Drawing on the author’s experiences traveling in locales such as Greece, Italy, Portugal and Turkey, Canadian writer Ian Colford’s first collection of short stories centers around a feeling of otherness, of always being the outsider, misunderstood by locals who mill through dusty urban streets and struggle to make their own way.
Colford’s protagonists range in occupation from teachers to research assistants to hotel clerks and even a minor felon, but each character shares in some way a resignation about his place in the host country. The expectation is always that the locals will remain at arm’s length, rejecting efforts at assimilation.
In each tale the central character is seeking a way to improve his life, and is largely unattached to other people or places. America is the destination of choice in many of the stories, the towns described along the way more like a mooring to drift alongside temporarily than a meaningful stopping point.
The author carefully avoids specifics that would connect a story concretely with a particular place. His measured prose sketches the gritty poverty that might accompany transient workers who slowly find their hope worn down under daily difficulties. Yet there is also a theme of random kindness that runs through the stories, when a secondary character sometimes shines a unexpected ray of hope or truth into the bleak everyday toil of the protagonist.
Colford’s collection will appeal to anyone who has ever wandered through a city off the beaten path and found themselves an outsider. Whether you relish the experience or find it uncomfortable, these stories proffer a spare, elegant window on a lonely, precarious existence.