Nina Allan has, for the past dozen years, quietly but steadily put together a worthwhile number of short stories residing in the wonderfully fuzzy area between genre and literary fiction. With the recent success of her elegantly futuristic myth “Spin” in 2013, it seemed only natural that a novel would be forthcoming, and in 2014 the promise manifested itself in The Race (NewCon Press). Her roots of short fiction not far behind, the novel is four pieces of tangential fiction linked obtusely. Fractured narrative only begins to describe it; one must also add dimension. Moving between the realms of fiction, veiled autobiography, and embedded fiction, the reader knows with certainty where they stand, but only in the story at hand. Familiar objects and ideas appear and reappear throughout the novel, but the light shining on them is always different. But for as elusive as the novel sometimes may be, when the façade washes away, what remains possesses the breath of existence of any person riding the changing currents of life and memory.
Hovering somewhere near the figurative center of The Race is a teenager named Christy. Her mother one day walking out the door and literally never looking back, she is left with a hard working but emotionally distant father and an older brother whose virulent personality is bearable on a day to day basis but can give way to acts of extreme violence if provoked. Having a gift with words, she gets a few stories published, but the weight of her family life and uncertainty regarding friendship and partners prevent any major breakout or desire. Losing her virginity, the transition to university life, relationships with her brother’s girlfriends—Christy moves through the normal events of life with the requisite drama of becoming an adult. Trying to make sense of it all, it’s the people around her and the stories she writes—stories of troubled families, smartdog racing, and a land damaged by poor environmental practice—that layer the proceedings, giving them the full complexity of reality.