“You Haven’t Changed A Bit”: Astrid Blodgett’s Superlative Meditation on Relationships

 

Cover -- You Haven't Changed v.2

Astrid Blodgett’s recently published first collection of short stories, You Haven’t Changed A Bit  (Univ. of Alberta Press 2013), is stunningly well written.  As I finished the book for the second time, I reflected how these stories brought to mind Rainer Maria Rilke’s observation about how each of us cannot help but be a mysterious solitude in relation to one another and, most especially and paradoxically, to our closest loved ones.

Almost all the thirteen stories in this wonderful volume explore fissures in relationships — whether between spouses, partners, siblings, parent-child or friends — and the unspoken mental landscape that inexorably shapes those relationships.  Notably, most of these tales are told from the perspective of a female character, who mainly endure the emotional pain that accompanies varying degrees of psychic distance from a loved one.

A small sampling:  In “Don’t Do a Headstand” a visit by her husband’s pregnant teen niece highlights the growing and likely irreparable gap between the spouses.  “Zero Recall” explores the toxicity of a husband’s mistrust and the wife’s ensuing bitterness at being treated unfairly, both of which threaten the couple’s bond following an unfortunate mix-up at a blood donation center.  The realization by young adult friends that divergent life paths will impact their ties in “Let’s Go Straight to the Lake” is skillfully elicited by the piece’s authentic, slightly awkward dialogue and scene-setting. Several of Blodgett’s stories are especially poignant, particularly “Ice Break,” about fragile parent-child relationships and the weight of guilt from choices that can’t be undone.  This latter story is one that I’ve written about previously and compelled me to seek out more of Blodgett’s captivating writing.

In an effort to stick with my preference for conciseness, I’ll conclude by simply noting that each of the stories in You Haven’t Changed A Bit is a pitch-perfect gem, characterized by truly graceful and insightful writing by a talented writer who is worth every bit of your attention.

Astrid Blodgett

Astrid Blodgett

More information about Astrid Blodgett and her writings can be found at the author’s website here.

Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia

Ballads Cover 1

Front Cover Illustration by Reginald Knowles for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Helen Creighton, a  then-budding musicologist, set about criss-crossing Nova Scotia to collect songs peculiar to the province.  In 1933 she published 150 of these songs in Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia, the first of her many song collections.

I had the good fortune recently to come across a lovely first edition of this book and have enjoyed thumbing through it, while marvelling at the laborious effort reflected in its pages.  Here may be found songs of the sea, of love and its missing, of battle, of children’s play, as well as connections to the English, Scottish, French, Acadian and Mikmaq influences on this rich local music.  The book’s front and back covers are graced with an exquisite woodcut by the noted illustrator, Reginald Knowles, and depict scenes suggestive of the songs within.

Title Page

Title Page, Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

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Homeward Bound

“Homeward Bound,” from Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

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Devil's Island Scene

Frontispiece Illustration by R. Wilcox for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

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Ballads Back Cover 1

Back Cover Illustration by Reginald Knowles for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

The Orenda and the Constant of Change

 

The Orenda

Oh, that bittersweet feeling of finishing a good book that not long before was a welcome and constant companion!   So it is with my having just finished Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda, a gripping epic set around the mid-1600s during the time of first contact between First Nations people and Europeans in what would become Canada.   The Wendat, or Huron, people, who are one of the principal subjects of this book, believed that each of us and every thing is endowed with an “orenda” or life force, and, so it is, more broadly, with cultures.

Not surprisingly, The Orenda was the top choice in the 2014 Canada Reads competition and good reviews abound for this riveting novel (for instance here on GoodReads).  So, rather than pen another, below is a brief excerpt that encapsulates one of the deep philosophical themes underlying the drama that unfolds within its pages. Throughout my reading of Boyden’s poetic work my thoughts continually dwelled on how this snapshot of a not-too-distant earlier time aptly reflects the concepts found in Buddhism, Hinduism and some other spiritual traditions  of samsara (the cycle of birth, death and re-creation), change and suffering, each of which are constants in our world and in the clash of civilizations throughout history.

“Success is measured in different ways.  The success of the hunt.  The success of the harvest.  For some, the success of harvesting souls.  We watched all of this, fascinated and frightened.  Yes, we saw all that happeed and, yes, we sometimes smiled, but more often we filled with fret.  The world must change, though.  This is no secret.  Things cannot stay the same for long.  With each baby girl born into her longhouse and her clan, with each old man’s death feast and burial in the ossuary, new worlds are built as old ones fall apart.  And sometimes, this change we speak of happens right under our noses, in tiny increments, without our noticing.  By then, though, oh, by then it’s simply too late.

“Yes, the crows continued to caw as crows are prone to do, and after a while we got used to their voices even when they berated us for how we chose to live.  Some of us allowed them their cackling because we found it entertaining, others because we believed our only choice was to learn how to caw ourselves.  And still others kept them close for the worldly treasures their masters promised.

