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John O’Neill’s gothic short stories, set in the Canadian Rockies, are haunted by the violence inherent in nature and humans. The mountains are majestic and impassive. The characters are surprising, bent, but also empathetic. Their survival is tenuous. A two-sister team of goth tour guides offers guided excursions up switchback mountain trails; a paroled convict thumbs his way into the life of a family driving west; and an animal pathologist, while performing a necropsy on a grizzly bear, has an unusual encounter with both technology and humanity.
Goth Girls of Banff is a superb collection, sharply written, with plot turns as consequence-laden as those on an iced-over mountain road.
EXCERPT FROM “GOTH GIRLS OF BANFF”:
Wanna add some edge to your mountain experience? To sharpen the dull blade of things, and let darkness descend, like beautiful sleep but with your eyes wide open? Call the Goth Girls of Banff. Available for photo shoots, social events, hikes, campfires, singly or in groups. Fully outfitted in deepest and darkest Gothwear, we can be more or less Vampiric, more or less Victorian, more or less Silent Film Man-Eaters and Vamps, and more or less Necromantic and Living Dead, according to special requests. If you’re tired of silly Tilley hats and Gore-Tex, cotton and khaki and crave a touch of leather and lace, we’re the gory Goth girls dressed up just for you. We’re all about Goth aesthetics, no funny business, no sticky situations, no touchy-feely or long longing gazes, and absolutely no fiddly long-term relations. Interactions start at $100 per hour. Prices negotiable for entire afternoons. Can talk evenings for a fee. Request times, locations and nature of encounters. Terms and conditions apply and must be set prior to engagements. Goth Girls of Banff. We’ll wrap dark wings around your wilderness day.
1) The story “What is Written” is narrated by a paroled convict. Which of the other characters does he most connect with, and why?
2) In what ways does the landscape reflect the relationship between the two sisters in “Athabasca”?
3) Describe the central conflict of “Attacking the Bear.”
4) In “Rudy,” what is the protagonist trying to accomplish? Why does he believe it so important to connect with the couple on the trail?
5) Why does the narrator of “Three Places” finally “modify” his wife’s wishes?
6) How does the style of “Marilyn in the Mountains” contrast with the other stories? Why do you think the author uses this approach?
7) “From Castle Mountain” dramatizes a little known chapter of Canadian history—why do you think this history is not better known?
8) In “Goth Girls of Banff,” what are the reasons that Linda quits the self-styled profession of Goth Girl, while her sister continues?
9) In “Natural Selection,” the character of Ronny is associated with images of evolution, as in the title of the story. Why does the author include these details?
10) Why does the narrator of “The Book About the Bear” answer the phone? Are his actions appropriate or questionable?
11) What are some of the elements that unify the stories in this collection, aside from the location?
"Beautifully executed and organically driven, these stories borne of the Canadian West captivate from the beginning and linger long in the mind. From Marilyn Monroe to encounters with wildlife to Castle Mountain Internment Camp, O’Neill is a storyteller whose tales carry an edgy grace and shimmering surefootedness. A compelling and visceral read."
"John O’Neill’s characters are thoughtful, at odds with their environment, and above all, deeply human. His prose is lyrical and imaginative, empathetic, with surprising moments of humour. The Alberta landscape is depicted with precision and awe. Well-shaped, character-driven plots build towards powerful emotional endings, in these stories that explore loneliness, fate, and subtle, prickly, human relationships.”
"O'Neill's Goth Girls of Banff should be as essential to the mountain visitor as The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide."
"The depth and variety of perspectives O'Neill writes make this collection a staggeringly endearing pastiche."
"Whether looking for a story about the Rocky Mountains’ breathtaking (often literal) nature, or for some stories to pull on your heartstrings and teach you about what makes us human, O’Neill’s Goth Girls of Banff is a collection that has something for everyone." full review
"Like a moguls champ, O’Neill seamlessly glides over narrative twists and turns to deliver thrilling short stories of authentic mountain flavour."
"The characters who populate this winning collection make the pilgrimage to Banff with expectations, usually of salvation. What they find is something distinctly less divine. Any hope of communion with nature is either thwarted by mundane human interference or the revelation of violence that lurks just below all that beauty." full review