages of American sculptor Joseph Cornell, who recontextualized everyday objects by placing them in tiny glass-fronted boxes; meaning arose from the interplay of the elements and the emotional response of the viewer. For Farrant, everyday moments—that “Whatever happened to”¦” thought about a former classmate, the fear that a dinner party is falling flat, the no-litter sign glimpsed from a speeding car—hold keys to the larger culture.

A resolute antimaterialism runs through the work—or at least a recognition that possessions???happiness. The narrators, mainly women, rail against their surroundings and their audiences, and against the bourgeois habits of self-indulgence and superficiality. Instead, they advocate “noting details; the outside world revealed precisely—small events closely observed”.

M.A.C. Farrant, Trevor Carolan (The Pillowbook of Dr. Jazz), and Steven Price (Anatomy of Keys) discuss “Writing in Unreaderly Times” next Thursday (March 29), beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Library Square (350 West Georgia Street). For information and free tickets, call 604-444-4889.