Review: Of Echoes Born by ‘Nathan Burgoine

Oh man. Oh MAN. So – I love short stories. They’re wonderful to rea to master, and the best ones leave you just wanting more.

Interconnected short stories are even better. Stories that share a few characters here and there, similar themes, trickling with the slow realization that this is really all the same story, told bit by bit, piece by piece. Lives don’t go from beginning to end – they unfold, and bump into each other, leaving little blooms of colour along the way.

I’m waxing poetic. But the point is, Of Echoes Born is really, really fucking good. I think what’s really astonishing me about it is that it’s an unusual kind of good – it’s the type of book I don’t think I’ve encountered before, and I don’t imagine I’ll see again. (Unless I can tempt Monsieur Burgoine into another. I shall prepare the cupcakes.) Nathan Burgoine has made wry jokes at cons and in interviews before about the specificity of Echoes’s subgenre. It’s a speculative queer interconnected short story collection, published in and set in Canada; but that’s exactly what makes it so special.

To rewind. The central premise of the book is emotions as colours – the boy in the first story can see auras, blooming around people like rainbows. Between each story, different emotions and their associated hues get explained; the following tale usually has to do with it. Love, grief, envy, despair – they all have their role to play, and the stories are as varied as the hues they embody. But throughout it all, pervasive both in the stories and on the book’s cover is that love isn’t red – it’s blue.

The other connecting element is that every story has a speculative element – but there’s no faeries or dragons here. Instead, Burgoine’s stories are tinged with the supernatural in the style of fabulism; think Joan Aiken, or Neil Gaiman, but with more of the former’s pervasive optimism and faith in the human spirit. A painter changes what could have been; a man connects with a regretful ghost; an artist returns to his hometown and lets himself acknowledge a heritage he’s never fully understood.

One story in particular I have to talk about at length. It’s possibly my favourite of the collection – but contrarily, it’s also the one I have the most complicated emotions about. Apologies to those who want to read it with no spoilers; feel free to stop here!

The story in question features a Deaf character, who communicates only with sign language. As many of you know, I am deaf, and every time I find a Deaf character I wasn’t expecting, it’s an amazing moment. And unfortunately, in this particular story, the character in question dies. This is difficult for me; the story is perfect. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t change a thing. But it does throw into relief for me how harsh the cultural context is upon disabled characters – that I pretty much expected it. Burgoine’s handling of the subject matter is so well done that I can’t even ask for anything else, only that one day there’ll be enough books where we aren’t killed or shunted aside that I can enjoy stories like this without that lingering sadness.

Nathan Burgoine’s Of Echoes Born is available for purchase here! (If you’re in Ottawa, it is now also stocked at Carleton’s GSRC library! Come say hi!)

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