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Reviews from Halifax Daily News, Books in Canada, and BC Bookworld

Halifax Daily News
In Woman With A Man Inside, Barbara Parkin builds up a series of revolving characters, childhood friends who have gone their separate ways in search of, dare I say it, themselves.

Now in their 30s, what they find is an often frustrating mix of feminist ideology made flesh, urges for stability and motherhood, and a vague sense that, in the end, this state of limbo is all there is and they'd better learn to grin and bear it.

"Open Zoo" starts with: "When she takes the small bottle of lemon juice instead of the family sized one off the shelf, she suspects she might be leaving him soon."
It ends with: "There is no time to pause, even. She is in her car, starting the engine, not waiting for the right moment or a sense of direction. She accelerates into a line of traffic, thinking only of freeways."
Michael Mirolla, Halifax Daily News

Books In Canada
Barbara Parkin excels at the king of irony that allows the reader to more than the narrator understands. “In Place of You” explores the psyche of Anne-Therese, a straitlaced aunt who can’t sympathize with the meandering life of her niece. She tries to compose a letter to her, but compassion gets blocked by her own injured life of parental repression and pain. Parkin’s skill at unraveling the motivations of characters is also evident in “Open Zoo,” a story that reveals her concern with the pull between freedom and domestic security.
-Carol Giangrande, Books in Canada

BC Bookworld
Michelle has been trying to have a baby for three years. Once a month she takes a vial of her husband Steven's sperm to the artificial insemination clinic. Deep down, Michelle is convinced the reason she isn't able to conceive is because she had an abortion when she was seventeen.

"God punishes. That's what some of the old women in the congregation of her church told her. God punishes. Those were the last words she heard before she ex-communicated herself. No one was going to punish her for the vacuum aspirator that had tugged on her cervix in the clinic years ago."

Michelle is the main character in "The Waiting Rooms", one of the stories in Woman With A Man Inside (Nightwood $15.95) by Barbara Parkin, a collection of stories that navigate through the fictional universe of relationships.

"'The Waiting Rooms' was inspired by a friend who always wanted a baby and had problems conceiving," says Parkin. "When she told me about dropping the sample in the toilet, I suddenly realized how desperate she was. When people are desperate, they tend to look for external explanations for why things are the way they are."

In "Philipa of Harare," a young woman travels to Africa to discover herself and escape the expectations placed on her by her mother. In "You Are Mine", an elderly woman tries to reconcile the effect of the death of her daughter-in-law on her son and his children, while coming to terms with selling her house and moving to a retirement condo.

As to the similarity of Cochrane's and Parkin's book titles, Parkin says, "We certainly each came up with our own title independently - but I'm sure that we influence each others writing greatly - possibly more
than we even know."
Parkin, 34, lives in Vancouver with poet Mark Cochrane and their two children. Woman With A Man Inside is Parkin's first book. "The stories are about so many issues that concern men's and women's lives,' says Parkin. "There is no such place as normal, but I think that people spend a lot of time looking for some kind of normal."

The haunting cover image on her book (also on the cover of BCBW) is from an oil painting by Vancouver artist
Giddeon L. Flitt called "The Theft" (1992), currently in a private collection in Hamburg, Germany.
10 "The image is quite ambigious, and I find most people can't give an explanation of what it's about," says Parkin, who immediately thought the painting, of a man curled up on a chest of drawers with a woman standing beside him, fitting for the cover of Woman with A Man

Parkin first met the artist in the 1980s, when Flitt worked as a hairdresser in a 4th Avenue salon where several of his paintings hung. Parkin grew increasingly intrigued by "The Theft," which she saw several times over the years.
Cochrane, her partner, initially wanted to use "TheTheft" for the cover
of his 1995 book of poetry, Boy Am I (Wolsack & Wynn), but the publisher found the painting too controversial. Instead, another Flitt painting (Ichschieliesse meine augen 1993) - loosely translated "I Lie in the Sun With My Eyes Closed" - was used.
-BC Bookworld