Reviewed by Danielle Minnis
Stoop City collects 13 wistful vignettes about the lives of some of the most unfortunate, vulnerable, and abused people in modern-day Toronto. There, people of every age, ethnicity, sexual identity, and socioeconomic status, struggle to cope.
In the introductory story, “Now Is the Time to Light Fires” an unnamed narrator mourns the death of her girlfriend, Marzana, only to be informed of her infidelity when her ghost starts haunting their condo. “Fits Ritual” follows a homeless youth struggling with addiction, as he grows increasingly more concerned when his friend and partner, Roam, does not return from their latest scam. “Tracker & Flow” concentrates on Kelly, who, after suffering from a miscarriage, adopts a stray cat that proves to be detrimental to her marriage and career. In the final story of the collection, “Last Call at the Dogwater Inn,” an addict must accept that his friend, a mentally ill Black man named Jimmy, was shot and killed by police for “inciting a riot” when he smashed the windows of an electronic store.
Stories intertwine through intersecting plots and characters, each one distinctive and compelling. Sonik explores poverty, identity, addiction, racism, homophobia, mental illness, and a plethora of other relevant issues plaguing contemporary society.
While the 13 stories are unafraid to cast a stark light on despair, nihilism, and death, some are more necessary than others—some retread the same ground, or dilute their potency with stereotypical constructs. This is the case in stories like in “Adoro Te Devote,” where life loses all meaning for gay teenager, Paul, as he ages out of his altar boy duties and is shunned by his secret love. The story fails to explore new or provocative ideas about the intricate relationship between religion, gender, and sexuality and lacked nuance, but was rescued by fascinating characters and description.
As the book progresses, the stories grow increasingly darker, both in tone and by literally turning down the lights in nighttime settings. Frustration mounts, the destitute grow sadder, but still it never becomes morbid or depressing. Sly humour and fantastical elements add much-needed levity to the urban realist genre. Life carries on. We carry on. It is a powerful sentiment in 2020/21 especially.
Dunnion is a Lambda Literary Award finalist and the author of six novels: Tarry This Night,The Dirt Chronicles, Big Big Sky, Mosh Pit, and Missing Matthew. Her short fiction has been published n Best Canadian Stories 2020, Foglifter, Orca, and Toronto 2033. Dunnion also supports homeless or marginally housed adults with serious mental illness, and facilitates innovative workshops for diverse at-risk and queer youth. A queer punk performance artist, Dunnion also played bass in Heavy Filth and Bone Donor.