“It’s unfair, though, to blame only the crows, yes?  It’s our obligation to accept our responsibility in the whole affair.  And so we watched as the adventure unfolded, and we prayed to Aataentsic, Sky Woman, who sits by the fire right beside us, to intervene if what we believed was coming indeed coalesced.  But Aataentsic only need remind us that humans, in all their many forms, are an unruly bunch, prone to fits of great generosity and even greater meting out of pain.”

 ~~~

Artist to Appreciate: Mary Pratt

Mary Pratt, Cold Cream (1983)

Mary Pratt, Cold Cream (1983)

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Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick and living in St. John’s, Newfoundland for most of her life and career,  Mary Pratt is one of Canada’s realist painters of the highest order.  Her subject matter ranges from luminescent jelly jars and other domestic still lifes to pensive nudes and fleeting dramatic moments (such as a fire blazing in a steel barrel).  Pratt’s artwork is as much about the intricate interplay of light and color on her subjects as anything else.

In conjunction with a traveling exhibition of Pratt’s paintings organized by the The Rooms of Newfoundland and Labrador (May – Sept. 2013) and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (starting Oct. 2014), Goose Lane Editions recently published a beautiful new book, Mary Pratt (2013), which showcases much of her work.  The book features a wide selection of her paintings as well as remarks by Pratt herself and thoughtfully written essays by several leading Canadian art writers.

Backwoods Lumbering During the 1880s

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I recently came across a reprint of Picturesque Canada (ed. by George M. Grant), a two-volume compendium originally published in 1882 of Canada’s history, people and places.  These marvelous books feature hundreds of intricate wood engravings that bring to life with vivid imagery the then still new and developing confederation.  These illustrations of the lumber trade depict the hardships of that way of life, with most of these also seeming to associate that occupation with the extra harsh conditions of winter, which is fitting for the cold weather that is now creeping in up north. (Click images to enlarge.)

Chopping and Sawing

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A Jobber's Shanty; Marking Logs at Skidway

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Arrival of Supply Train at Lumber Depot___

A Sawmill in the Backwoods

Alice Munro on Restless Nights

Alice Munro

Last month, when I heard that Alice Munro had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature I was somewhat embarrassed to realize that while I had heard of her I could not recall reading any of her work despite my having diligently mined many of the best writers of the short story form.  So I was pleasantly surprised the very next day to have stumbled upon her autobiographical essay “Night” among the selections in The Best American Essays 2013, a volume that I had bought only a few days before (and which I highly recommend, by the way).

Best Essays 2013

In this at times humorous essay originally published in the literary journal Granta, Munro reflects upon a particular period as a teenager when her sleep was fitful and how she dealt with that by sneaking out at night.  Her nocturnal meanderings ultimately led to a memorable and poignant encounter with her plain-spoken father, which is hinted at in the following excerpt:

One night – I can’t say whether it was the twentieth or the twelfth or only the eighth or the ninth that I had got up and walked – I got a sense, too late for me to change my pace, that there was somebody around the corner.  There was somebody waiting there and I could do nothing but walk right on.  I would be caught if I turned back.

Who was it?  Nobody but my father.  He too was looking toward town and that improbably faint light. . . .

He said good morning, in what might have seemed a natural way except that there was nothing natural about it.  We weren’t accustomed to giving such greetings in our family.  There was nothing hostile about this – it was just thought unnecessary, I suppose, to give a greeting to somebody you would be seeing off and on all day long.

I said good morning back. . . .

“Having trouble sleeping?” he said.

My impulse was to say no, but then I thought of the difficulties of explaining that I was just walking around, so I said yes.

He said that was often the case on summer nights.

“You go to bed tired out and then just as you think you’re falling asleep you’re wide awake.  Isn’t that the way?”

I said yes.

I knew now that he had not heard me getting up and walking around on just this one night.  The person whose livestock was on the premises, whose earnings such as they were lay all close by, who kept a handgun in his desk drawer, was certainly going to stir at the slightest creeping on the stairs and the easiest turning of  a knob.

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(Photo credit: Derek Shapton)

Laurence Hyde’s Southern Cross

Southern Cross -- Block 29

Southern Cross — Block 29

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In 2007 Ontario’s Firefly Books published Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels, which features four  exceptional examples of the early graphic novel form and the beautiful artistry of its practitioners.   Among these is Canadian Laurence Hyde’s masterful Southern Cross from 1951.  Through a series of 120 striking wood engravings Hyde shares a story that reflects on the impact of nuclear testing on the simple way of life that then existed on Bikini Atoll in 1946.

Southern Cross -- Block 23

Southern Cross — Block 23

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Southern Cross -- Block 27

Southern Cross — Block 27

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Southern Cross -- Block 107

Southern Cross — Block 107

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Graphic Witness Cover

Imagining Canada: NY Times Photo Archive on Canada

Imagining Canada

I learned a lot by focusing on Quebec-themed posts over the past month.  With June now here, time to shift gears for a while back to good old random Canadiana.

