What Robert Edison Sandiford gives us in his latest short story collection, Fairfield, is the apparent restoration and enhancement of stories that were bound and concealed in a stationery box belonging to a deceased Barbadian-born author. Sandiford brings thirteen of these “Last Sad Stories of G. Brandon Sisnett” (the collection’s subtitle) to us in a seemingly random way which propels us to create an order out of seeming disorder.
Death, loss and memory permeate this collection, and what Sandiford shows us is that there is nothing orderly about any of these things. The book starts where, chronologically speaking, it should end; but we all know that sometimes it takes a specific experience, person or even a word to cause a memory to resurface.
It is because of this reality that, in the “Big O,” Ed needs to hear the news of Orville’s death to prompt the memories that follow in the stories “Michel” and “Funk.” Even though these three stories are the only stories where the characters recur, they are spaced out across the collection, mixed among a web of other people’s memories united by one thing—loss.
It is Orville’s prevalence in the collection and his inability to overcome loss that makes him one of the most compelling characters in Fairfield. Orville Sobers, known to most as The Big O and much like Sisnett, has suffered from the grief of losing a child, the dissolution of a marriage, and facing death in his forties. It is because the two mirror each other that I find it very striking that Sisnett didn’t use Orville’s character as a voice to express his own grief; instead, he puts Ed, Orville’s best friend’s brother, someone who only knew Orville by association, to tell Orville’s story. It is as though Sisnett moved himself as far away as possible from this mirroring character because (perhaps) he, like Orville, could not overcome his own losses. In the book’s (fictional) “Foreword,” Sandiford, as Sisnett’s “editor,” believes it is Sisnett’s biography that makes his themes more understandable to the reader, and I fully agree.
Orville isn’t the only recurring aspect of the collection; another is the word “Fairfield.” In “They Build Houses Here Now,” the ex-US Airforce pilot, whose remorse stems from his experiences “serving” his country, was stationed at a base in Fairfield. Fairfield is also the name of the house of a suicide in “The Hours In-Between” as well as the name of the particular bus that a little girl leaps head first into in “Jumbie Tribe.” Every time Fairfield is mentioned, some aspect of loss is present to the point that Fairfield becomes synonymous with loss and, by extension, death.
Even though the other stories aren’t so concretely connected, we see stories of mass killings that lead to stories of political unrest. We see the name Michael used as inspiration in one story then used to propel us into a story entitled “Michel” about a young boy subjected to bullying and prejudice. We see a story about a man’s unexpected suicide precede the story of an abused child’s suicide. Fairfield makes us dive further into the stories no matter how much we like to stay on the sidelines. It implores us to piece together the fragments of memory and their dichotomies as well—of home and elsewhere, suicide and natural death, heterosexual and homosexual relationships.
Here, memories become physical. In “Massiah,” one powerful head of a political party etches hers on her skin. Memories, like our pains and the people we love, eventually fade away. The difference here is that there is something more durable about them once written down or passed on. Just like the contents of Massiah’s skin, these memories refuse to be done away with.
Fairfield is a layered collection of stories. Thematically melancholy, the book is knitted together with invigorating aspects of Barbadian and Canadian culture that create a contemplative read.