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Seeking Shade by Frances Boyle  

In Frances Boyle’s short story collection Seeking Shade, nuanced characters endure trauma, evolution and epiphany as they face challenges, make decisions, and suffer the inevitable consequences.

In Seeking Shade, ordinary situations are imbued with extraordinary emotion as women and men explore identity and independence, navigate complicated relationships and confront the fallibility of mind and body.

A reckless young woman dances through the Second World War—and through the lives of many a man in uniform. A graduate student considers a popular film and revisits a past tragedy as she watches flames devour her apartment building. A hardworking man struggles to come to grips with his own helplessness at three stages of enforced quietude. A wife and mother questions her health—and her sanity—when she is plagued by phantom pains and visions of ghostly twins.

Through these and other stories, Frances Boyle leaves readers with a retinal impression, ‘a shadow left by a flash’, reminding us that the ways we communicate—through art, through literature, through dance, through performances theatrical and otherwise—shape our lives and the stories that we tell.


2020—Danuta Gleed Literary Award,


2021—ReLit Awards, Short Fiction,


2021—The Miramichi Reader Very Best! Book Awards (Short Fiction),

Review text

Seeking Shade is a wonderful short story collection that speaks to the universality of feelings and circumstances.

Relationships with others and oneself are the center of Frances Boyle’s meditative short story collection Seeking Shade.

These fourteen stories examine the motivations and anxieties of their distinctive characters. Set in various time periods and provinces of Canada, each is a window into a specific world. Under obvious themes of coming-of-age and understanding the self through connections with others are themes of technological reach, the meaning of parenthood and guardianship, and love.

The collection centers women, though two of its stories are led by men. In "Rest Cure," a man wonders why he was institutionalized despite not exhibiting symptoms of consumption. The feeling of separation follows him even after he reenters society. It is a quiet story. In "Running Through Green," the forest seems to consume a university student. There is a mysterious and sinister undercurrent in his dreams of being chased; when he’s awake, he pursues a classmate.

Many stories have that same undercurrent, though none as unresolved. "A Beach on Corfu" takes its cues from a teenager’s obsession with the Romantic writers Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley; the lead is impressionable, though, and romanticizes self-harm and inappropriate relationships. In the dystopian-edged "EverPoppy," a heartbreaking story of genetic manipulation, the sinister undercurrent is made the star, as an older woman who’s skilled at helping young children explore and experience new things is troubled when her charge is unable to move into the next stage of development.

In "Seeking Shade," a wife and mother seeks to escape an abusive marriage with her two young children. The narrative splits between the mother and her young eldest child. Her fear and paranoia are palpable and, when juxtaposed against her child’s innocence and curiosity, result in a sense of urgency. Beyond the forms of speech between the adult and child, the typography is differentiated: the mother’s words are set in standard text, while the child’s are italicized, so that each character’s experiences are visibly definite and paralleled.

Throughout the collection, the prose is flowing and unhurried. Precise language combines with nuances in the characterizations and relationships. And while historical, contemporary, and dystopian stories sit side by side, they are thematically connected.

A wonderful short story collection that speaks to the universality of feelings and circumstances, Seeking Shade is contemplative about exploring the shifts within people’s inner worlds.

—Dontaná McPherson-Joseph, Foreword Reviews

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‘In Seeking Shade, Frances Boyle writes movingly and elegantly about the many ways things can go wrong in people’s lives. These are engaging and dramatically persuasive stories of marriages breaking down and relationships gone stale, of people evolving and growing apart, harbouring secrets, engaging in casual betrayals, and facing impossible decisions. Seeking Shade is an unsentimental yet humane collection of short fiction, written with consummate skill and restraint.’

—Danuta Gleed Literary Award jury citation

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‘Boyle’s approach is keenly intelligent. The writing is sophisticated, the language often crystalline and always precise. The characters are sympathetic without hijacking the narrative; one has the impression that well-conceived ideas underpin these stories. I felt, after finishing the volume, that many of the stories found here deserved a second reading.

A final note: both the cover design and overall production of this book are exceptional. It was a great pleasure to handle it and to turn its pages. Simply put, Seeking Shade is a very fine collection.’

—Valerie Mills-Milde, The Miramichi Reader

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‘I was drawn back to Seeking Shade’s detailed prose and absorbing images, again and again, compelled to find out what was coming next. Frances Boyle displays her versatility by including historical, contemporary, and speculative fiction as well as a variety of narrative structures. But one thing remains constant: her ability to transform the ordinary lives of her characters into something special for the reader. Whether her characters are filing clerks, students, married couples, or child-minders; whether they’re caught up in politics, romance, illness, or the pain of unrequited love, Boyle makes us care.’

