Unsettling Surrealism: On Laura Trunkey’s ‘Double Dutch’

Trunkey’s stories delve into the uncanny and bizarre to investigate traditional storytelling with unexpected narrators and a twist.


Laura Trunkey
Short Stories | 280 Pages | 5.25” x 8” | Reviewed: Paperback
978–1770898776 | First Edition | $19.95
House of Anansi Press | Toronto | BUY HERE

A Danuta Gleed Literary Award finalist and City of Victoria Butler Book Prize finalist, Laura Trunkey’s debut story collection, Double Dutch, plows through the historical and familiar perspectives in narrative to illuminate and give space to the voices often ignored or unheard.

In “Night Terror,” a single mother becomes obsessed with the possibility that her son is a reincarnated terrorist after she hears him speaking Arabic in his sleep.

Ashamed of her son’s “energetic [and] expressive” behavior at daycare and feeling isolated from others regarding her suspicions, Nicole seeks out hypnosis experts and Arabic translators to get to the source of her son’s nightly outbursts. It soon becomes apparent, however, that perhaps Nicole’s suspicions of two-year-old Jasper’s origin are rooted in her general disconnect from him since birth and his disinterest in her affection in general:

“Nicole hadn’t loved Jasper right away. In the beginning, she was unable to love anything. […] It was possible that she had been depressed because subconsciously she knew the truth. She recognized Jasper for what he really was”
(p. 8–9).

In “Hands Like Birds,” Karen, a deaf preteen, visits Niagra Falls before she goes completely blind from Usher Syndrome. She begins to resent her father for pushing her toward independence at the encouragement of Jan, her direct care worker. The story is sharp and pristine for its mastery of often underused sensory details, particularly identification of place and comfort through smell. Regardless, Karen’s isolation from that which is most familiar to her is evident in her simultaneous resentment of her condition and desire for freedom:

“Maybe his fear is fact: I’ve waited too long. The cane, the Braille, the hand-over-hand — I won’t be able to learn those things before I’m blind. Dad will have to look after me forever.”
(p. 146).

Trunkey’s stories break convention in their use of unexpected narrators — such as Topsy the troublesome circus elephant who is electrocuted by Thomas Edison in 1903 — and her manipulation of narrative arc. While each story has a definitive ending, they are often lacking in resolution, teasing out the idea that stories never truly end with closure or at all.

Readers who expect the familiar and traditional will be left unsettled by this collection. Double Dutch delves into the uncanny and bizarre to investigate the unexpected through traditional storytelling with a twist.

MELISSA GRUNOW is the author of Realizing River City (Tumbleweed Books, 2016) and I Don’t Belong Here, forthcoming from New Meridian Arts Press in fall 2018. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, New Plains Review, Blue Lyra Review, and elsewhere. Find her at her website.