Welcome to the Suburbs

by Kathryn Stagg

Kathryn Stagg is a writer and researcher based in Toronto. She is the Marketing and Advertising Coordinator for The Puritan. Her work has appeared in the Town Crier and the Hamilton Review of Books.

A little over a year ago, I moved into the city from the suburbs. As a teenager, I conflated Toronto with autonomy, freedom, and a better sense of my own identity. Within this daydream, I thought about the move not as a shift from one place to another, but as a movement inwards, advancing in a line that would later show a clear linear progression. I had grown up on a cul-de-sac in a suburban neighbourhood that sat adjacent to a shopping complex. For the better part of my teenage years, the environment felt like a negation of everything that I wanted out of life; if the city was vivacious, teeming with activity and creative energy, then the suburbs were a dead-end, a place where the creative impulse was muted. As an adult, I felt somewhat ashamed of the fact that, in my 20s, I was still taking up residence on the same cul-de-sac. My move to the city was, perhaps predictably, of a far more equivocal nature than I had once imagined; it didn’t fundamentally change who I was as a person, nor would I have wanted it to. But the move did get me thinking more seriously and more critically about how we think and talk about the suburbs—both within the cultural imagination and within literary representation.

Perhaps the most easily accessible image of the suburbs is the contemporary American suburb—where melancholic teenage girls commit suicide, where marriages fall apart behind closed doors, and where secret love affairs take place on drab afternoons. This vision of the suburbs, while creating plenty of room for enigma and tragedy, doesn’t always leave room for heterogeneity. What does a literary representation of the suburbs look like in the Canadian context? What does that representation look like when it makes room for the disparate experiences that make up its lived reality? What does that representation look like when it reflects the diversity that does exist in many Canadian suburbs, as well as suburbs around the world?

Working on this supplement was a wonderful experience, in large part because it gave me the sense, more than ever, of the suburbs as living, breathing spaces—infectious, confounding, diverse, and with a lasting ability to surprise. Not all suburbs are alike, and the pieces in this supplement are in many ways a testament to the plurality of suburban environments and their ability to shape those who live within them in different ways. Nicole Breit and Aaron Kreuter’s essays reflect on the enduring impact that our environments have on our identity. Chris Benjamin and Ben Robinson probe the intense desire to escape the suburbs and the relationship between that desire and underlying disfunction. Short stories by Erin Della Mattia and Sarah MacKenzie propel forward with a wonderful energy—in Della Mattia’s story, an energy that is full of both hope and heartbreak, and in MacKenzie’s story, an energy that picks up speed as it descends into a surrealist nightmare. Michael Prior beautifully tackles both intergenerational trauma and the sadness of feeling unwelcome in a place that you attempt to make home. Carrianne Leung, Claire Kelly, and Daniela Elza offer powerful explorations of grief and the shapes that grief takes when you feel alienated from your environment. In the works of PW Jarungpiterah and Dani Couture, the level of intricate detail is a path into the pathos of the family home and the ambiguity that often forms the nexus of the self. Finally, in my interview with David Chariandy, Chariandy offers insight into the significance of community, brotherhood, and healing in his latest novel, Brother.

Each piece in this supplement, in its own way, approaches the theme of the suburbs with deeply admirable thoughtfulness and spiritedness. What began as a personal contemplation of the suburban landscape has become something much bigger than I could have imagined: an opportunity to read and share the work of writers who are equally as invested in literary representations of those spaces that exist on the periphery. Every piece I’ve been so fortunate to include in this supplement has resonated with me. I hope they resonate with you, too.

 


Kathryn Stagg is a writer and researcher based in Toronto. She is the Marketing and Advertising Coordinator for The Puritan. Her work has appeared in the Town Crier and the Hamilton Review of Books.

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