Mary Berg is the Ontario home cook who was a winner of TV’s MasterChef Canada and is currently host of Mary’s Kitchen Crush. Berg is also the author of her debut cookbook, 2019’s Kitchen Party.
Berg is an avid reader and loves short stories: “I’ve always found short stories to be such an interesting way to gather information and learn about whatever the author’s trying to tell us.”
She spoke with Shelagh Rogers about three of her favourite short story collections by Canadian women authors: Shut Up You’re Pretty by Tea Mutonji, Guest Book: Ghost Stories by Leanne Shapton and Even that Wildest Hope by Seyward Goodhand.
“The short stories here definitely read more like a novel, especially in comparison to a lot of the other short story collections I read, which are usually not linked by a protagonist or a narrator.
“You kind of jump forward in time from the protagonist Loli. She’s this very young girl, a new immigrant to Scarborough. You’re just watching this person get dropped into the middle of cold Canadian winter, figuring out their life and trying to find a space for them.
The short stories here definitely read more like a novel, especially in comparison to a lot of the other short story collections I read, which are usually not linked by a protagonist or a narrator.
“The writing of that first story of that very young protagonist was really fascinating to me because it sounded young. It didn’t sound like an adult woman was writing it. But it also still kept the distance that is kept throughout the short story collection.
But it’s almost like you and the narrator Loli are standing on one side of a fogged piece of glass. You’re looking at her life. And it’s very pragmatically told. Horrible things are happening and beautiful things happen but it’s all told very pragmatically and very matter of fact and very these are the things that happened.
Which to me makes me love the character more because it makes me dig in and figure out why they’re being like that and why they present their life in such a way.
The Next Chapter17:00Téa Mutonji on Shut Up You’re Pretty
“I was trying to read it at nighttime and I had to pull the covers up and tuck my legs up — because it’s eerie and spooky. The haunted nature of it is so much more beautiful than any scary movie or anything I’ve ever read before. It was really something.
The first story in the collection showcases really someone just watching people walk through street lights and the street lights, in my mind, kind of act similar to how a short story acts, where it’s just this one brief window of light that you get to see this person and then they’re gone, but you remember them.
I was trying to read it at nighttime and I had to pull the covers up and tuck my legs up — because it’s eerie and spooky.
“So some of the ghosts in question are memories; some of them are hauntings where something clearly awful happened in a place. And it’s about the actual home itself and how the home feels after the fact.
“Some are straight up ghost stories, where there is like a benevolent or evil ghost who is helping somebody do something. But the mixture between them is really great.”
Writers and Company57:13Leanne Shapton on what objects tell us about the lives of others
“This collection takes on almost a Grimm fairy tale-like approach to the short story. I also found it very, very bold because the author, Seyward Goodhand, is relatively young.
“It’s definitely not for kids: it’s very grotesque and transgressive — and there’s a lot of darkness and fear and gods and things like that are otherworldly.
It’s definitely not for kids: it’s very grotesque and transgressive — and there’s a lot of darkness and fear and gods and things like that are otherworldly.
“But it is so rooted; even in all the fantastical storytelling and all the fantastical settings and the people and everything — it’s so rooted in normal human desires and normal human tropes and feelings.”
Mary Berg’s comments have been edited for length and clarity.