That Time I Loved You

I had a millisecond of dread when I picked up That Time I Loved You, a book of short stories by Carrianne Leung. I have a fraught relationship with short stories.

But Leung’s approach, much like Dawn Dumont’s in Glass Beads, doesn’t feel like a book of short stories as much as it feels like a novel. I like this format of people’s stories and viewpoints woven together in a broader context. It feels less fragmented, even when we don’t get a final conclusion out of every tale. There’s a longer investment in the characters, because they pop up in surprising ways in stories that belong to others.

Leung’s book is set in Scarborough in a brand new subdivision filled with multicultural families trying to find their way in the world. In particular, their way in Canada as first and second generation immigrants. We meet the characters as their lives intersect during a bad time in the neighbourhood. Three adults unexpectedly kill themselves, sending the rest of the children, and the adults, reeling. What should feel safe, isn’t. What should feel like an optimistic time devolves into surprising revelations: like the cherished neighbourhood personality who has been stealing from everyone for years.

The book is situated 1970s but that sense of decade isn’t there. This isn’t a bad thing: it lets you imagine the stories spinning out in real time, in this moment. They are as relevant as ever. Racism, fragmentation, the cognitive dissonance when you buy a house but think you’re buying a life and whoops, no, it’s just the house.

What makes this collection so poignant is it’s easy to imagine the neighbourhood, and the community. It’s not so different from the one I grew up in. Several of the characters watch the neighbourhood through their curtains and resist interacting with it. And we never know, not really, what goes on behind closed doors. Sometimes it’s more than you’d expect—and sometimes it’s less. Despite its heavy subject matter, That Time I Loved You reminds me that life keeps going on, even when it’s messy and confusing and we have to make an effort to carry on.

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