Harrs lights up her lives
Review by Allan Hepburn for The Financial Post

In one of her shrewd insights, Virginia Woolf praised Shakespeare for his ability to penetrate the minds of his dramatic characters and see the world according to the predicaments, emotions and contradictions that each lives. Woolf calls this creative ability "incandescence," for it lights up a character as if from the inside.

Norma Harrs has written a series of incandescent short stories. Each story centres on one or two principal characters and a situation- death, marriage, a party, a dance class -that causes unease. Harrs has the uncommon ability to see these situations as her characters feel them and her 'Where Dreams Have Gone,' focuses on moments of telling revelation, in which degrees of irony and degrees of understanding animate, and sometimes flummox, them. These are worthy tales, written in the tradition of Elizabeth Tallent, William Trevor or Alice Munro.

The ability to move from first person to third person, from male to female, from child to adult, makes 'Where Dreams Have Gone' an accomplished suite of stories. Whereas other fiction writers (Richard Ford, for instance, or Ann Beattie) tell us only the things they know, which amounts to a dreary recitation of egotistical illusions restricted to men or women, adults or children, philanderers or victims, Harrs moves capably in and out of the minds of creations, uncovering their secret longings and griefs from all manner or perspectives.

Read independently, each story has a satisfying sharpness of image and clarity of perception. In "Tangerines and Brussel Sprouts," Cassie, feeling sorry for herself, is ordered out of bed by her father: "Cassie flung the blankets back resentfully. It was always mother he thought of first. Marjorie and she could be dying and her mother would always need help." Every bit of Cassie's thwarted, childish will comes out in the gesture of throwing back her blankets and despising her mother for coming first. No more need be said about the perils of being misunderstood. The cumulative effect of 'Where Dreams Have Gone' is what readers look for in vain in contemporary fiction; a knack from seeing the world incandescently, as we have not seen before.

Harrs' short stories go a long way in satisfying reader
Love Minus One And Other Stories
Judy Pollard Smith
From - The Spectator

Love Minus One And Other Stories is a collection from the pen of Norma Harrs.

Ms. Harrs, who lives in Toronto, has worked as a freelance broadcaster and writer. Her first novel, A State Of Mind, first appeared in 1980.

She was raised in Ireland and stylistically speaking, you can tell by that special brilliant quality to her writing that she writes from a British mindset. She has the graceful English usage of Katherine Mansfield in this group of short stories, and exhibits the acerbic wit and sharp, elegant writing skills of Nancy Mitford.

Like an expert photographer, she zooms in on the minutiae of everyday life, (ironing shirts, polishing furniture), and adjusts her lens to provide her readers with the clearest possible focus of the situation.

All of these stories seem to be saying, "Things are not as they seem." All looks glossy on the outside, but the characters are left to rationalize their way through the grime on the inside, like Gina in The Way To A Man's Heart, who fattens up her attractive husband with fabulous cooking until his lovers leaves him, and Gina exits too.

Sexual betrayal is the theme that permeates the core of this collection of stories. Love, or a misconstrued version of it, becomes the centrepoint in each story.

Imagery is used frequently and vividly. One character is said to have a nest of snakes instead of bowels, as an explanation of her vituperative nature.

The mood of all Ms. Harrs' stories is one of commonplace everydayness. People go about baking cakes and talking on the phone while their lives crumble around them.

Norma Harrs feels no urgency to put her character's lives back together for them, and adds authenticity to each of her 20 stories by not fixing them up in happy endings.

Anybody who is interested in learning how to write technically tight and readable short stories will be interested in purchasing this book.

It is always great to celebrate good writing from inside of Canada.

Love Minus One & Other Stories
Reviewed by Mark Cohen
For Books in Review

Amid the cacophony of experimental fiction emanating from Canadian small presses these day, Norma Harrs' Love Minus One & Other Stories strikes a distinctive note. Writing in the realist tradition of Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro, Harrs' second book is a wry, witty and sometimes surprising collection of stories that is eminently readable. Like Laurence, Harrs writes about her heritage in the British Isles and her adopted home, Manitoba . “ In the Driver's Seat ,” Harrs' story about the aging Emma who defies her mean-minded daughter-in-law by continuing to hold conversations with her recently deceased best friend, if a bit derivative of The Stone Angel , is nevertheless touching in its depiction of a proud but helpless woman.

