Arts & Entertainment, Books

The multifaceted stories of ‘Personal Attention Roleplay’

Montreal-based writer and fiction editor Helen Chau Bradley is set to release their debut story collection Personal Attention Roleplay on Nov. 23 under Metonymy Press. The McGill Tribune reviews the stories ahead of this upcoming release.

“Only The Lonely,” Ian Clements

“Only The Lonely” follows the relationships of an unemployed Meals on Wheels volunteer living in Montreal. The story begins with the unnamed protagonist’s romantic relationship with V, a polarizing figure in their community. The protagonist also develops a friendship with Joe, a Meals on Wheels client, for whom they sing and play songs on the guitar for. The story skillfully explores themes of queer loneliness and power dynamics within different relationships. The story’s characterization of emotional investment and intimacy is stripped down and raw, yet descriptive and wryly humourous.

“The End of Gods and Heroes,” Suzanna Graham

“The End of Gods and Heroes” is a wholesome story that discusses the complexities of friendship and growing up. Childhood friends Tommy and Shirin bond over a fantastical game of gods and heroes, where they imagine themselves as characters in their favourite Greek myths. Although their childhood innocence protects them, the girls use these morals as a guide while they question family identity, loyalty, and betrayal. In the end, they must decide what it means to be a hero, and if they themselves are truly worthy of this title. 

“Personal Attention Roleplay,” Dana Prather

This titular story finds an unnamed 20-something-year-old “listicle” writer navigating a situationship with her roommate Jasmine. Written from a second-person perspective, the reader is enveloped in every sensation the protagonist experiences, from intense pain caused by Jasmine’s increasingly distant behaviour to the serenity felt when watching ASMR videos. As her connection with Jasmine crumbles, she becomes entranced by YukiASMR, a YouTuber espousing the virtues of a minimalist life. Seamlessly blending themes of queer identity and obsession, “Personal Attention Roleplay” will leave you satisfied, but deeply unsettled. 

“Sheila” Ella Gomes

“Sheila” follows strong-willed May and her energetic daughter Mimi as they pass a harsh winter day in a cozy record store in Toronto. While tracing the lifetime of a Rachmaninoff record from purchase to destruction, readers learn of May’s rocky history with Mrs. Timoransky, an outwardly chilly piano teacher, and Sheila, a haunting figure from her past. With references to the uncontrollable “animal instinct” and transitions into adulthood, “Sheila” reads like an ode to unexpected change and the natural cycles of adaptation that guide our lives.

“The Queue,” Sylvie Bourque

Drawing inspiration from Vladimir Sorokin’s novel “The Queue,” which tells the story of people waiting in line solely through their dialogue, Bradley modernizes the tale to fit the 21st century. Weaving in relevant discussions and dialogue, the queue represents shared feelings of community, and isolation, that many experienced over the pandemic. While some try to find humour in discussing COVID-19, Bradley explores deep and divisive topics such as public health measures, politics, and police brutality—themes that reveal how the pandemic infiltrates the most fundamental aspects of peoples’ livelihoods. Bradley’s story reveals how the pandemic has uncovered a universal desire for reconnection.

“Surface Dive,” Avryl Bender

In “Surface Dive,” Bradley tells the story of an experienced swimmer finally returning to her local pool after a harrowing experience in the waters by her family cottage. Bradley uses beautifully descriptive words, flowing seamlessly back and forth between the main character’s past and present experiences. Weaving alliteration into a story of ambiguity and suspense, Bradley’s writing embodies the smooth waters of the lake this intriguing mystery takes place in.

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