As I’ve noted before, the annual anthology of short story finalists for the Journey Prize is regularly on my reading list. The most recent collection, The Journey Prize, Stories, 24 (2012), selected by notable jurors Michael Christie, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Kathleen Winter, contains a wide range of excellent fiction. The winning story, “Crisis on Earth-X” by Alex Pugsley, is an engaging coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the societal turmoil of the early 1970s and one to which I could readily relate. However, the story that most touches me among this collection is the tenderly told tragedy penned by Astrid Blodgett in “Ice Break”. Edmonton-based Blodgett has a new short story collection, You Haven’t Changed A Bit, scheduled for release this March by the University of Alberta Press, which I’ve added to my reading list for this year.
A small excerpt follows:
“We’re a long way out on the lake when the ice breaks. It’s late, after three, probably. The sun is low in the sky. We’ve driven past a dozen men squatting on their three-legged stools over small round holes and staring into the blackness. We haven’t found our spot yet. We haven’t even seen Uncle Rick.
“Everywhere I look outside there’s the lake and the sky, both the same grey-white, blurred together so you can’t see, way out there. what is lake and what is sky; and here and there in the middle distance men hunched on stools, dark silhouettes; and up close on the dashboard, dark blue, covered in a thin layer of dust except for the handprints I left when Dad turned too quickly off the gravel road onto the lake, and I grabbed on, handprints like claws.
* * *
“Earlier Dad had asked Mom to come.
“Mom said no. She always said no. She was doing some work, some financial stuff she needed to catch up on. She’d already told him it was late in the season, the ice might not be good; what did Uncle Rick say. Dad told her they knew what they were doing, they’d been doing it for years, they always assessed the risks before they went out. So she didn’t talk about the ice anymore.
“Now she said, “I know how much you love it.”
“It was after noon. We’d slept in, my sisters and I, and we’d been reading the coloured comics and doing Saturday morning chores. Mom looked over at us — Marla, Dawn, Janie — all in a row on the kitchen bench, eating brunch. Tallest to shortest. Oldest to youngest. Each in our own spot.
“”Sam,” Mom said, “You could take Dawn.”
“Sometimes they did that, one parent, one child. Every six months, it seemed, we had a family meeting about it, and it worked okay for a week, one or maybe two of us doing something alone with Mom or Dad, and then they forgot about it till the next family meeting. Or two of us wanted to do whatever it was Mom or Dad wanted to do with just one of us. So it never really worked.”