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The Museum of Possibilities by Barbara Sibbald  

Barbara Sibbald’s The Museum of Possibilities presents sixteen shadow-box narratives—short, concentrated scenes depicting complicated relationships, strong emotions and hard consequences.

In The Museum of Possibilities, the future is limited only by the imagination—and the choices that we make. This exhibit contains, among others:

  • a minor government functionary, forced by an apparent hoarder to face the consequences of his risk-averse life;
  • a driven scientist who learns—too late—the disturbing cost of her blind ambition;
  • the residents of the small town of Madawan, whose domestic purgatories include plotting death by dairy or pondering the merits of fresh produce in predicting adultery; and
  • a military brat named Wanda, who navigates the muddy waters of adolescence and learns about sacrifice, sexuality and the everyday difficulties of sharing life with another.

The quirky short stories in this collection focus on pivotal moments of intense longing—for love, for power, for fame, for freedom, for revenge, and perhaps most of all, for connection in an increasingly disaffected world.

Review quote

‘This is a book to be cherished, placed on a bedside table and to be read intermittently, but only one story at a time. Each tale, even the short ones, leaves you exhausted from the intensity. Recovery time is necessary before starting the next one.’

—Paul Gessell, Artsfile

Review quote

‘In spite of my usual preference for a more lengthy narrative, I found the stories in The Museum of Possibilities highly entertaining, being tightly constructed and inventive, and featuring unsparing observation of the human condition in its mundane failures, though these are recounted with a dark and witty relish.’

—Patricia Lightfoot, Montgolfiere Weekly

Excerpt from book

‘Tell me,’ he says. ‘But, please, may I sit down? My ankle—I broke it a few years ago....’

‘Of course, I should have offered.’ She gracefully removes a stack of boxes from one of the chairs, perches them on top of another pile—precariously, it seems to him, yet they stay put.

He sits. His legs are cramped, held in at an odd angle against the press of boxes and books, but his ankle is definitely more at ease. ‘Thank you,’ he says. ‘Now, tell me: What’s all this about?’

‘You’re the first who’s asked,’ she says. ‘I don’t like to show unless there’s interest. I believe that curiosity is life’s force.’

She turns and begins shifting boxes from another pile, finally unearthing the one she wants. Its glossy packaging promises a tool for effortlessly dicing rock-hard root vegetables and pungent onions. She places the box on top of a stack of large books beside him so it’s level with his head. Rather than opening the box from the top, she pulls at the sides: it falls open. His mouth falls open. He feels as though he’s entered another world.

He’s in a tree amidst branches, mottled leaves and roughly textured bark. And there, partly hidden, a nest, containing three robin’s eggs, the pure blue reflecting a perfect summer sky. A small human finger, a child’s, gently touches the edge of the nest. Beyond the nest, other trees tower; it’s a forest, yet more. An orchestrated forest. What an ideal forest might look like. A pair of squirrels is poised on a nearby branch; their chatter is almost audible. And he glimpses a deer lying in the grass below, asleep or at rest. Perhaps dead. It’s like a set in a play, he thinks. Only real. Yet not.

‘It’s beautiful,’ he says after a moment, aware of the woeful inadequacy of his words. He cannot say more, fears he may begin to cry, though he’s not sure why.

[Continued in The Museum of Possibilities....]

Unpublished endorsement

‘Shot through with sparks of sly humour and dancing nimbly on the fine line between real and surreal, this collection is an outstanding display of what the short story can do when it finds itself in the capable hands of a talented writer like Barbara Sibbald.’

—Diane Schoemperlen, author of Forms of Devotion and Red Plaid Shirt

Unpublished endorsement

‘The short stories in The Museum of Possibilities resemble a cabinet of curiosities, one of those small proto-museums first started in the Renaissance by wealthy collectors, containing all sorts of exotic ephemera. In this case, many of these engaging stories take place in the fictional town of Madawan, where it appears every relationship is under siege. A woman in a difficult marriage fears going blind; another woman is a hoarder but also a creator of worlds in miniature; a third employs a strange dream therapy to deal with the loss of an infant. In one quintessentially Canadian story, a woman becomes lost in a snowstorm while returning to her husband from an affair. The snow piles up like her guilt. These are wonderful stories in which the author is able to evoke in the reader all the fear, anger, and emotional pain of her characters. And what characters! In all cases, they are genuine, living, breathing players that come to life on the page.’

—Mark Frutkin, author of Fabrizio’s Return, winner of the Trillium Book Award, and Atmospheres Apollinaire, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award


authorPic

Credit: Sean Sisk

Barbara Sibbald is an author, editor and journalist. Her previously published works include The Book of Love and Regarding Wanda. A health journalist for over twenty years, she currently works as News and Humanities editor at the Canadian Medical Association Journal. She lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

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 / Literary

FICTION / Short Stories

ISBN-13: 9780889844001

Publication Date: 2017-03-15

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 184

Price: $19.95