After the accidental death of a high school-aged friend, the Lansing family has split along fault lines previously hidden under a patina of suburban banality. Every family's got secrets, but for the Lansings those secrets end up propelling them away from the border town of Lloydminster to foreign shores, prison, and beyond.
Told via thirty-three flash fiction narratives, fractured like the psyches of its characters, "Border Markers" is a collection with keen edges and tough language. It's a slice of prairie noir that straddles the line between magic and gritty realism. Recalling Tania Hershman's "The White Road and Other Stories," as well as Robert Oren Butler's "Severance," Jenny Ferguson's debut is an essential collection of commonplace tragedies and the ghosts of failures past.
Jenny Ferguson is Métis, an activist, a feminist, an auntie, and an accomplice with a PhD. She believes writing and teaching are political acts. BORDER MARKERS, her collection of linked flash fiction narratives, is available from NeWest Press. She lives in Haudenosaunee Territory, where she teaches at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
A well-written, quick read. Although it is fictional, this book was particularly nostalgic as it is set in my hometown. The author does a good job of capturing the "darker side" of prairie life, and living in an oilfield town. The only downside for me was that I wanted to read more! The book left me wanting to learn more about the characters and how their stories end.
Border Markers traces the descent of the Lansing family in the wake of a tragedy with perfect economy and precision. Details are everything in Flash fiction, and Ferguson gets all the details right—from the son in prison waiting impatiently for the reading cart full of cast-off books from the Edmonton public library, to the pregnant girl working the drive through window of Tim Hortons. Beautifully rendered characters, and an immersive read. I couldn't put it down.
I devoured Border Markers in one delicious sitting. A haunting story told through multiple points of view in flash-fiction chapters, this one reveals its mysteries to the reader bit by bit. I wasn't ready for it to end!
I just finished reading Every Living Thing by Cynthia Rylant to my fourth grade class. As I read it, I occasionally thought of Dear Life by Alice Munro. Both collections of stories are heart-renderingly bleak. It’s not that I don’t read for reality, but if it reminds me of small towns and “suburban banality”, I often run for cover. Life has not turned me into a shiny, happy people and I’m not interested in only reading about them, but I don’t want my reading to fill me with despair either.
Both of those collections, however, have scads of admirers. They are well-written and literary. Border Markers by Jenny Ferguson is like them. It has their strengths and weaknesses. “Suburban banality” is even a phrase used on its back cover.
Unlike the stories in Every Living Thing and Dear Life, the short stories in Border Markers, taken as a whole, constitute a novel. Unlike many novels though, one or two characters are not showcased in depth, which is something I missed. You’ll meet lots of people here. They crisscross paths or are members of the same family. I think it takes place in Edmonton, Canada, which I just read is Canada’s fifth-largest municipality. That surprised me because the setting seemed more rural than that. Then again, a city named Saskatoon is also mentioned, though that too is larger than I thought from the descriptions here. The stories or chapters are short. Reading them was like peering inside a box. Each time, I liked what I saw. Once I was done, I sat among all those opened boxes and needed a drink, but I did not pour it.
A stirring and intimate look into different lives connected by a common tragedy, BORDER MARKERS captures the weighty emotions of grief, despair, longing, and hope with beautiful prose and a unique flash fiction format. Jenny does an amazing job of dropping us into the middle of the characters' lives and guiding us though the fissures of a broken world and the people struggling to piece it back together.
A haunting read that plays with form and character. Each section can be considered as a piece of flash fiction on its own, yet the whole paints a haunting picture of a small town full of quirks and grieving. Characters' near misses and internal battles are brought to light in details as mundane as birthday cake and exotic as the dying breaths of a neighbor in a foreign country.
Border Markers is an usually constructed collection of connected flash fiction that makes for a novel by the final page. I loved how the characters kept poking up in different pieces, interrelating (literally related in many cases), and somehow these lives intersected in unexpected and cool ways. I appreciated being able to read a few pieces/chapters and finding myself back with the parents of a character I read about, drawing connections to that character. It was clever and kept me engaged.
As for the stories, it is the characters that drive the momentum in places where struggle is an everyday thing; yet, the insight Ferguson has in her characters' minds, their inner-fears and desires is powerful. Each is real, on the fringe of society, and in some instances, about to fall off life's edge.
Of note, "Anniversaries" took my breath away in its emotional complexity. A teen ODs and dies, his friend is implicated, and the woman who witnesses it all, forever changed, spends time considering the merits of baking her son a zucchini-carrot cake. These stories are memorable, appearing simple in their telling, but so deep in meaning. It's a book I'll reread and share.
Deftly-written novel in short stories. Subtle and masterfully crafted. You cannot remove a sentence from this book without damaging the story. Every sentence is important and yet what is left out is a lot more important. You feel the underlying simmering tension between apparently mundane matters and daily interaction. It is as much about life in prairies as it is about human connections and their lack of.
A pleasant break from "mainstream" novels, Border Makers will engage your imagination and demand that you'd be an active reader, not a passive consumer of already thought-out ideas. You feel you are playing a role in shaping the story, putting the pieces of the puzzle together which makes the reading very rewarding.
A slim volume of flash fictions pieces that, woven together, present a larger story. Ferguson uses this format well. The title has layers of meaning, as characters move between geographic locations and also feel for the boundaries within a variety of relationships. We see vignettes showing how each life is self-contained and yet not. How the actions of one person has a ripple effect into the lives of surrounding them. There isn't really one central character, but many of the piece explore reactions to the death of a young man, so he might come closest to filling that role.
My only nitpick is with one passage that shows a lack of understanding of certain aspects of public libraries. That one is personal to me.
Enjoyable and immersive read. Jenny Ferguson does a beautiful job giving us the small details that illuminate the characters' mood, situation and place in a small border town in Canada. I especially enjoyed the flash fiction told from the Lansing children's POV - Poppy and Chuck, whose lives fell apart after the death of a high school friend. Poppy's story is especially poignant as she navigates the Mexican countryside haunted by her dead boyfriends' ghost. I wasn't ready for these stories to end.
I began reading Border Markers and it flows so beautifully that I didn't want to put it down. The multiple narrators each tell their intimate stories in short flash fiction chapters showing how they are affected by guilt, pain, loss, grief, not belonging, but eventually hopefulness. Soon the reader discovers the interconnectedness of these characters. The quality of Jenny Ferguson's writing made me want to continue reading, not to figure out a plot, but to learn how all the characters are connected by a tragedy.