For a nice transition, here’s a sampling from the recently published Imagining Canada: A Century of Photographs Preserved By The New York Times, a book I obtained shortly before last month’s trip to Montreal.  Over the past century The New York Times has covered many developments in Canada and Imagining Canada showcases some of the photographs that accompanied that coverage.  The images in the book and below only scratch the surface of the extensive archive acquired from the Times in 2009 by Canadian businessman Christopher Bratty and selections from which have been highlighted in the long-running “Photo of the Day” feature on TORO magazine’s website.

The photos are grouped by subject in the book, with each chapter accompanied by a brief, thoughtful essay on Canadian culture by notable figures.  The introductory essay by editor William Morassutti reflects on the relationship between Canada and the U.S. and the fact that, even if below the radar, many people in the States have been paying close attention to Canada for quite a while.

RCMP in Banff 1941

RCMP in Banff 1941

Leafs vs. Rangers 1966

Leafs vs. Rangers 1966

Deanna Durbin 1948

Deanna Durbin 1948

Royal Canadian Regiment in Halifax 1919

Royal Canadian Regiment in Halifax 1919

A Virtual Trip to The Yukon

The Yukon by Pat and Baiba Morrow 1997

A few weeks ago I finished a couple of well executed photography books that convey the fantastic grandeur of the Yukon.  Fritz Mueller’s Yukon: A Wilder Place, with text by Teresa Earle, capture’s the natural side of this stunning and vast wilderness while Pat and Baiba Morrow’s The Yukon focuses more on the human side of this remote territory.  Together the books provide a virtual trip across a magical land where very few people live or dare to venture, its mysteries thus tucked safely away for the hardy few.  As Mueller and Earle note, “In a world where nature is becoming more cultivated, more compromised, and more rare, the Yukon is a wilder place.”

More photographs and information on these books can be found at the sites for Fritz Mueller and Pat & Baiba Morrow.

T. Earle & F. Mueller, Yukon

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Fritz Mueller -- Kathleen River

Fritz Mueller — Kathleen River

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Fritz Mueller -- Yukon Aurora

Fritz Mueller — Yukon Aurora

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Fritz Mueller -- Slims River

Fritz Mueller — Slims River

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Fritz Mueller -- Tombstone Mountain

Fritz Mueller — Tombstone Mountain

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Fritz Mueller -- Quill Creek

Fritz Mueller — Quill Creek

Essex County and the Lens of Memory

Essex County by Jeff Lemire

After stumbling upon Jeff Lemire’s “The Underwater Welder”, I then sought out Essex County”, his widely praised 2009 graphic novel about life across several generations in a small county in rural Ontario.  Wow!  What a masterfully written (and drawn) elegy about the power and frailties of memory and personal connections.  Highly recommended.

Essex County -- Jimmy Used To Be A Good Hockey Player

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Essex County -- I've Been Here Before

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Essex County -- Playing Hockey

Saltscapes and Canadian Comfort Food

O’Canada Food Month / Installment 1

To ease the transition from my more typical discussions of arts and literature talk to food, I’ll  share some thoughts on Saltscapes magazine, a publication whose editorial offices are in Nova Scotia and which bills itself as Canada’s East Coast Magazine (and of which I’ve been a happy subscriber for the past couple of years).   One of its regular features is a section called “Kitchen Party,” which is usually comprised of about half a dozen short pieces and recipes focusing on regional cuisine.

A couple of weeks ago while skimming through the January 2013, I came across a recipe for PEI baked potato soup, which received a 1st place award in Saltscapes’ annual recipe contest for 2012.   Submitted by Heather Gunn McQuillian of Morell, PEI, the dish was super easy to make and its creamy heartiness provided a perfect antidote to the winter chill swirling outside.   (The recipe is not yet posted on the Saltscapes website.)  Other award-winning recipes in that issues include: fig, goat cheese & balsamic salad; savory pesto cheesecake; sherried mushrooms & brie; croustade oberland; country potato salad; and sweet potato & spinach pizza.

Heather Gunn McQuillian's PEI Baked Potato Soup

Heather Gunn McQuillian’s PEI Baked Potato Soup

The Saltscapes website and each issue of the magazine is packed with interesting content, including well written articles on local fare, cuisine and personalities.  On the website is an extensive recipe archive and index, several images from which are posted below.

Viewing the website, it’s apparent that the commitment of Saltscapes to the tastes and interests of the Atlantic Canada region extends beyond this magazine’s pages.  Among other things, there is a Saltscapes Restaurant & General Store outside of Truro, Nova Scotia, an annual Saltscapes Expo, an annual Food and Travel Guide, a separate Living Healthy magazine, an Eastern Woods & Waters online magazine, and a Saltscapes newsletter.  The magazine publishing business is a tough one in which to thrive, so I admire the entrepreneurial resourcefulness of those behind the various enterprises affiliated with Saltscapes.  By organizing and showcasing all these activities, they serve as exceptional ambassadors for Canadian cuisine and the Atlantic Canada region as a whole.

(Image credits: Saltscapes Magazine)

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

The Underwater Welder

As I’ve recently mentioned, I’ve been checking out what’s worth reading when it comes to Canadian graphic novels.  As part of that winding exploration,  I stumbled across Jeff Lemire’s The Underwater Welder, which was published in 2012 by  Top Shelf Productions (right here in Atlanta).  Lemire, who lives in Toronto, is an award-winning writer and illustrator whose previous works include the highly acclaimed  Essex County and Sweet Tooth.

Jackie-.-.-.

Through the fascinating story told between these covers, Lemire showcases the best in the literary graphic novel form.  The Underwater Welder offers a glimpse of Jack Joseph, an oil rig welder in Nova Scotia, and his search for meaning in his life as he and his wife await the birth of their first child and he struggles with ambivalent memories of his father, who died years earlier in a diving accident off the nearby shore.   With masterful storytelling complemented by his creative graphics — drawn from many vantage points and skillfully using flashbacks,  scene blurring and other innovative techniques — Lemire touches eloquently upon the themes of memory, loss, parent-child bonds, relationships, love and purpose.

