Seldom has a story collection been as aptly named as Deborah Willis’s debut, Vanishing. Originally published last year in the author’s native Canada, the anthology features 14 tales, each hinging on a disappearance of some sort (sometimes more than one). Spouses grow cold; siblings grow apart; children grow up; parents grow old. Narrative point of view varies from story to story; Willis is equally adept in the first, second and third persons. But the collection remains consistent, both in quality and in theme, and is rife with infidelities and age-inappropriate liaisons, idiosyncratic personalities and quiet betrayals.
With the first sentence of the title piece, which also begins the book, Willis neatly introduces her brand of fatalism: ‘Weeks pass and the police give up their investigations’ Several vignettes open in a similar, deceptively simple way, simultaneously commencing the action and hinting at the outcome. Key plot points may be telegraphed, but Willis manages her revelations so deftly that they give her stories inevitability, rather than predictability.
The piece that at first appears to turn predestination on its head, ‘Caught’, unfolds in a series of maybes, seeming to allow the main character – a married university professor smitten with a younger student – an escape at every turn. The delicious ambiguity of the final paragraph suggests that, try though we might to outrun fate, it will catch up with us, one way or another. Carolyn Juris