We are very excited that our first review of good short writing is of two-time antilanger Erin Emily Ann Vance’s debut novel(la), Advice for Taxidermists & Amateur Beekeepers.
In this story surrounding the mysterious death of Margot Morris, her two daughters, and unborn baby, Vance’s writing explores the roles, rituals, and relationships of the mother figure. Advice calls typical, nuclear family notions of motherhood into question through the Morrises. Margot’s daughters each have a different, non-parental father. Her sister, Sylvia’s “blissful mother-daughter moment[s]” are “strange and unfamiliar” to her own daughter. Margot’s other sister Agatha mothers bees when she cannot carry children to term. And finally Tasia, the sister-in-law, raises her child in a mobile home disguised as part of the landscape and doubling as her husband’s taxidermy workshop. Whether the women are mothering their children, one another, or their careers, each act in Vance’s text is a task as delicate as beekeeping and as heartfelt as grief.
The Morrises live in an old manor house they managed to afford because it had once been the site of vampiric rituals conducted for moths. The book is, at its heart, a classical gothic about a house in decay and a family tree at risk of deterioration as Margot’s branch—mother, daughter, sister, nieces—burns in a fire under suspicious circumstances. The uncertainty surrounding the deaths serves as centerpiece, amplified by small-town superstition and the mythos that encircles the Morrises.
The novel proper opens with Margot’s obituary—a framework for the entire narrative. Each of the Morrises moves through grief, first in a focused intensity leading up to the funeral and then in a natural and gradually elastic coming to terms. The novel loosens our sense of time by only showing scenes that tie into this undulating relationship to loss. The book’s structure and narrative shifts perspectives, nurtures paranoia around seemingly supernatural mysteries, and weaves its tale around death.
Advice mothers these gothic obituaries and raises them in the unexpectedly haunting setting of small-town southern Alberta.
Advice for Taxidermists & Amateur Beekeepers is available from Stonehouse Publishing on November 1st!
You can pre-order your copy from Chapters/Indigo/Coles.
And if you are in the Calgary area, you can attend the launch party!