Time-to-Wake-Up

In an introduction for the book, noted television writer and producer, Damon Lindelof (Lost, Star Trek, etc.), likens Lemire’s story to an episode of The Twilight Zone and that is certainly one way of approaching this well executed tale.  However, unlike with what might be expected of a typical Twilight Zone sketch, the ending in The Underwater Welder is not discordant but instead signals a note of grace.   Lindelof’s praise for Lemire includes this amusing, good-natured observation:  “I am deeply threatened by Jeff’s creativity, a fact mitigated only partially by the fact that he is Canadian and thus, inherently non-threatening.”

More information on The Underwater Welder, Lemire and his other outstanding works can be found on his blog here.

Back-to-Rig-1

Another Favorite Publisher: Firefly Books

Firefly Books Logo

Not long ago I commented on the remarkable Canadian publisher Douglas & McIntyre.   Another nifty Canadian publisher worth taking note of is Firefly Books, which emphasizes non-fiction.  Aside from McClelland & Stewart, a major Canadian publisher that is a division of Random House, it seems that when it comes to high quality books from Canada one of these two outfits is sure to have had a hand in such works.  While Richmond Hill, Ontario-based Firefly produces a high number of science, nature and “how to” type books, the titles that stand out for me are those focused on art and photography.  Their volumes in those two areas are among the best on their subject matters.

Pictured above is a random selection from the Firefly catalog.  Coincidentally, I have four of these and each is very well done for its subject matter.   Of these, David Silcox’s The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, is the subject of an earlier post here, and I plan to comment on Pat & Baiba Morrow’s The Yukon and George Walker’s Graphic Witness — each mesmerizing in its own way — in the next few weeks.

Although it’s generally not fair to judge a book by its cover, the graphic elements of book design can play a role in pulling in a prospective reader.  So it’s a minor complaint that the website for Firefly Books, unfortunately, does not do its catalog justice in this respect.  When searching for a book a listing of titles is initially displayed and one must click on the title to get more information and only then get a visual on a given title.  Of course, this is a non issue once you’ve located the book for which you were searching or already have it in your hands

Canada at War: A Graphic History of WWII

Canada At War

I’ve long been a fan of graphic novels as both an art form and literary form.  Over the past decade, it seems that graphic novels as a genre have come into their own and are no longer dismissively regarded as just comics for grownups.  I like them as much for the elements of creativity that a well done volume can bring to telling a story as well as for their being excellent reflections of the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.  So a couple of weeks ago my curiosity sent me in search of graphic novels either about Canada or by Canadian authors.  Unsurprisingly, given the many other contributions of Canadians to the culture of popular entertainment, there appear to be a fair number of such graphic novels.  In particular, Canada boasts the quite prolific graphic artists Seth (a/k/a Gregory Gallant), who has released several acclaimed graphic novels in recent years, including It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken (1996), George Sprott (2009) and The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (2011), and Scott Chantler, whose works include Northwest Passage (2005-2006) and Two Generals (2011).

I’m still exploring the Canadian graphic novel, so for now I’ll share a few thoughts on Canada At War:  A Graphic History of World War Two, written by Paul Keery and illustrated by Michael Wyatt, which was published in 2012 by Douglas & McIntyre publishers and which I just finished.  This non-fiction graphic novel provides quite an eye opener about how WWII greatly contributed to the maturing of Canada’s armed forces and the national identity.  It also helped me to understand better the circumstances that gave rise to the disastrous battle at Dieppe in 1942, one of the more tragic episodes involving the Canadian military and which I had heard mention of before but had not fully appreciated.  Among other things, Keery provides an overview of the role of each branch of Canada’s armed forces and major battles or efforts in the Atlantic, the Pacific, in Europe, in Asia and at home. There are numerous vignettes throughout the book highlighting daring acts of bravery and heroism as well as facets of the country’s war effort that remain well below the radar screen but which were, nevertheless, vitally important to the eventual success of the Allied forces.  Keery’s graceful writing and Wyatt’s riveting illustrations are well paired here.  Highly recommended reading.

Update:  Since posting the above, I discovered that Keery and Wyatt have a site devoted to Canada At War, which makes for great additional reading, especially their thoughts on the creative process and their preference in referring to the book as a graphic history as opposed to a graphic novel.  Their site is here and contains additional excerpts.

Jerry Kobalenko’s Beautifully Rendered Arctic Eden

Arctic Eden

In light of the major blizzard that struck the northeastern U.S. yesterday and the deep freeze that settled over much of eastern Canada a couple of weeks ago,  I thought I’d continue with the winter theme of some of my recent posts (see Retro Winter Travel and Recreation Ads and “Ice Break” by Astrid Blodgett) by sharing my praise for Jerry Kobalenko’s Arctic Eden:  Journeys Through the Changing High Arctic.  Although it first caught my eye over a year ago and has been sitting on one of my shelves awaiting my attention since then, perhaps because this wintry season’s colder than usual weather had set the right mood,  I finally got around to reading it this past week.

Arctic Eden is part travelogue (or better put, adventurelogue), part historical overview of explorations of the High Arctic region of Canada, but mostly it is a beautiful  showcase of Kobalenko’s exquisite photography of the stark and at times haunting landscapes of the rugged northernmost latitudes of Canada.  Through the book Kobalenko, who is based in Alberta, narrates for his readers several sled-pulling treks through the extremities of Nunavut, including Devon Island, Axel Heiberg Island and Ellesmere Island, and he does it in such a way that one can readily visualize the experience of which he writes.

