I am not particularly fond of anthologies; in fact about a year ago I decided not to read them anymore. I don't enjoy the inevitability of being pulled into and away from characters, emotionally investing in them and then being told to move on. But I've been wanting to read a Nathan Burgoine book for a while, and was promised a collection of unabashedly queer stories with (videogame reference alert) easter-eggs scattered like jewels between them, and so I simply had to read Of Echoes Born.
TL,DR: Nathan Burgoine is a magician, probably. Not once while reading this did it even cross my mind that a story felt unfinished or that I was being forced to move on. Of Echoes Born is incredibly atmospheric and vivid; each story is packed with feeling and fully explored.
All of it is set around the Village (Burgoine's imagined Canadian queertopia) but each story has its own aesthetic and mood and even a unique colour-palette. And it's really really romantic!! All the sweet moments between the couples are adorable and special and made me irl smile so big. The book had my heart from the very start with the most accurate description of life with migraines in high school, when Christian's thoughts open with a "Maybe he was dying. Maybe he was going mental. Either way, he was totally blowing off third period English."
When I think of this book, I'm thinking "There should be a whole shelf of this book in every bookstore and library in the world." Of Echoes Born is a perfect expression of what Romance is to me. Burgoine has crafted a strange and wonderful world where magic happens and people have powers and all the queers fall in love and get happily ever afters. It's filled with the tiny extraordinary moments of being alive and being in love and it pulls at heartstrings and takes us on adventures and stretches our imaginations to see bright things in otherwise-ordinary moments. It's also got a super accessible fantasy vibe (if you're a reader like me, who can't quite get all the way into fantasy but wants a lil' magic) and really cool pacing. As you're figuring the character's "power" out --asking questions, wondering about the possibilities and limitations-- another character is asking those same questions.
Not in AGES, has the ending of a book so entirely thrilled me in this way! The final story is a rollercoaster of feelings and memories of the stories you've just read. And when it ended, my heart leapt at how the whole story settles in to a new understanding. Suddenly the cover, the title, the opening line --EVERYTHING-- makes a whole new level of magic. All the lives and stories and loves I'd been reading fell into place among each other. I would recommend the book for the brilliance of that setup alone. But is it so much more.
Of Echoes Born is filled with stories of art and artists. Of their love at different stages of life. We meet: A boy who sees colours when he looks at people, and the girl at school who helps him develop a manual to understand what it all means. A man who returns to his hometown, where his ex lives and the ocean speaks to him and everyone only buys local. A love affair on a working wine farm, which I simply cannot get out of my head. A man who inherits his teacher's art collection and hides out in his studio while he figures out what to do with everything he’s just been given. A man repainting a mural in honour of local queer heroes, and the guy crushing on him from the magic crystal shop across the street. A power-couple who made a fashion label and a life together, looking back on it as one of them loses sense of time. A man dealing with the frustrations of having an annoying manager on duty at work, and the rooftop conversations with a security guard who is the relief from the stress. A boy who was struck by lightning and can tell the future, who's just trying to get good reviews for his psychic testimonial website.
A booklover with a faulty heart falls in love with a boy who can heal him, but there's a catch. An investigator joins a lifedrawing class to meet the artist who sends in mysterious tip-off sketches of murderers. A quiet Winter story of highschool acquaintances uncovering their not-so-secrets while they build a snowman. We step onto a train and step back in time and find so much love in the tiny space of a carriage, so much love that it changes history.
And I still cannot stop thinking about the dessert wine story.
A particularly special mention must be made that Nathan Burgoine not only gave his queer characters happy endings, but he gave his love stories to queer characters with a diversity of physical abilities. We meet a colourblind security guard, a winemaker who learns to sign while living with his deaf lover, a teenage boy with chronic migraines, a soldier who has recently gone blind, and several characters with long-term illnesses.
And while it seems like a lot to deal with in one book, there is so much tenderness and light and love streaming through all aspects of this collection that the aspects of reality --the illnesses, struggles, coping with death-- bring the magic closer to us. If this book is (as Nathan says in the Acknowledgements) to show queer people thriving, to give us hope, it succeeds especially because it does not shy away from what makes life hard for all of us, gay or straight. (Or bi! It's one word in one second of the book but it matters!) Of Echoes Born gives joy and sex and laughter to characters across a spectrum of people often overlooked. It's a book I highly recommend reading, purchasing for your local libraries and youth organisations, and gifting to any queer kids and newly-out friends in your life.
Content Warnings: a miscarriage, mention of sexual abuse by a parent, mention of queer bashing, mention of homophobic violence, brief mention of a partner's infidelity, death of a loved one, mention of cancer.