[Nightwood Editions; 2023]
Grandview Drive, a debut collection of short stories by Canadian writer Tim Blackett, explores the intersecting registers of loneliness, loss, lack, longing, and love. In sixteen short stories, Blackett moves the reader in and out of domesticities, intimacies, and lives defined by cyclical attempts to form bonds and connections paralleled by the pain and loneliness of disconnection and separation. More than a decade in the making, Grandview Drive was published by Nightwood Editions in 2023, and is deserving of all the acclaim it’s receiving.
Even before I entered the complex and layered world of Grandview Drive, I was struck by the synergy between the epigraph, “For anyone who has ever felt alone,” and the names of some of the stories: “The Ones Really Looking,” “That Bruised & Bloody Feeling,” “Before a Lost Soul.” These initial pages prepared me to step into an affective landscape that, though spatially restricted to a single neighborhood, would be charged with the psychological and social condition of being human in a world that has endorsed individualism to an extreme of disconnection.
In suspicious contrast, the first and titular story begins with traditional, middle-class, domestic bliss—a woman laughing as she serves her husband and two children hot dinner around a family dining table. The beginning recalls the equally illusionary illustration by Angela Yen on the cover of the collection: two rows of uniformly designed houses separated by a single road, each with a private plot, a front lawn, a tree, and windows that smile with happy lights, all perfectly perfect except for the oddity of a single car driving through, an eye sore, its disruptive presence almost tactile. In Blackett’s story, this Buick is driven by Earl, a young man estranged from his mother and now grieving his separation from his ex-partner, Tina. Earl steers his way through the drive every day and stops in front of houses to peer through their windows at the lives enfolding within them. Earl’s lurking and creepy behavior that violates people’s privacy contrasts with his internal monologue of harmless loneliness. And his loneliness finds refuge ultimately in the realm of fantasy. Earl imagines being seamlessly carried in and out of all the households he observes, becoming an integral member of each—sometimes a young husband and then an old one, or an uncle to young nieces, a friend and a lover. Earl converses, dines, and laughs with the residents of Grandview Drive and, through the power of fantasy, its sense of control and infiniteness, makes a final attempt to fulfill the longing for lasting connection that haunts him. Perhaps death comes as a relief, or perhaps it represents the loss of possibilities.
Bidding adieu to Earl, the reader proceeds, but Earl follows. Blackett’s stories draw circles, some narrow and some wide, around Earl’s car crash. The reader finally enters the homes that Earl once observed; like him, entering the consciousness of their inhabitants and prying through their thoughts, memories, and emotions. The reader never stays too long, but dives into each life, poking about its most private and intimate nooks and then jumping out—on to the next life. And each life exposes its most precious desire and overwhelming terrors in a series of revelations that I experienced as a tragic mockery of Earl’s fantasies. Broadly following a pattern of one primary narrator per story who is often surrounded by one or more secondary narrators, the collection introduces the reader to a plurality of voices in a short period of time. However, the feat of the narrative becomes evident only a few stories into the book when one realizes just how the individual voices tune in and out of each other so that, what may have been imagined to be a series of voices, reveals itself to be a chorus. I began paying attention to the secondary narrators of each story, knowing that they may represent threads that Blackett would take up later.
The stories are told through the stream of consciousness narrative style that scrambles linear temporal logic, hopping back and forth across past and future, days and decades and, sometimes, across generations. Some stories anchor themselves in dialogues; others are grounded in objects or memorabilia; and some live in the epistolary, using cards, notes, and letters to tell stories within stories. Each unfolding reveals another encounter, experience, memory that is meaningful to the narrator. A web of human connections and disconnections emerge and form the social and affective map of Grandview Drive.
In his book launch with McNally Robinson Saskatoon Events, Blackett notes that the only autobiographical aspect of the book is the characters’ struggle to connect with one another. The collection evokes the stickiness and persistence of loneliness encountered in childhood. Characters grieve the death of loved ones who died by accident, parents grieve the loss of a daughter dead by suicide, and an elderly mother attends the empty funeral of her son searching for someone to tell her stories of him. One marriage, intact on paper, demands an ending: “After forty-three years of marriage, Anne decided she could feel the hate oozing out of the man.” Another flickers under the threat of an ending until the threat is fulfilled: “I have mentioned my wife’s leaving, which I had imagined a thousand times before she actually did it, mostly because she had said often enough that she would leave me if I didn’t give her a reason to stay, and while I knew her to be a liar, I did believe there was truth to these threats.” All relationships must balance distance and proximity, independence and inter-dependence; in Grandview Drive, these relationships skew toward disconnection to a degree that is initially concerning and eventually alarming. Plagued by a pervasive inability to give or receive love and communicate one’s inner world to another, domesticities and intimacies hobble about in their attempts to survive.
