Summary: A collection of short stories located in fictional town of Sky Falls, Ordinary Miracles begins with the story of a home boy named Art who is sent to Canada to work on a farm from an orphanage in England. A mysterious encounter as a child gives him hope for the future, and the collection tells his story and the stories of teens dealing with issues of identity, family, self-esteem, grief and the tragedy of life. The last story brings everything full circle for Art, and gives his granddaughter Amy some closure on a sudden loss in her life.
Number of Pages: 167
Age Range: 15-18
Review: Diana Aspin connects the stories in her collection by featuring characters from the same town in each of them. It ends up being a lot of characters and at times I had a bit of trouble remembering who was who, but I enjoyed how each story built on the one before. In this way Aspin provides her reader with a colourful view of life in Sky Falls, the triumphs and the hardships, with characters that are easy to care about.
As always, I find myself a bit inept at reviewing a collection of short stories in only a day, so I’d like to point out a couple that I loved the most.
The first is “Moose.” Aspin follows Shoulders, a local Native teen who has just finished high school. His future shines brightly before him and he is about to tell his friend he loves her with a special gift he made her to tie the two of them together. The story also follows the path of a young bull moose who has made it through the winter and will be getting ready to sound his call and mate soon. The paths of Shoulders and the moose cross tragically on Shoulders’ way to meet his high school friends to celebrate the end of school, and neither survives. Aspin’s writing is hauntingly beautiful, capturing the agony of such a random accident, and the fallout for both Shoulders’ family and friends as well as the moose. It was a truly unique tale, and now one of my favourite short stories ever.
My second favourite is “Ordinary Miracles,” the title story of the book. Paige is celebrating her sixteenth birthday and hoping her mom’s two week sober streak will last long enough for her to make Paige a cake to celebrate. Encouraged by her older siblings to move in with them, Paige sticks steadfastly to her mother’s side, even when it means heartbreak for Paige again and again. On this night though Paige comes home with a group of friends for her party, and their reaction to what they find in the house strikes Paige to the core. She realises what happens is an ordinary miracle, and that perhaps she has been more cared for all along than she thinks. Powerful.
Aspin’s writing is new to me, but as I look back over my reading I am remembering the vivid moments she captured through her skillful writing. The physicality of a moose, the feel of an unborn baby kicking in its mother’s belly, the innocence and wisdom of a child who wears angel wings everywhere she goes – the stories are a treasure trove of these ordinary miracle snapshots. This is truly a collection to be savoured.
“It was the closeness of her, the way the she called him ‘Arthur,’ not ‘Art,’ and the warmth of her fingers in his hair that set him off crying – like he wasn’t just nobody’s child, not just another Home Boy, but a real child who mattered.” – Art from “Home Boy” in Ordinary Miracles by Diana Aspin, page 13
“‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,; Art chanted, as he loaded hay or rounded up the cows. Words did hurt, though. They hurt just like a belt buckle. The hurt from them dawdled about in your head until you began to agree with them: you were stupid, you did talk funny, you were soft.” – Art from “Home Boy” in Ordinary Miracles by Diana Aspin, page 14
“Reluctantly, Ashley lays down the book, open at her page, and joins Reena. Reena finds the spot and places Ashley’s dainty hand over it. She lays her large one over Ashley’s. It’s not so much. that they can identify an arm or a leg or a bum. It’s more like a flicker – minnows weaving under the surface of a lake, the thrumming of a dragonfly’s wings, a sweet yet mysterious promise of things to come.” – Reena and Ashley feeling Leia’s unborn baby move from “Roadkill” in Ordinary Miracles by Diana Aspin, page 84
“Shoulders will be spared his parents’ stricken faces as an unconscionable world of nevers blossoms in their minds: Shoulders will never go to college. Shoulders will never play professional football. Shoulders will never marry. Shoulders’ community will mourn him; letters of deeply felt condolence will sail through his parents’ mail slot by the dozen. A bench with their only son’s name – engraved on a rectangle of brass – will appear in the park by the public dock next to the old millstone. A football trophy will be awarded each year in his honor. Shoulders’ heartbroken mother, Alice, will crawl into her bed and refuse to come out of hiding, her pearl necklace will be gone, as will her weekly perms. She will join the likes of Mad Margaret and Paige Rankin’s mom. People will say, ‘Not quite right,’ and ‘Sad case,’ about her, but they will look out for Alice Miller all the same.” – from “Moose” in Ordinary Miracles by Diana Aspin, pages 112-113
“And what of the young bull moose with his auspicious stumps of antlers, his cloven hooves, his broad, flat, tearing teeth?
Eventually, his lifeless body will be dragged to the side of the road, where he’ll be picked out by the shocked headlights of local traffic and ogled at by motorists on their way to cottages. Only one human, a young man passing through on his way to Minden, will stop, roll down his window, close his eyes, and mourn the appalling loss. The moose’s slender legs, which carried him swift and silent through forests of trembling aspen, white birch, maple, and red osier dogwood; the tear-shaped footprints laid down by his scent-glanded hooves; the possibility of swimming in crystal-clear lakes – all are gone. The moose’s carcass will be scavenged by eagles, ravens, a fox, a marten, a fisher, and a bear.
And, like Shoulders and his football, this mighty creature of the dense northern forests and quaking bogs will never again do what he does best. Which is to stand on a morning in late September, a proud and kingly two meters tall, his massive rack of antlers – green with plant juices, red with blood oozing from the bone’s pores – glowing an eerie orange in the dawn’s frosty light. Shattering the silence with his great gerrumph of a mating call.” – from “Moose” in Ordinary Miracles by Diana Aspin, page 113
“David and Chrissie told Paige endlessly about the organization for families of alcoholics to which they belonged. They’d learned about the ‘three Cs': you didn’t cause it, you can’t Control it, and you can’t Cure it. They had learned not to make it easy for the addict by lying for her, or making up excuses. Or denying there was a problem.
Like Paige was doing right now.” – Discussion between David, Chrissie and Paige from Ordinary Miracles in Ordinary Miracles by Diana Aspin, page 137
“Paige gets to thinking about miracles: divine intervention. Although she knows this is not a true miracle, this bosom friend felling between her and Krista, among all of them, really – not a miracle as in one loaf feeding five thousand, or getting pregnant without a guy – it is something edging in that direction. It has the same surprise that a true miracle would have, the same breathless feel to it, the same sense that you are experiencing something out of the ordinary. Like the mud on the wall of the convenience store, you can see into it whatever you want, call it whatever you like. So Paige will do that – she will call it a miracle, an everyday, ordinary miracle.” – Paige from Ordinary Miracles in Ordinary Miracles by Diana Aspin, page 139
Ordinary Miracles by Diana Aspin is published by Red Deer Press, (2003).