South of Elfrida
by Holley Rubinsky

Brindle & Glass, 2013. ISBN 978-1-927-36605-9.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 05/01/2013

Fiction: Mainstream

There's a youthful exuberance about Holley Rubinsky's stories in South of Elfrida. Born in 1943, Rubinsky proves in this collection that stories can be fresh and original no matter what a writer's age.

While Rubinsky mentions Canadian locales such as the Okanagan and Toronto, the people of South of Elfrida are based primarily in and around Tucson, Arizona. There's a delightful quirkiness about these ordinary people on the move, having suffered mishaps or loss of some kind, and their connection to the creatures around them. Often it's birds and sometimes cats named Delphinium and Darling.

Crystal, in "Among the Emus," sells Avon and helps her boyfriend—"a man raked thin from hard living and hard work"—sell emu oil at a fair.

In "South of Elfrida," a group is on a birdwatching field trip. Jean "hasn't told her fellow birders about her own cat, Buster Furman, back in the camper parked behind the motel, basking in the breeze from the Fantastic two-way fan."

In "Stronghold," a story told in the first person, a woman, following gall bladder surgery and a hospital superbug, recovers and takes to the road with a "purebred teacup poodle" called Baby. In a borrowed Roadtrek, the woman drives from Boulder to see her friend Myrna in the Dragoon Mountains.

Myrna makes Bloody Marys for breakfast and identifies the Redtail hawk as the two women take a walk. Her advice to the narrator is both humorous and wise.

"The Compact" also offers chuckles because Rubinsky is so cannily accurate in her portrayal of Sally and Al, who is against the "left-wingers." The couple live most of the year in their Monaco La Palma where we see Sally gauge her remarks by the expression on her husband's face. When she and Al see two women, not sisters, arrive in a Class C Adventurer, they agree: "people like that" shouldn't be allowed into an RV campground.

Of course even bigots and homophobes have their sad stories and, in Sally's case, maybe a future escape route. For now she rebels by spitting into the meatloaf fixings as she prepares the dish her husband has his heart set on.

When listening to a radio interview, I learned that Rubinsky spent a number of years pulling a travel trailer on the road herself. Some of her characters' experiences are based on her own, and the stories are often "rooted in her emotional life."

Rubinsky says stories, as opposed to tales, surprise the reader. That's definitely the case here. As for the desert setting, Rubinsky spent time in Arizona where the lack of humidity helped her arthritis.

The author notes also that you could perish in the desert if you run out of gas or water, which "pushes you against edges." That landscape is particularly apt for the folks of South of Elfrida.

Holly Rubinsky is the author of three other short story collections. She lives in Kaslo, a village in the mountains of British Columbia. Visit her website.

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