Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but I had already told the author that I really wanted to review it!
Segovia Stories is a collection of short fiction whose style spans from slice-of-life tellings to speculative fiction. These tales are also woven with many cultural nuances and characters who are engaging, complex, and realistically imperfect. Gabay Dyer’s storytelling just makes one feel, and the echo of many stories reverberated for me long after reading them.
There are perspectives in these stories based on traditions and beliefs from where characters were raised, and it was fascinating for me to watch them come into contact with slushy, maple-leafy Canadian life. (This is where I point out that one of the titles is brilliantly called “Ackee Night in Canada.”) Themes throughout this collection can be mystical, moral, pragmatic, and touching. I also happen to be really fond of food in fiction and loved how Gabay Dyer turns dishes and drinks into essential elements of the storytelling.
In “Soup Morning,” a reclusive woman braves the winter elements only to discover the local shop is closed. Fortunately, a West Indian neighbour invites her inside, and our protagonist is drawn into memories simply by the aroma and taste of the soup in the kitchen. I mean, I love soup and think it’s magical and comforting, so I saw the appeal. But it was interesting how it played such a role to unlock feelings. Gabay Dyer does this a lot in Segovia Stories—provokes one to realize the importance of the little details that shape people’s lives.
Like how in “Intervention,” a futurism story that takes place in 3089, the major concern is about a drug released into the atmosphere, supposedly to create racial harmony, but instead, it nullifies culture and identity. And in the midst of it, the protagonist seeks to rescue an ackee plant that is essential to certain traditional recipes. Food and culture are intertwined.
But of course, this collection is not all about food. In “Close the Blue Door” we find two tellings of the same story—one is based on legendary myths and the other with stark reality. And I found myself deeply moved by the end of it because I wanted to remain in the myth.
One of the biggest surprises for me, though, was after reading much shorter pieces, I suddenly was met with what seemed like a novelette. In “Long Night Until Morning,” a wealthy father in San Miguel loses his son and his own father within days, only to discover a former servant is pregnant with his late son’s child. Upon discovering that she plans to leave Ecuador for Canada, he disguises himself for the potentially dangerous journey to cross borders in order to watch over her. I didn’t expect to find a longer work, but I immediately cared about the characters.
Another longer work, Roberta on the Beach, was my favourite. It’s told in parts, featuring siblings of a Jamaican-Scottish family who grew up in poverty and how this affected their lives as they navigated into adulthood. (I couldn’t wait to get to the next sibling’s story and got grumpy when I realized I needed to go to sleep.) By the end, I had grown so attached to the characters that I hoped this piece would turn into an entire novel. I wanted to learn even more about this family, going back and forward through the generations!
As I finished the collection, I felt that while I enjoyed the shorter pieces in their vignette, almost episodic style, I found the longer works were where Gabay Dyer’s storytelling really took flight. Or maybe I had just become greedy for longer tales by this author.
Last year, I had the pleasure, along with co-editor Talia C. Johnson, to include a story by Bernadette Gabay Dyer (“Fishing in Martian Waters”) in the Nothing Without Us Too anthology. It was my first introduction to her work. And now after reading Segovia Stories, I concur with the high praise it received. If you enjoy story collections, do consider adding it to your TBR pile.
Segovia Stories by Bernadette Gabay Dyer is now available from Mosaic Press.
Cait Gordon is an autistic, disabled, and queer Canadian writer of speculative fiction that celebrates diversity. She is the author of Life in the ’Cosm, The Stealth Lovers, and the forthcoming Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space (2023). Cait also founded the Spoonie Authors Network and joined Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the multi-genre disability fiction anthologies Nothing Without Us and Nothing Without Us Too.
Featured photo is of the paperback of Segovia Stories, taken by Cait Gordon