And women and girls have their own challenges in this landscape of disconnection. Blackett’s representations of mother-daughter relationships, marriage, and romantic intimacy are particularly striking for their complexity and intensity. Anne clings to her identity as a painter but, as a woman bound within marriage, is acknowledged only as a wife. Tina grapples with the trauma of sexual and physical violence by her ex-partner and the gaslighting by her mother, who praises the same abusive ex-partner. And in her internal dialogue, Abigail imagines her mother calling her a “bitch,” a “whore,” and a “homewrecker,” which is telling not only of the volatility between the two but also of the subtle patriarchal violence and grooming that informed the mother’s parenting of the daughter. Parallel to the victimhood of women is also the violence of women—the women who lash out, inflict psychological and verbal abuse, and even murder. And it is through this violence that the women of Grandview Drive are liberated from the patriarchal stereotyping of femininity as soft, harmless, and perfect; the women are free, just as the male characters, to be complex and varied.
Is hope offered? It’s bleak, but hope is there and it’s putting up a fight. Hope, as I see it, can be found within the modalities of coping—fantasizing, storytelling (and story-listening), expression, and re-connection. Lucy makes sense of the loss of her friend by conjuring her friend’s voice and letting it guide her life choices. An older woman who lost her newborn years ago tells imaginary tales of the life her daughter never got to live: “I tell this story—these stories . . . so that for a moment she is real, to offer proof she has not been imagined.” I see hope even in Abigail’s letters because they reveal the needs she wanted her mother to meet: “Oh, don’t be so needy, I can hear you saying. But I’ll admit it—I needed you, Mom.” There is hope, surely, in painting and writing, solitary as they may be; in a daughter listening to her father’s stories during her visits; in an unexpected parking lot camaraderie; in the discovery of a connection at an otherwise deserted funeral; and in a couple renewing their marriage after a separation. There is hope in Blackett’s narrative style itself—so self-conscious of the crisis of loneliness descending upon its characters, that the writing seems to call for action.
As I closed the book, Abigail’s question remained with me:
I had gotten a psych degree to try to figure out why my sister had killed herself, why my parents had divorced—why parents who lose a child almost always divorce—why I had tried to kill myself. Could she tell me why?
Why do the residents of Grandview Drive suffer from chronic and pervasive loneliness, trapped in relationships that hollow out and ultimately give in, limited to such a compromised sense of communal belonging? And why, under the weight of it all, do they turn toward anxiety, violence, and suicide? I recommend this book to anyone who is keen to engage with harsh questions, who wants to interrogate the foundational frameworks and beliefs governing their realities, and who desires a grounding, humbling read. From one story to the next, Grandview Drive lays bare the fallacy of a late capitalist, development-focused world that, in its extreme pursuit and glorification of privacy, individualism, and independence, relegates people to exist in disconnected silos. Such a socio-economic framework fails to meet our core needs as human beings: social connections that feel physically and emotionally safe, a secure and steady sense of belonging, to live with a sense of purpose and, most crucially, to experience intimate bonds that are nurtured with a vision for continuity. I experienced Grandview Drive as a call to engage in structural critical thinking, as well as a call to extend a hand to another, to lead with empathy, to tell stories, and to dispel a systemically created loneliness with a stubborn commitment to nurturing connections.
Tamanna Basu is a feminist activist who holds an M.Phil in English Literature from Delhi University. She is the author of “Campus Feminism and the Nation-State” in The Gendered Body in South Asia (Routledge). She serves as a Core Lead at Shakti Shalini, a gender-rights based organization, and as a Fundraiser at Civis, a policy and advocacy-based organisation. She has taught Literature at Ashoka University and served as a Research and Communications Consultant at HAQ: Centre for Child Rights. She can be found as @tamanna_3942 on Instagram and @tamanna3942 on Twitter.
This post may contain affiliate links.