|Poetic and timely, the sophomore short story collection We All Need to Eat by Lambda Literary award winning Vancouver writer Alex Leslie explores identity, family, body and love.
Soma, a young queer Jewish woman in Vancouver, B.C., is struggling. In these non-chronological stories that chart different bruising moments of her life, Soma breaks up with her girlfriend, watches her brother struggle to grow up, suffers abuse from her mother, loses a friend to suicide, and reckons with her Holocaust survivor grandmother’s death. Throughout, she relies heavily on the self-destructive obsessiveness of social media, working out, and millennial life. Leslie’s prose sings with imagery in quiet moments, such as when Soma’s blood vessels begin to burst from heavy weightlifting, leaving “[h]er body a map of ruined currents.” Leslie’s sometimes obvious observations about human behavior (“‘Why do people feel entitled to rip each other’s lives to shreds with their bare fucking hands?’ Josiah says to no one.
My father’s slow sigh, sensible as wind: ‘They get upset.’”) nonetheless ring true. Soma’s queer identity is important but, refreshingly, is not over-written or heavy handed. The core of this collection is the characters around whom it orbits, characters that pulse with life despite the ways in which life wears them down.
On a personal note, like Soma, I had a very close relationship with my grandmother, who died before she knew I was queer. (Even I didn’t know; I was twelve). But the way in which Soma tries to understand her dead grandmother, to draw parallels and differences between their lives, the way she searches herself for her grandmother, is so well-written. It resonates so deeply with me. I’m sure anyone who has lost a loved one will see themselves in the way Soma realizes there’s so much she doesn’t know, so many questions that will never be answered, and yet so much more she’s aware of after the fact of the death that is very meaningful.
Any book that places a queer person at the center of a universal narrative is already interesting to me, but this book brings so much more. Soma is sometimes frustrating in that she fails in the mundane ways we all fail ourselves, but ultimately is a character one empathizes deeply with.
Absorbing and melancholy, Leslie delivers a stellar collection of interwoven stories.
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