I Know You Are But What Am I?
‘Heather Birrell's sentences conjure worlds. These stories scintillate. Smart, sharp, alluring, they're full of the chance encounters, mysteries, missed connections and unexpected tenderness of contemporary life. ’
– Catherine Bush
My favourite beach read so far this summer has been Toronto writer Heather Birrell’s short story collection, I know you are but what am I? Birrell’s writing is full of tastes and colours and zingers like ‘the slow red sun’ that ‘bursts into the white light of southern hospitality. ‘Y’all,’ says the sun, and really means it. ‘Y’all!’
— Annabel Lyon
The National Post
(…) Heather Birrell has collected nine of her smart and sassy stories of the urban condition in yet another well-packaged outing for the fully revived Coach House Press. (…) Birrell has a grand eye for the small detail that is the hallmark of the well-made story. Best of all, there’s little Chick Lit preoccupation with the sad lot of sexy young singles in a collection that features both kids and adults, ‘kleptomaniacs, convicts, roof-walkers and homicidal hippies.’
Heather Birrell’s first collection of stories is a charming and fluid read. (…) Summarizing the plots of these stories and their themes is a somewhat futile exercise as much of their success lies in Birrell’s humane, idiosyncratic prose. Birrell’s style is curiously contradictory: both incisive and vague, philosophical and prosaic, it denies its characters easy redemptive endings. The stories are often as individual and fragmented as childhood memory itself. Birrell also has a great ear for dialogue, and the intimacy between characters is artful as well as poignantly rendered. (…) IKYABWAI firmly establishes Birrell as a quirky and talented young writer to watch for, on and off the playground.
— Ibi Kaslik
Kleptomaniacs, convicts, roof-walkers and homicidal hippies: here are children and adults, men and women, all struggling to define themselves. The stories in I know you are but what am I? are like snow domes – perfect little self-contained worlds that you can hold in your hand, turn upside down, shake until meaning settles in a hundred different ways.
Young Misha learns about the complexities of grownup love when his mother is bitten by a stingray. Oldrick must come to terms with his ex-girlfriend’s new lover and a belligerent barista in the midst of a smelly garbage strike. Bus-bound Marion, in love with a married man, finds solace in conversation with a convict and home-schooled Rational gets a tutor and learns that his ‘hunker in the bunker’ family isn’t quite what he thought it was.