—The Miramichi Reader’s ‘The Very Best!’ Book Awards judge’s citation

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‘This is a collection of distances—between people, between town and city, between our sense of what the world is and what it turns out to be. Here characters are struggling, often in the dark, to evolve, to remember, and to act well.... Boyle writes carefully and with wisdom about ordinary people in ordinary situations—a man with bad lungs in a sanatorium, a high school girl with a crush on an older man cutting herself, a young woman on the cusp of university discovering her own racism, a family of friends finding out who they are in a one-room cabin on a remote lake.... As with Boccaccio’s Decameron, this book now can be read as a collection of stories told one per night during a plague while waiting for dawn.’

—Michael Kenyon, The Malahat Review

Excerpt from book

From "Adjustment"

The bulk of Chantal’s apartment building, black against dark sky, fringes itself with orange. Her bare feet, cold in rubber boots. That’s her home there, with flames shooting out of the roof, though just on the one side. And, so far, only on the third floor, the apartment above hers. A play of light, almost pretty, on the arc from the hoses. It smells. A smutty clinging smell, and a smoky residue that’s scratched up her throat, left her eyes red and watery. She didn’t notice someone put a blanket round her, but here it is, heavy over her shoulders, like in a screenshot familiar from an old movie, or many movies.

And Milou. Her dog hasn’t a clue what’s going on, struggles, pushing against her collarbone with two paws. Another paw pushes into her stomach She’d grabbed him but not his leash—well, that’s not too surprising. So, she’s holding him and he’s getting heavy in her arms.

The sound of fire hoses over gravel is like snakes slithering. She can’t think why snakes would come to mind. But the water—her ceiling must be getting soaked, maybe it will collapse. Like a soggy pancake.

The lyric pull of fire, its appetite, draws an after-midnight crowd of gawkers, slack-jawed and silent, to the sidewalk. Milou wants down, poor thing can’t understand why they’re outside amidst circling red lights, the sound of water, its muscular coiling. Her mind is jittering, like the dog in her arms. What’s next? Chantal juggles his furry body, the twenty pounds is a strain to hold. Her shoulders are knitted tight, the scratchy weave of the blanket a weight on them.

One movie in particular had many blanket-draped shoulders. A Canadian director, she can’t think of his name. She’d watched it when she was still in undergrad, in her film-studies class. That beguiling adjuster—will he come for her? His arm heavy around her, his grip tight. Smoke on her hair, her rumpled mismatched clothes somehow a turn-on for him, so he’d throw her on a bed in that motel, cover her mouth with his, fuck her until the shaking stopped.

No adjuster here now, just Ottawa Red Cross folks with coffee and sandwiches. Milou is struggling to throw himself from her arms, so she lowers him to the ground, stoops to loop a finger through his collar. View of her green-plaid pyjama cuffs stuffed into the boots. Ash drifting might have been snowflakes, hovering in yellow streetlamp glow before lighting on concrete.

She recognizes the other tenants by their bedraggled looks, blankets dragging on the ground, like hers. The guy from the upstairs apartment sits with the paramedics. He stumbled out of the building a few minutes ago, making it on his own steam with a firefighter holding one arm. Coughing, dopey and dazed-looking. But alive.

Chantal straightens, grabs at the blanket to stop its slipping, catches it to her throat with one hand. Someone has given her a cord to tie to Milou’s collar, and he dances and jitters now at her shins. She reaches for her phone to take a picture of the fire, but slides it back into her pyjama pocket.

Eyes want to sink closed. So tired. Flames leave a reverse negative image on the inside of her eyelids. Slow burn of beams. Tumble of collapse, sparks flying. Sirens scream and lights turn, like the night Deanna and Greg died.

[Continued in Seeking Shade...]


Credit: John W. MacDonald

Frances Boyle has practised corporate law, volunteered for a number of feminist, arts and international development organizations, and was a long-time member of the editorial team at Arc Poetry Magazine. She currently serves as secretary of the League of Canadian Poets. She is the author of a novella (Tower, Fish Gotta Swim Editions, 2018), three books of poetry, (This White Nest, Quattro Books, 2019; Light-carved Passages, BuschekBooks, 2014; Openwork and Limestone, Frontenac House, 2022), a short story collection (Seeking Shade, Porcupine’s Quill, 2020), and several chapbooks. She lives in Ottawa with her partner and a large standard poodle who believes he is a lap dog.

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 / Literary

ISBN-13: 9780889844353

Publication Date: 2020-08-05

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 176

Price: $18.95