The text is nicely complemented by asides about early Arctic adventurers and local flora and fauna and the author’s stunning images that demonstrate his keen eye for the beauty of this harsh environment.   While shades of white and blue dominate the landscape, I was struck by the much wider range of vivid colors than I expected in these images of the Arctic.  What comes across most clearly is Kobalenko’s good-natured passion for outdoor adventure and his joyful appreciation for each visit to the High Arctic that he’s been privileged to make (apparently through much resourcefulness on his part).  I should also note that in several places he acknowledges his wife, Alexandra, as his steadfast companion in adventure and in preparing key parts of the book.  Undoubtedly, this thankful sensibility contributed to Arctic Eden’s receipt of the 2012 William Mills Prize for Non-Fiction with a polar theme.

I’ve posted above a handful of Kobalenko’s photos from the book, more of which can be viewed on his website (www.kobalenko.com).  His website, by the way, is quite nicely laid out and has information on ordering this and his other books as well as his photos.

Photo Credits:  Jerry Kobalenko

The Pride of the Mounties

Mountie On the Rapids

Ask most Americans about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) — more commonly called the Canadian Mounties — and you’ll frequently hear comments indicating a generally high regard for the Mounties and their association with the frontier derring do.  With their iconic red serge coats and dimpled Stetson hats, the public image of the Mounties has had a warm reception in the American imagination, even if over the years, like many police forces, they have had their ups and downs and share of controversies.

My early introduction to the Mounties included watching as a kid countless Dudley Do Right cartoons, which presented an amiable if bumbling caricature of a Mountie, and educational reels from school about the valor of the Mounties.  Slightly later came Monty Python’s humorous send up of another Canadian icon, the lumberjack, which featured the good-natured Mounties providing a back up chorus.  Probably because of all these sources I almost always thought of the Mounties as a wilderness fighting force, and did not fully understand their broader policing role.

The idea that the Mounties “always got their man” also stuck with me from childhood.  Fittingly, that unofficial motto was attributed to the Mounties by an American publication (at least according to the Wikipedia entry on the RCMP).  The RCMP as we know it today resulted from the merger of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, which first patrolled the Northwest Territories starting in the late 1800s, and the country’s Dominion Police.   As testament to the acclaim enjoyed by the Mounties, they were frequent heroic subjects of popular American books, pulp fiction, magazine stories, radio shows and movies from the 1920s through the 1960s.  A sampling of related pop culture images is collected below.

“Ice Break” by Astrid Blodgett

Journey Prize 24

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.”

Douglas Coupland’s Souvenir of Canada

Souvenir of Canada

I just finished reading Douglas Coupland’s fascinating Souvenir of Canada (which, incidentally, is published by Douglas & McIntyre), a series of interrelated essays and photographs about the nature of Canadian identity.  Coupland uses an alphabetical arrangement of iconographic topics that most Canadian’s will readily understand or relate to —  such as “Distance”, “Maple Syrup”, “The Group of Seven”, “Hockey”, “Small Towns” and “The Trans-Canada Highway”, among many others — and his intelligent, at times highly personalized and humorous, commentary on these subjects both celebrates and challenges many of his country’s traditions.  Coupland followed up this 2002 book with a second volume and his reflections were later made into a film in 2006 by Robin Neinstein.  The initial set of essays compels me to track down these follow-up efforts.  Although Coupland targeted this work at his fellow countrymen, his frequent comparisons between Canada and the United States and the at times ambivalent cross-pollination between the two countries, allows the book to serve as a very accessible primer for American readers on Canadian culture.

Coupland’s ruminations throughout this book are worth pondering further.  As but on example, here he is commenting on the concept of distance as it relates to Canada:

“You can never overstate how large a country Canada is.  Everything is far away from everything else; nothing is close to anything.  And a sizable chunk of the Canadian identity is defined both by how we pretend this isn’t the case, and how we can be so shockingly cavalier about plane hops like Vancouver to Winnipeg or Montreal to Halifax. . . . Canadians are the same as Americans about this — Texans will drive two hours to go out for dinner.  But whereas the continental U.S. has cities plunked about its forty-eight states with quite equal spacing, Canada (at least the inhabited part) is a skinny Chile-like entity that stretches across the continent.  To the north, for millions of square kilometres, lies nothingness, and this vast space looms large in the Canadian mind.  In our national anthem, it’s called the True North strong and free.”

About Canada’s 135th birthday in 2002, the year Souvenir of Canada was published, Coupland strikes an optimistic note about the country’s future:

“. . . Canada is a staggeringly young country, and we really ought to be easier on ourselves than we are.  We beat ourselves up trying to define ourselves when, comparatively, we’ve generated more myth and identity in our short lifespan than many countries ever did before their 135th birthdays.  There’s only so much national mythology that can be created in 135 years.  Relax.

“An added bonus of being young is that you’re not, well old.  So the future belongs to you — you can still make your country what you want it to be, and you can protect it from what you don’t want it to be.  Most countries have permanently locked into their myths and identities and their time for experimenting is over.”

Tilting, Newfoundland and Quieter Times

Tilting by Robert Mellin

