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Learning to Live Indoors by Alison Acheson  

‘The short stories in Alison Acheson’s Learning to Live Indoors deal with family relationships. Acheson, who lives in British Columbia, has previously published two young adult novels, one of which was shortlisted for several awards. But although this collection is full of domestic detail, there is nothing cozy about the stories.’

Alison Acheson writes stories of domestic life, of marriages, children, the family dog, toothbrushes. In every one of her stories the reader recognizes home and is moved by the delicacy, the intensity, and the subtle rightness of the author’s observation and invention.

Acheson writes of her work: ‘I have come to realize that short stories come and go. They are shadows visiting your doorway. They don’t venture in. You must woo them, and quickly, lest they move on. They always will move on. And don’t worry them; don’t play too long. Don’t look at their underbellies until they’re complete and able to turn over on their own. Short stories are unlike novels, moving in with their bloody baggage, rather like the mother-in-law in ‘‘Learning’’, they take over whatever room is spare, or not-so-spare, and there they are, setting up their family photos (the stay will be a long one), eating through your fridge, taking too long in the bathroom. And while you are explaining to them that they cannot leave their underwear flapping on the bit of roof below the dormer window, a short story will escape, letting out a little cry as its feet slip in the gravel just outside the kitchen door.’

Review quote

‘Glossing sagely on the resilient question of what literature is for, Norman Mailer wrote in a recent book review that its true purpose is ‘‘comprehending a little more about men or women’’. In other words, the fewer pyrotechnics, recipes, space aliens or plutonium heists the better. Fiction can be an entertaining or comforting diversion from the traumas and banalities of life, or it can grace the usual (or the unfamiliar) with revelatory light. At best it offers not rote sensation, but an arresting and crystalline clarity. ... Alison Acheson has a gift of clarity. Of the twelve stories in Learning to Live Indoors, four achieve the crystalline in varying degrees. The rest, though less compelling, offer intriguing characters, some delicious twists and prose that remains lucid and assured.’

—Globe & Mail

Review quote

‘At her best, Acheson is able to capture in prose all those little emotional struggles -- the small, significant ones that really do go on in our minds -- that encapsulate ordinary living.’

—The Manitoban

Unpublished endorsement

‘The first thing you notice in Acheson’s stories are the words; the precision, the clarity. It’s as if she were lovingly-ardently reconstructing thought and image out of a dear, old, familiar language long fallen into disuse. She blows off the dust; discovers the shape of sound.’

—Tim Wynne Jones


Alison Acheson is the author of five juvenile/young adult novels. Her stories have been published in The New Quarterly, Grain and the Antigonish Review. She lives, writes and teaches in Ladner, British Columbia.

She says of her stories: ‘Variety is what I like myself, both in writing and reading. I enjoy feeling that I am in a unique head in each story. Life is short; I am only who I am. Writing allows me simultaneous reincarnation. Lives during life, I suppose.’

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: 9780889842014

Publication Date: 1998-10-15

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 160

Price: $14.95