Before “Stones”, I’ve only known of Findley through my English teacher’s introduction to “Headhunter”, a huge book that I don’t think I’d have the attention span for at this time of the year. So I thought the collection of short stories, “Stones”, would be the perfect way to get a glimpse of Findley’s work without going through an epic novel.
Findley’s stories are filled with emotions and sympathy, overwhelming with such passionate love, hate, desire, sorrow, regret and pain. He explores relationships between husband and wife, between brothers, who make mistakes and hurt each other, who seem lost in their own life. In the end, the internal struggle within each character is what prevents them from reaching out to their loved ones. They all needed to overcome the fear and weakness to move on; but time runs out as the people they love pass away, and they are left even more lost and drowned in regret.
But Findley does all this with a voice so mature, calm and sympathetic that the stories become a beg for understanding from readers, rather than a blaming game. The pain depicted through each glass of beer or wine drunk, each forget-me-nots plucked, each letter sent transcends into a pain we can relate to. Suddenly Bragg, or Bud, Everett become part of ourselves: some sadness and regret that we’ve all gone through once or twice in our lives. I stopped considering myself as a third person reading about their mistakes, and instead join their souls in search of answers to the chaos and confusions in their lives.
I wouldn’t have let Minna go if I were Bragg; but perhaps it was better to have let her go. Her departure left questions unanswered, and that could be the most painful part of losing her. Both of them would never know “what do people give each other after thirteen years”, or how their child would have grown up having both parents, or even how many more people from Queen Street she could have helped and rescued. The impossibility to imagine these outcomes hurts more than anything because Bragg would have to spend the rest of his life wondering. The theme of letting go and forgiving others as well as oneself is described from the perspective of a character whose past holds many mistakes. And readers are left with a decision to either sympathize with him, or call him an idiot. But after all, he is not an idiot, for he has realized forgiveness may not be the solution: “Bragg well knew he need not be “forgiven”, he knew that “forgiveness” in the given view could only be construed as a kind of arrogance.” Can one ever seek full forgiveness?
And haunting dreams can make it even more difficult to find mercy. In “Dreams”, elements of gore, mystery and horror act together to create a story of self-destruction and inability to let go. Perhaps the only force preventing forgiveness is the force from within the guilt. Surrounded by mental patients and their horrific life stories, Everett and Mimi struggle to sleep at night, a symbol for the internal struggle they go through everyday. Their passion of curing their patients draw them into a terrifying world of psychotic chaos. The story revolves around blood and death, the craziness and insanity, the reality and dream. The fusion between being awake and dreaming conveys a haunting question: can you dream another person’s nightmare? The concept of dreaming reality and living a dream is not new (think about Avatar, Vanilla Sky, Alan Wake etc.), but have you ever thought of the idea of dreaming another person’s life? “We dreamed him, that’s all. And then we let him go.” Everett’s dreams, drenched in murderous blood, becomes the reality to Brian Bassett; this suggests a metaphor of a man suffering from another man’s dream. Everett realizes that his effort to save a man’s life might be the reason for his pain. The solution becomes apparent, although ridiculously sorrowful: Everett must stop dreaming; he must stop sleeping. The guilt increases with the vicious cycle that the character despondently traps himself in.
The same idea of a solution-less guilt and regret appears in “Real life writes real bad” and “The Name’s the Same”. With a calmer tone, Findley describes with all his sincerity and sympathy family relationships falling apart. The alcohol, ignorance and desperation makes it inevitable for people to fall apart from each other, through divorce, break-ups or simply death. Written with stunningly simple language, the stories ring an alarming message: how much time do we get to fix our problems before it’s too late?