MARINE LIFE

“Linda Svendsen’s stories are stunning—so easily embodying such terrific power. The last story left me shaking.”
– Alice Munro

“Eight powerful stories…The final story, about the one successful marriage in this…troubled brood, stays with you long after you’ve shut the book.”
– The New Yorker

My first book. This collection of linked stories about a Vancouver family focuses upon Adele Nordstrom and her older siblings. It was written between 1979-1992 during the years I lived in New York, San Francisco, and Boston, only finally returning to Vancouver in 1989.

The stories are loosely autobiographical and now, to me, reveal a younger self trying to make sense of the many forces impacting my family. I work with writers at the UBC Creative Writing Program and early fiction can be self-reflective by necessity–how did I get here? who am I? who are these people I’m living with? and where in hell am I going? And Marine Life, in covering three decades of Adele Nordstrom’s life, plunges into those questions. Critics praised the minimalism and the lyrical writing, and the humour, but I see myself walking the plank struggling to make sense of my own role in life.

The author with her family, 1958

The author (front) with her family, 1958

The first story I wrote was “Who He Slept by” in an MFA workshop at Columbia University and the final one was “White Shoulders,” which was nominated for a National Magazine Award and has been much anthologized. “White Shoulders” was the most challenging to write because I knew it would close the collection and the content dealt with terminal cancer, incest, and suicide. “Boxing Day,” on the other hand, wrote itself in a day.

In 2000, Marine Life was produced as a feature film starring Cybill Shepherd and Peter Outerbridge and directed by Canadian veteran, Anne Wheeler. Anne and I had worked together on the adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners and she brought her deft and humane touch to the book. The adaptation was written by Rob Forsyth and Lori Lansens and the producers included DeCoDe Entertainment, Stromhaus Productions, CBC, Telefilm, British Columbia Film, Canadian Cable Production Fund, and Alliance Atlantis.

Selected Publications and Awards
“Marine Life,” Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, 7th Edition
“Who He Slept By,” The Atlantic, Best Canadian Stories
“White Shoulders,” The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories, Penguin Anthology of Stories by Canadian Women
“Heartbeat,” The Atlantic, O. Henry Prize Stories
“Flight,” Best Canadian Stories
“The Edger Man,” O. Henry Prize Stories
L.A. Times First Book Prize, nominee
Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, BC Book Awards, nominee


“Svendsen’s Adele tells of her mother, brother, sisters, father and stepfather with such fresh precision that her sentences adopt us. They pull us into the family, though we see it more clearly than any family member can. Which is why we require books as well as brothers.”
– Richard Eder, LA Times

“‘Marine Life’ is as seamless as a fine piece of music, effortlessly held together by Ms. Svendsen’s strong, clear voice, a voice capable of moving back and forth from the lyrical to the irreverent, the somber to the silly with complete fluency and ease.”
– Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

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