The Art & Craft of Fake it So real by Susan Sanford blades
Updated: Feb 7, 2022
In a series of interconnected stories, Sanford Blades's writing grips us firmly on the first page and yanks us hard into the life of Gwen, a raw, rough punk kid living for the moment in Victoria, BC. Magnetized to Damian, the charismatic lead of a band, she ends up having two daughters, Sara and Meg, raising them on her own when Damian — only ever partially present from the beginning — eventually fades away completely.
The story is full of pointy-ended disconnections, sharp as blades; and also, unexpected connections, tender and rare, that show us love might be found in an old friend, sleeping in his van in your driveway, just to be sure you're doing okay. The characters feel complicated and real, and most palpably, their pain feels brutally authentic. I consumed this novel, hoping the girls, and their mother, would grow up to find love in themselves and in each other.
But what struck me most about this book is the sentence work. Sanford Blades plays with form here, slicing out the unnecessary connective tissue in lines and paragraphs, so that the writing feels carved out, chiseled, hard-edged. I was reminded in some ways of Annie Proulx's condensed and potent lines in The Shipping News, though Sanford Blades, I think, is going for a different effect. The sentences are punchy—as in, you kind of feel like you are being punched. And her verb choices are often intense and jarring, paired with metaphor and imagery that has a disorienting effect—all of this is skillfully and intentionally done. And with a subtle glazing of dry humour: "Gwen slammed the door and spotted Damian, out to sea, knee-deep in kelp. She plunged toward him like a spoon through Jell-O and said, Howdy, then wished she'd opened with something more punk rock like Oi! then realized that was too effortful and Howdy was so unpunk rock that it, in fact, was punk rock..."
Susan Sanford Blades is a writer living on the traditional territory of the lək̓ʷəŋən speaking people - the Songhees and Xwepsum/Kosapsum nations (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada). Her debut novel, Fake It So Real (Nightwood Editions, 2020) won the 2021 ReLit Award in the novel category and was short-listed for the 2021 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Her short fiction has been published in the anthologies The Journey Prize Stories 32: The Best of Canada's New Writers (McClelland & Stewart, 2020) and Coming Attractions 16 (Oberon Press, 2016) and has been published widely across Canada as well as in the United States and Ireland.