This Unlikely Soil

By Andrea Routley

Categories: Fiction, Short Stories
Imprint: Dagger Editions
Paperback : 9781773860985, 216 pages, September 2022

In This Unlikely Soil, prize-winning writer Andrea Routley delivers stories of queer women navigating love and life against the lush, isolated backdrop of Canada’s West Coast.


This Unlikely Soil, the sophomore collection from Lambda Literary Award finalist Andrea Routley, is a quintet of linked novellas exploring the failures of kindness and connection among a rural west-coast community of queer women. Funny, incisive and at turns heart-breaking, these stories assert a powerful new voice in contemporary Canadian fiction.

In “Appropriate Behaviour,” Freddie, suffering from a brain injury, seeks resolution with a neighbour after his dog bites her, but a lifetime of mixed messages yields disastrous results. “Damage” explores classist exploitations within many relationships and asks what our responsibilities are in saying no. In “Guided Walk,” Miriam’s latest clumsy infatuation pushes her to change her life, to finally “come out” on a guided walk with her cousin. When her cousin beats her to it, Miriam descends into pettiness before finding her way out of the woods. In “Midden,” Naomi, recently split from Rita and apathetically venturing into online dating, sifts through the remains of past relationships after Rita accuses her of “emotional abuse.” The quintet concludes with “This Unlikely Soil,” a finalist for the 2020 Malahat Review Novella Prize, in which Elana, following the sudden death of her mother, attempts to manufacture a meaningful relationship with a former partner’s teenaged son.

A bear with a hemorrhoid, a berried-up Dungeness crab, a perimeter of slugs... this dense coastal landscape does not simply mirror the characters’ lives but shapes them. While characters often embody painful histories and cringe-worthy decision-making skills, the stories are full of humour and love.


“To borrow one of the images from This Unlikely Soil, Andrea Routley’s rewarding collection of novellas contain pearls of narrative self-knowledge formed from the jagged edges of intimacy and asymmetrical desire. Sensual and sensuous in her command of detail, Routley writes with confidence and power.”

—Kevin Chong, author of The Plague and The Double Life of Benson Yu

“The compelling, delicately drawn characters in This Unlikely Soil and the evocation of the beauty of the everyday in these novellas by Andrea Routley will strike any reader of this book.”

—Naben Ruthnum, 2020 Malahat Review Novella Prize juror and author of A Hero of Our Time

“Andrea Routley’s novella collection This Unlikely Soil delivers engrossing stories about contemporary queer women’s lives with rich detail, humor, verve, and compassion. Routley’s attention to her characters is dark and unflinching as she gazes at the messiness of modern life, then pure and honest as the characters find themselves struggling for authentic meaning. In these stories, Routley seamlessly integrates the technologies of daily life with individual drama and the spectacles of the natural world. Read this book for the insight it provides into who we are now.”

—Julie R. Enszer, editor of Sinister Wisdom and author of Avowed

“The characters in This Unlikely Soil are often caught in the particular agony of trying to make their inner selves legible to others. Reading these stories felt like being witnessed in some of my most interpersonally uncomfortable moments—that feeling of watching myself ‘behaving badly’ without being able to intervene. Wisely, Routley doesn’t attempt to offer clean resolutions to her characters’ emotional turbulence; instead, she generously and humorously lets them move through uncertainty and confusion, adapting as best they know how.”

—H Felix Chau Bradley, author of Personal Attention Roleplay