But, as with Munro, Harrs' real strength lies in her construction of taut and insightful tales about women's relationships and their sexuality. One of the best stories is “ Purveyor of Love ,” in which Marion , recently separated from her sexually inept husband, agrees, on the advice of a friend, and her psychiatrist, to see a sex therapist. Both believe what Marion needs is an orgasm. “`Orgasm,' what an odd word,” write Harrs. “It sounded like a giblet that had been overcooked in an oven.” So after several phone conversations, the sex therapist, Gary , visits Marion at her home. Gary reads Marion through the vibes in her house, the leftovers in her refrigerator and her parents' photos on the mantle. Through subtle, caring questioning, he helps her face some of the pain of her past and, finally, coaxes her to the elusive orgasm. The story would be potent enough without the remarkable twist ending that Harrs adds. Later than evening Marion has a phone call: “Gary Anderson here. I believe you've been waiting to hear from me …We could start your therapy any time.”

Love Minus One & Other Stories
Books in Canada

Norma Harrs impressively serves up not eight, not 12, but 20 tales in Love Minus One & Other Stories, (Hounslow, 170 pages, $16.99 paper) her first book of fiction since her 1980 novel, 'A Certain State of Mind'. Set variously in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Ireland, they run to the kind stories friends exchange over coffee. Did I ever tell you about my drunken aunts who set the car on fire while the priest was over for tea? Or about the friend of a friend who plied her philandering husband with tantalizing meals until he was too fat to attract other women?

Storytelling stories, that's what they are, and nothing wrong with that. They feature epiphanies, reversals, small acts of courage. Sometimes this works well- in "Saturday Lady," Harrs manages to make a cooped-up woman chasing her husband's escaped birds not seem clichéd. More often, however, the point of the story is too obvious. An older man comes around to wearing a diaper after his success in a rest home vaudeville routine. A painter exorcises the memory of a portrait-sitter's death by selling the painting.

It's hard to be hard on these stories, they're so lovingly crafted, the writing so deft and assured. A handful of stories, like the lovely "A Blight on the Roses," prove that Harrs is capable of greater complexity without losing her light touch.

Love Minus One & Other Stories
Reviewed by Bonnie Ryan-Fisher
The Canadian Fiction Review

Love is quite a solitary activity in 'Love Minus One & Other Stories', Norma Harrs' first collection of fiction. Love is mostly the product of desire and imagination, a kind of solipsistic endeavour in which the individual creates the object of his or her desire. The resulting 'beloved' may have no resemblance to the real person who is presumably the object of the emotion. Romantic love figures prominently in the stories, but love in other modes is explored as well; love between friends, love between parents and children.

The repeated theme is compelling as the stories explore an intriguing variety of situations, from the adolescent discovery of first love in "Slip-Sliding," to the disillusionment of faltering marriages in "Sleepwalker," "The Way to a Man's Heart," and "Frangipani" to the intriguing relationships between an artist and his subject in "The Girl in Black" and a would-be rapist and his intended victim in "Erosion". Harrs has a background in theatre and it may be this that gives her characters such individuality and life. Like the experienced actor, she allows the characters to grow and breath. Each is more than human. Each is very real.

Judy Pollard Smith
Exerpt from an article in The Globe and Mail

I've since drifted off to the homely stories of Joanna Trollope, to the musings of Katherine Mansfield, and to the Cornish and Salterton Trilogies. I've wandered toward Morpheus' arms with Barbara Pym and her delightful stories of funny vicars and maiden anthropologists, with Susan Howatch and Evelyn Waugh, with Janice Kulyk Keefer and Norma Harrs and Ivan Klima. Anita Brookner and her dull, plodding characters, A.S. Byatt and Edna O'Brien, have accompanied me too, on my journey toward slumber.