Nicholas Ruddock’s How Loveta Got Her Baby

How Loveta Got Her Baby is a collection of short fiction from Guelph author Nicholas Ruddock. The book contains stories of a traditional length interspersed by very short pieces, often less than a page, usually lyric, something like prose poems. All of the stories, long or short, are loosely connected through common setting and characters, and though none of them depend on the others to be understood, they interrelate in ways that deepen each in relation to the whole.

This interrelation creates a strong sense of unity in the collection, which is one of its beauties. The stories belong to each other in the way that the stories of any small town belong to each other, one reminding the hearer of another, coming together to produce the unique mythology of a mutually remembered time and place.

This unity does slip on occasion, particularly in two of the stories, “the house-painters” and “rick-shaw”, which consist largely of dialogue between two characters who remain unnamed but who are recognizable from other pieces in the collection. These stories feel stylistically out of place in the book, and the dialogue does not quite ring true to what we know of the characters.

Another piece, “rigor mortis”, feels similarly out of phase with the book as a whole. The story is not tied as closely into the others through plot or character, and it has a farcical quality in parts, especially the brief section told from the perspective of a cougar, that sits poorly in relation to the other stories.

Most of the pieces, however, inform each other in compelling ways, especially through their characters, which Ruddock portrays with a tenderness and simplicity that makes them immediately sympathetic. As their names recur throughout the collection, we begin to recognize them, not as friends, because we rarely get that close to them, but as people from back home perhaps, and Ruddock becomes the old friend, met by accident, telling tales of the people we both once knew.

The shorter pieces (particularly “the alchemists”, which is a really beautiful bit of writing) add a lyrical tone to the storytelling, and they also recognize structurally that the memory of a place is formed not only through the stories that we make about it, but also through the briefest moments that we experience of it, the moments too short and unformed to make a story, but still somehow integral to the whole.

The stories, both long and short together, seem to invite readers to treat them as their own memories, partially forgotten for many years but now returned to them: an intimate and disarming literary pleasure.

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