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High-Water Mark by Nicole Dixon  

Ten varied stories – many published in Canada’s best literary journals – of contemporary women learning what they want from sex, love and partnership make up the debut collection from Bronwen Wallace Award–winner Nicole Dixon.


High-Water Mark is Bronwen Wallace Award–winner Nicole Dixon’s smart and sexy debut. These ten tightly written stories, touched with humour, focus on characters pursuing romantic and professional desires, and encountering and recovering from betrayal and heartbreak. A young woman and her partner discover that both going back to the land and raising a newborn are more difficult – and fraught with more unexpected dangers – than life in the city. A woman becomes sexually obsessed with a female friend after a six-year relationship ends. The east/west Toronto divide is just one conflict that arises among the three members of an all-female band. As the women in High-Water Mark run away and return, try love and sex, move from city to country, they are always challenged and changed. Dixon’s perceptive, witty, no-nonsense collection authentically captures the voices of women in a way rarely found in mainstream fiction.

Dixon’s prize-winning stories are influenced by Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore. They’ve been nominated for the Journey Prize, short-listed for a CBC Literary award and published in Grain, The Fiddlehead and The New Quarterly.


2013—ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year,


2012—ForeWord Firsts Debut Fiction Award,


2013—Margaret & John Savage First Book Award,


2013—CBC Bookie Awards,

Table of contents

High-Water Mark

Sick Days


Mona Says Fire Fire Fire

Some Just Ski and Shoot

Happy Meat

What Zoë Knows

Diving for Pearls

An Unkindness of Ravens

You Wouldn’t Recognize Me

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‘[They] have humour and sadness.’

—Dan McCaffery, Sarnia Observer

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‘The women in Dixon’s stories speak in frank and unapologetic ways about conflicts in their lives.... In High-Water Mark, Dixon’s women continuously question the options they are presented with, in work, relationships, sex.’

—Jaime Forsythe, Quill & Quire

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High-Water Mark is a collection of 10 stories.... They depict women and talk about relationships, sometimes with humour, sometimes with pathos.’

—Cathy Dobson, Sarnia Observer

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‘[High-Water Mark is] a solid collection, even though the stories have been written over many years and a few have been published elsewhere.... They fit together well, and their diversity makes for an interesting read.’

—Kerry Clare, Pickle Me This

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‘Dixon is uninterested in the kind of lyrical historical romance that was, for some time, the default CanLit setting. Her stories are abrasive and direct, marrying a fierce intelligence with a febrile style that refuses to shy away from profanity or explicit sex. There is a toughness to these stories that testifies to a refreshing honesty, a refusal on Dixon’s part to paper over the more nettlesome aspects of her material, opting rather to face it head-on in all its painful messiness. High-Water Mark is kitchen-sink realism filtered through a storm-tossed East Coast sensibility. And it is chock full of allusiveness and implication.’

—Steven Beattie, National Post

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In her short story collection, High-Water Mark, East Coast writer Nicole Dixon reflects an understanding of the human condition — especially how ridiculous we can be when confronted with the crazy dramas of our lives.

—Jennifer Hunter, Toronto Star

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‘In this fine collection of stories, characters often stumble upon what they’re actually looking for amid the flotsam and jetsam left by the receding dreams and washed-up hopes of not only their own lives, but all those around them.

‘Winner of ForeWord’s quarterly contest for debut fiction authors, Nicole Dixon’s High-Water Mark takes on Alice Munro territory—not just in the geographical setting of Canada, but also in the thematic sense of secrets rattling around like something loose on a car. But with a little more kink. And more edge.’

—Trina Carter, ForeWord Reviews

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‘At her best, Dixon’s razor-sharp sentences and insights, and painfully human characters in tough situations create quick-paced and engaging stories you don’t want to put down.’

—Meghan Bell, Room

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The high-water marks in Dixon’s collection are in her portrayal of characters who realize their connections to a larger world outside their own selfishness; in the alchemical mixture that occurs when a character’s brashness is revealed as fear; or when grief and loss become second chances.

—Heather Jessup, The Fiddlehead

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‘This short story collection is a quick, sensuous read that will simultaneously stroke your hair and slap you in the face. Dixon’s female characters, much like her writing style, are stripped down, raw, and real. She writes with a refreshing feminist bent and has a knack for capturing the raunchy and intimate with an honesty and grit reminiscent of Lena Dunham’s Girls. I was left with a hot face on more than one occasion, yet her stories are also infused with moments of tenderness, grief, and conflict that are palpable. The kind of details that resonate weeks after the read. I can still smell and feel the tiny butter yellow toque that belonged to the dead infant from the collection’s title story. Strong settings—both rural and urban—are also one of Dixon’s trademarks. Ultimately High-Water Mark was a bit like reliving my twenties—noisy, intense, and colourful—minus the Kraft Dinner and the walk of shame.’

—Ali Bryan, author of Roost

Unpublished endorsement

‘This complex story is told by fully individuated characters who speak clearly in their own voices. The vivid sense of place arises from the events, the dialogue, and the careful selection and succinct treatment of telling details. The author’s command of her craft inspires the reader’s confidence: we are in good hands; we will be led to a new place, a new insight into the human condition.’

—Bronwen Wallace Award jury (Mark Anthony Jarman, Sabine Campbell and Laurel Boone) speaking of ‘High-Water Mark’

Unpublished endorsement

‘And I loved Nicole Dixon’s ‘‘High-Water Mark’’ for how the smart-ass narrator single-handedly saves the story from melodrama with the power of her voice. Cancer, dead dads and dead babies — and I laughed? That’s some feat.’

—Caroline Adderson, author of The Sky is Falling and Bad Imaginings


Nicole Dixon has lived in Toronto, Sarnia, Windsor, North Bay and Halifax. Her work has been nominated for the Journey Prize and a CBC Literary Award and appeared in The New Quarterly, Grain, The Fiddlehead and Canadian Notes and Queries. In 2005 she won the Writers’ Trust of Canada RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for short fiction. Currently electronic resources librarian at Cape Breton University, Nicole divides her time between New Waterford, Cape Breton, and Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia.

For more information please visit the Author’s website »

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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FICTION / Short Stories

FICTION / Contemporary Women

ISBN-13: 9780889843561

Publication Date: 2012-10-15

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 152

Price: $18.95