The Pious Robber
Winner, Fiction of the Year; Shortlisted, Book of the Year, Saskatchewan Book Awards, 2013
Few writers have Harriet Richards’ understanding of childhood, and fewer still can evoke the never-lost child at the heart of our adult experience. As in her previous, critically-acclaimed books, this collection is deft, comic, and poignant, but there is malice and tragedy at work in these stories — their gaiety and cool observation counterbalance the troubled lives they explore.
In the brilliantly imagined title story two young girls become guardian angels to an emaciated drifter with a very dark secret. Their innocence is an armour against the danger that simmers, below adult knowledge, around a northern lake. Innocence, both tough and vulnerable, is at play in many of these stories: Ava, in “A Great Wrong” carries the guilt of a childhood betrayal and revenge; Olivia’s role as confidante, in “Bagatelle”, channels the absurdities and fragility of clumsy, hopeful lives. “In the Direction of the Three Sisters” is a sad, ironic protest at life’s unfairness.
Trust is the most perilous adventure in Richards’ stories, but every one of her characters takes that risk. Their candour in the face of what follows is the book’s enduring delight.