As I was going through my bookshelf last week in preparation for our family’s annual potlatch exchange, I came across Robert Mellin’s Tilting:  House Launching, Slide Hauling, Potato Trenching, and Other Tales from a Newfoundland Fishing Village, which I obtained several years ago following one of my visits to Newfoundland but which I had only skimmed through at the time.  There is so much to like in this neat little book about the sparsely populated and very scenic fishing village of Tilting, which is located on Fogo Island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and is now mostly inhabited by descendants of Irish settlers from the early 1700s.  (See here and here for earlier O’Canada Blog comments about Fogo Island.)  It’s difficult to classify this work by genre — its subject matter ranges across fishing village architecture, local history, oral stories, traditional farming and fishing techniques, and cultural studies.

Mellin, an architecture professor at McGill University, complements his studious observations with an impressive array of photographs (most his own), line drawings and maps, as well as commentary from longtime Tilting residents.  I particularly liked the following amusing remarks by resident Jim Greene on local visiting customs and the frowned upon city-style practice of asking people to remove their shoes upon entering the house:

“They don’t bother to knock — because everybody around here knows one another and they knows what’s in there and they knows what kind of a person they’re going to meet and — there’s no need of them knocking — I think that’s the reason.  .  .  . Nobody don’t want to take off their boots — We had several people comin’ in stopped out in the porch tryin’ to get off their boots — come on in, boy!

“You know Mark Foley?  He was away into St. John’s and I met him one day — I said, “Mark, you were gone.”  He said, “Yes, boy, I was into St. John’s and I had a spell takin’ off me boots. ” Why, that’s bullshit!  They’re imitating that crowd in St. John’s and that’s the reason — we’re going to be just like the crowd that’s in St. John’s and you got to do the same thing in their houses as they does in St. John’s — full of bull.  I had a pair of boots one time I couldn’t get off — what’ll I do then?  You know the kind of boots they are — they calls them “flits” and they calls them “unemployment boots” — them rubbers with a couple of laces at the top.  I bought a pair one time and I put them on — didn’t have much trouble to get them on — but in the evening when I went to get them off I couldn’t get them off.  I lay down on the floor and I hauled on them and everything and I couldn’t get them off — after a while I got them off, and I never put them on no more.  Another fellow down there, Billy Broaders, he’s dead now, he put a pair on one time he had to cut his off!  Well, if you’re going to their house with them boots on you have to turn around and come back — you couldn’t get in, could you?”

Douglas & McIntyre: An Exceptional Indy Publisher

Although several volumes produced by the Vancouver-based Douglas & McIntyre have sat upon my shelves for quite awhile,   I had not focused on this independent publishing powerhouse until I recently posted some thoughts about art in the Pacific Northwest and pondered the coincidence that two art books (Shore, Forest and Beyond and Mythic Beings) mentioned then were from D&M.  I also count Inuksuit (noted in O’Canada Blog on January 31, 2011) and Arctic Eden  among my books from D&M that contain beautiful images of special aspects of the Canadian physical and cultural landscape.

Exploring their catalog of titles, what strikes me are the diverse range and high quality — there are many award wimmers here — of Douglas & McIntyre’s art-themed volumes and its literary fiction and non-fiction.   Its affiliated imprint, Greystone Books, is also quite good.  I’ve added several to my wish list.   Some of the titles that stood out from my browsing include those below.

First Nations Art of the Pacific Northwest

During a trip to Vancouver last December with my two sons, we visited the Vancouver Art Gallery’s outstanding exhibition “Shore, Forest and Beyond: Art from the Audain Collection”.  What a spectacular display of traditional and contemporary artworks related to British Columbia!  The Vancouver Art Gallery and Douglas & McIntyre Publishers (more on them in a later post) collaborated on a book, Shore, Forest and Beyond, showcasing the exhibition that is well worth obtaining.  On that visit, I also brought back a copy of Gary Wyatt’s beautiful book, Mythic Beings: Spirit Art of the Northwest Coast (also published by Douglas & McIntyre).  While there’s much that can be said about the show and several of the commercial art galleries in that region that focus on such artists, for now it prompts me to share some contemporary art with traditional motifs from the first nations tribes of the Pacific Northwest and a few of the galleries where such works can be found.

Selected Art Galleries:

Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, BC

Spirit Wrestler Gallery, Vancouver, BC

The Path Gallery, Whistler, BC

Coastal Peoples Fine Arts, Vancouver, BC

Black Tusk Gallery, Whistler, BC

I-Hos Gallery, Courtenay, BC

Inuit Gallery of Vancouver, Vancouver, BC

Spirit of the West Coast Art Gallery, Courtenay, BC

Richard Ford’s Amusing Description of Canada

Close to the ground: novelist Richard Ford near his home in Maine.

This past weekend I caught part of an interview by Eleanor Wachtel of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer Richard Ford on Wachtel’s CBC Radio One program “Writers & Company.”  Among the subjects touched upon is a novel that Ford has in progress, which has the working title of Canada.    The novel tells the story of a young boy from Montana going to live with a family friend in Saskatchewan.  In an excerpt from his manuscript that Ford read on the program (and as transcribed by me below as accurately as my ears would allow), Mildred, a friend of the boy’s mother drives him up to the fictional town of Fort Royal and shares with the boy some of her quirky and unintentionally humorous perspectives on Canada as follows:   

In the car, Mildred recited what she knew about Canada that might be useful to me.  That Canada contained provinces not states of the union, though there was really no difference.  She said they spoke English there but in a different way she couldn’t describe though I’d be aware of it.  She said they had Thanksgiving but theirs was on a Sunday and wasn’t in November.  She said Canada had fought beside America in the war my father had fought in and Canada had gotten involved in it even before we did and had an air force as good as ours. 

