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Lines of Truth and Conversation by Joan Alexander  

Alexander writes with a brash, comic, and socially sensitive touch that recalls Carol Shields. This isn’t hip, trendy, urban writing. It is unflinching, vivid, and frequently domestic. Nino Ricci described the collection as possessing ‘an unbridled urgency and wit.... At once eccentric and precisely observed, they seem to hum with the energy of everything in life that is unreasonable and can’t quite be contained.’

Joan Alexander’s stories are intelligent and sure-footed investigations of the darker sides of urban life. They begin with familiar situations -- the failure of a business, the death of a loved one, an affair that never gets physical -- but they chart the rough terrain of emotional trauma with unsettling precision.

Many of the stories in Lines of Truth and Conversation deal in the pangs and pumellings of loss in all its guises, but Alexander has a gift for bittersweet humour, and even her most harrowing stories are lightened by a sense of the comic continuity of life.


2005—Globe Top 100,

Review quote

‘A Hanukkah party becomes the bitter sweet setting for a stolen kiss. A midlife crisis manifests itself when a married woman falls for the man busy posturing -- in more ways than one -- on the neighbouring mat in her yoga class. A trio of connected characters struggle to come to grips with the beating death of an acquaintance/friend. The closing of a small bookstore, forced out of business by the newest mega-bookstore (with the brilliantly facetious name of Wonderment), becomes a metaphor for a larger sense of dislocation. Indeed, riding Wonderment’s escalator, the protagonist ‘‘panicked, and felt tragedy, the way she did on highways and roller coasters and sometimes even in department stores.’’ ’

—Heather Birrell, Quill and Quire

Review quote

‘Joan Alexander’s character-driven short fiction is peopled with overly possessive daughters-in-law, social-climbing rabbis, reluctant mothers and New Age hairdressers. Her poignant, stylish and witty stories are worthy of a Robert Altman film, or even Woody Allen at his most acerbic. ... I can’t think of a fictional equivalent, and that’s because her work is fresh, original and quirky enough to defy categorization. I cannot find any traces of Alice Munro, Carol Shields or Margaret Atwood here. In other words, Lines of Truth and Conversation is a stellar debut. Her stories are readable, her characters are finely honed and her wry sense of humour gives her too-realistic portraits the levity that all serious fiction requires.’

—Patricia Robertson, Globe and Mail

Review quote

‘Flashes of quirky humour alleviate the essential darkness of these incisive, disquieting tales. ... Alexander’s singular, forceful voice offers a welcome respite from the banal effusions that typify our celebrity-obsessed culture.’

—Sarah Robertson, Canadian Book Review Annual

Review quote

‘[The] Porcupine’s Quill in Ontario makes books to last, with fine paper stock and pages stitched rather than glued. Porcupine’s confidence in Joan Alexander’s first book, Lines of Truth and Conversation, is well-placed: it’s that rare mix of bravura writing and searing analysis. As the title makes clear, there’s a divide between truth and talk. Talk in these stories is plentiful, riveting, with Alexander having a keen ear for the quirky, the pretentious, and the absurd; talk is often the vehicle her characters use to try out different personas and styles before they come back to reinhabit the selves they can’t escape.’

—Kathleen Snodgrass, Georgia Review

Review quote

‘The trauma faced by many of the protagonists in this anthology is extreme. What makes this author’s writing powerful is the presentation of these deep-rooted complexities within her storytelling. Joan Alexander understands human suffering and, talented writer that she is, expresses it magnificently.’

—Atara Beck, Jewish Tribune

Review quote

‘"Snap" is the title of perhaps the collection’s most charming tale, about an eight-year-old girl’s search for emotional stability and a sympathetic friend after her father’s remarriage in Chicago in 1962. ... Through her tribulations, she realizes a deeper purpose: the need to be a writer. Imbedded into the story is a mirror through which the narrator reflects on her childhood and the formation of her own identity. Whether intentional or not, the story has all the hallmarks of a literary self-portrait of the artist at a young age.’

—Bill Gladstone

Flap copy

Lines of Truth and Conversation is among the most daring, most original, and most wholly successful works of fiction I have read in a long while. Each story in this collection is powerful and quirky and moving in its own right. But the ultimate beauty of the book, for me, is to be found in its overall architecture -- how the stories slowly, inexorably fuse into a unified thematic whole. This is a book that will last.’

—Tim O’Brien

Back cover copy

‘Joan Alexander is one of those writers who can find humour in dark places, can sympathize with her characters even when they are behaving foolishly, perhaps because they are behaving foolishly. She understands pain and loss and longing, but she writes with clarity and directness. She doesn’t sentimentalize, and she doesn’t shy away. Surely, she is a writer to watch, which is to say, a writer to read, a writer who rewards reading.’

—Kim Jernigan, The New Quarterly

Unpublished endorsement

‘Joan Alexander’s stories have an unbridled urgency and wit, all the usual restraints loosed to leave only the immediate, uncensored impression. At once eccentric and precisely observed, they seem to hum with the energy of everything in life that is unreasonable and can’t quite be contained.’

—Nino Ricci


Joan Alexander was born in Chicago, and moved to Canada in 1979, where she worked as a teacher and a journalist for many years while continuing to study the writing craft. Her work has appeared in a number of Canadian literary journals and has been nominated for the Journey Prize, a National Magazine Award, and Best New American Voices. She lives in Toronto and is working on a novel.

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


ISBN-13: 9780889842717

Publication Date: 2005-04-22

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 192

Price: $18.95