Toronto author Rebecca Rosenblum writes her characters too big for her stories. A few pages into her chapbook Road Trips, I sensed she knows her characters, not as friends — they’re too likeable for that — and not in the clichéd sense that all writers live with their characters, but that she’d written about them before.
She has. Many characters in the pair of stories that make up Road Trips are overflows from her 2008 collection, Once. Cal and Alan, two PhD students who make a break for their Saskatchewan hometown in a rental car in “From an Eastern University,” appeared in Once as less confident undergrads. In the space between, and in roughly real-time, they lived.
Take Cal. In Once, he broke up with Mira, a selfish anthropology student. In Road Trips, Cal still has no girlfriend and worries he’s addicted to impossible relationships. He and Alan use the long prairie drive to examine how their actions, or inaction, formed their characters. Our memory of Cal’s Mira episode complicates the judgment he now makes about his flaws.
At its best, Road Trips refines the characters sketched in Once. Rosenblum rarely repeats herself from story to story, however, and that can make for sparse or nonexistent physical descriptions of her recurrent characters. Visually, new characters are the most interesting. Sasha — Cal’s impossible lesbian love interest — has an incredibly vivid navel. The same goes for the inside of her armpits and her breasts, arms up and arms down. But we don’t know whether Cal’s fat, skinny, ugly or handsome. For that, we have to go back to Once.
Maybe Rosenblum just doesn’t care about what Cal looks like anymore. Maybe one day she’ll crawl into Sasha’s brain as well and tell us how she feels about Cal. Within the scope of Rosenblum’s project though, all details can lead to characters, and that makes every detail vital. (Ashleigh Gaul)
Chapbook, Rebecca Rosenblum, Frog Hollow Press, froghollowpress.com, $30 regular edition, $50 deluxe edition