She said Canada wasn’t an old country like ours and still had a pioneer feel to it, and nobody there thought of it as a country anyway, and in fact in some parts people spoke French.  And the capital of which she couldn’t remember the name of, was back in the east some place and nobody respected it the way we did Washington, D.C.  She said Canada also had dollar bills for their money, but theirs were different colored and weren’t worth even half of what ours were.  [Ford interjects at this point that this was a long time ago.]  She said Canada had their own Indians but treated them much better than we treated ours, and Canada was much bigger than America, except it was mostly useless and inhospitable, since it was covered in ice all year long.

The full interview can be accessed here on the CBC Radio One site, with Ford’s reading from his book starting at around 23:36.

(Photo credit: Robert Yager)

Inuksuit

 

Inuksuit - Silent Messengers of the Arctic

Perhaps because we in the South have been having one of the more intensely cold and icy winters in recent memory, my thoughts have turned of late to the Canadian Arctic.   Of course, my fascination with that region pre-dates the latest cold spell but the current chilliness causes me to contemplate in a more direct way the far north regions and what  difficult living that must be.   So, about a month ago I read through Inuksuit:  Silent Messengers of the North by Norman Hallendy, which clued me into the mysterious man-made rock structures called inuksuk (the plural being inuksuit) and the special role they play in keeping people connected with one another and spiritual forces across the vast and barren — and hauntingly beautiful — landscape.  Hallendy came to understand the intricate language and significations of inuksuit among the Inuit people over the course of his more than 40 years visiting the Canadian Arctic.    His book does a wonderful job allowing us to peek into the lives of the Inuit and their reverence for the natural world.

inukshuk in igloolik by arctic-wl

(Bottom photo credit: arctic-wl’s photostream on flickr:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/wolfwl/collections/)

Spooky Canada

Because today is Halloween, I thought I’d share some comments on a book I picked up a few weeks ago that seems fitting for the occasion.   Spooky Canada: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings and Other Local Lore (Insiders’ Guide 2007), is a diverse collection of Canadian folklore as retold by S.E. Schlosser.  There are 30 stories in all and each of the country’s provinces is represented, with tales from Quebec and the Maritimes predominating in number.  The illustrations by Paul Hoffman nicely complement the tales and among the graphics is a map pinpointing the local area associated with each story.

Many of these are traditional tales that harken back to much earlier days when the vastness of Canada was first being explored and settled.  So, the book echoes the history of some of the regions.  Pioneers and native people experienced a life of relative isolation that, while full of virtues, can also prey on the sensibilities, especially during the harsh winters featured prominently in many of the stories.  It’s clear that Schlosser has kept her ear to the ground in collecting and recounting these tales of ghosts, spirits and general spookiness, which come across as though the narrator is speaking around a cozy fire with the reader among the listeners huddled closely.

If you can’t locate the book, parts of many of these stories can be found on the American Folklore website, which Schlosser maintains and which contains a wide compendium of folklore, including an extensive section on Canadian folklore.

David Silcox’s Exquisite Book on The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson

While in Toronto recently I stayed at a hotel across from the Royal Ontario Museum.  Although I did not have sufficient time to tour the Museum, I briefly stopped by its gift shop.  Browsing through the art books on display I came across an amazing book on the Group of Seven that I had not previously seen and which I had to have.

Once back in Atlanta as I leisurely browsed through the simply named volume, The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, by David Silcox (Firefly Books 2001), I was impressed anew at this amazing collaboration of early twentieth-century artists who helped define a distinctively Canadian style of painting.  (See previous post on OCanadaBlog here.)  It also gave me a greater appreciation in particular for Tom Thomson, but for whose untimely death in 1917, the collective might well have been called the Group of Eight.   As one of the other members, Lawren Harris, noted in a narrative of the Group, “although the name of the group did not originate until after his death, Tom Thomson was, nevertheless, as vital to the movement, as much a part of its formation and development, as any other member.”

Tom Thomson, Autumn Foliage

Silcox’s beautifully compiled book is organized into thematic sections, initially around some broad categories, such as “Icons: Images of Canada,” “The First World War,” and “Cities, Towns and Villages,” and then by geographic regions, including “The East Coast,” “The St. Lawrence River and Quebec,” “Algonquin Park and Georgian Bay,” and “The Prairies, Rockies and West Coast,” among others.   This approach enables a wonderful comparison of each artist’s perspective on the same subjects and geography.  Preceding each section is  a brief narrative by the author that provides historical and cultural context that enriches the understanding of the individual Group members and their works.

Tom Thomson, In the Northland

Walt Whitman’s Visits Up North

A couple of weeks ago, I had occasion to discuss Walt Whitman’s wonderfully contemplative poem “Song of Myself” with my youngest son.  Prompted by our talk, I started skimming my compact volume of Whitman’s collected poetry and prose works, which I had not paid any attention to in quite a while, and stumbled upon his Specimen Days, a collection of his reflections on his life and travels.   Besides being an innovative writer, Whitman was something of an adventurer in his day, so it was not surprising to learn that some of these reminisces included observations on Canada, which his biography indicates he traveled to in the summer and early fall of 1880, just about a dozen years after the formation of the Canadian Confederation.  I’ve recounted below some of Whitman’s comments from Specimen Days, in each of which he marvels at the amazing beauty and warm people encountered on his journey.

