by Ethan Rilly
One of the most thrilling releases at TCAF this year is the new issue of Pope Hats, Ethan Rilly's exceptional series. I think I've bought every issue of this series at TCAF over the years, and it's a book I relate closely to the phenomenal event.
This issue, which is magazine-sized, does not return to its regular main characters, Frances and Vickie, but instead shares a number of short stories, many only a page or two in length.
At the centre of the book is a long story, 'The Nest', about a pair of aging parents who have to deal with the fact that their daughter has returned home from university unexpectedly, and suffering from a mental illness. The parents do their best to adapt their lives around having to look after their child - the father takes an early retirement - and they never let their optimism wane. This is a touching story, and Rilly handles it very well, with sensitivity and humour.
The rest of this book is equally perceptive and enjoyable. An aging drummer feels ambivalent about having his band reunite for an Asian tour, and then can't complete the tour anyway. In a science fiction series, a forager continually alienates everyone around him, for no good reason. The people in Rilly's stories make decisions that are bad for them - they move into basement apartments with difficult people while abandoning their youthful ideals, they play poker on their phone way too late into the night, they destroy their own artwork, and they use time travel irresponsibly.
Pope Hats is a terrific series; I only wish that Rilly worked a little quicker at producing it.