From “The St. Lawrence Line”:

“. . . [H]ere I am writing this nearly a thousand miles north of my Philadelphia starting-point (by way of Montreal and Quebec) in the midst of regions that go to a further extreme of grimness, wildness of beauty, and a sort of still and pagan sacredness, while yet Christian, inhabitable, and partially fertile, than perhaps any other on earth.”

From “The Inhabitants — Good Living”: 

“Grim and rocky and black-water’d as the demesne hereabout, however; you must not think genial humanity, and comfort, and good-living are not to be met.  Before I began this memorandum I made a first-rate  breakfast of sea-trout, finishing off with wild raspberries.  I find smiles and courtesy everywhere . . . .  In general the inhabitants of this rugged country (Charlevoix, Chicoutimi and Tadousac counties, and lake St. John region) a simple, hardy population, lumbering, trapping furs, boating, fishing, berry-picking and a little farming.   I was watching a group of young boatmen eating their early dinner — nothing but an immense loaf of bread, had apparently been the size of a bushel measure, from which they cut chunks with a jackknife.  Must be a tremendous winter country this, when the solid frost and ice fully set in.”

From “Capes Eternity and Trinity”:

“But the great, haughty capes, silent capes themselves: I doubt if any crack points, or hills, or historic places of note, or anything of the kind elsewhere in the world, outvies these objects . . . .  Then they are as distinct in form as a perfect physical man or a perfect physical woman.   Cape Eternity is bare rising, as just said, sheer out of the water, rugged and grim (yet with an indescribable beauty) nearly two thousand feet high. Trinity rock, even a little higher, also rising flush top-rounded like a great head with close-cut verdure of hair.  . . . They have stirr’d me more profoundly than anything of the kind I have yet seen.  If Europe or Asia had them, we should certainly hear of them in all sorts of sent-back poems, rhapsodies, &c., a dozen times a year through our papers and magazines.”

(From Walt Whitman:  Complete Poetry and Collected Prose (Library of America 1982))

Jim Shaughnessy and Canadian Railroad Photography

 

 (Canadian National, Sherbrooke, Quebec –1957)

Although during most of my childhood my family lived closed to various railway lines, I was born too late to regularly experience the thrill of hulking steam-powered trains pull into nearby stations.  On those rare occasions as a child that I encountered one of these mechanical monsters chugging through a rail crossing the feeling that gripped me was one of utter awe.  While the era of steam locomotives is now a fading memory, my wife recently surprised me with a gift of The Call of Trains:  Railroad Photography of Jim Shaughnessy (edited and with text by Jeff Brouws).

As a serious amateur photographer, I appreciate the artful composition of Shaughnessy’s exquisite black-and-white images.  He was a pioneer of railroad photography and his career extended over half a century, with many of the strongest images from his extensive work being from the 1950s and 1960s.  Because he lived most of his life in upstate New York, Shaughnessy was able easily to make periodic sojourns through Quebec, Ontario and other parts of Canada to capture amazing images of both the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National rail lines.   Underscoring this is that over a fifth of the images in the The Call of Trains are of Canadian railway scenes.   Below is a sampling of some of the wonderful images that may be found in the book.

      (Canadian Pacific, Spadina Avenue Facility, Toronto –1957)

 (Canadian Pacific, Cookshire, Quebec –1956)

(Canadian Pacific, Double-Headed Steam Locomotives and Freight Train, Lennoxville, Quebec –1954)

Link to The Call of Trains:  Railroad Photographs by Jim Shaughnessy on Publisher’s Website:   http://books.wwnorton.com/books/978-0-393-06592-3/

Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil

I finished Yann Martel’s latest novel, Beatrice and Virgil, about two months ago and set it aside unsure what to make of it.  I figured I’d give this work by the Saskatchewan-based Martel some time to percolate a little in my mind before venturing comment.  I truly enjoyed his Life of Pi, as clever a tale written in parable form as one might find.  I later learned that Martel was the 1991 recipient of Canada’s Journey Prize (related O’Canada Blog entry on 3/21/10), which enhanced my appreciation for his writing abilities.  As icing, because the author is Canadian, at some level I expected (hoped) that to weigh in the book’s favor.  So, given all this, I looked forward to this latest offering by one of Canada’s contemporary literary lights.

Alas . . . .  My predisposition and my prolonged rumination could not salvage my conclusion that this book comes up short on several measures.  While it may be that the shadow of success cast by Life of Pi would make just about any author’s subsequent efforts fall short by comparison, I felt in many ways that a kind of writer’s block may have gotten the best of Martel with this work.  There are too many elements that bear at least a passing resemblance  to the earlier novel or the actual life of its author:  like Martel, the protagonist in Beatrice and Virgil, is an author who found  initial success with a work that was a parable and who then had a hiatus of some time before completing another novel; also like Martel, after encountering resistance to an innovative manner of telling a combined fictional story and a non-fiction narrative about the Holocaust, he retreats from writing; the main character then chances to meet a taxidermist-cum-writer in need of editorial guidance with a play whose main characters are animals — a donkey (Beatrice) and a howler monkey (Virgil); Beatrice and Virgil struggle to recount the horrors of a series of events perpetrated among animal-kind that, in the manner of a parable, is supposed to be akin to the Holocaust.

There are certainly a number of imaginative flourishes in the novel.  The various ways in which the horrors are referred and recounted is interesting as is the idea that all the action in the play is supposed to take place (literally) on a great big shirt.  The connection between the lengthy recounting of a story of cold-blooded animal hunting written by the 19th-Century French writer Gustave Flaubert and the mysterious life of the taxidermist-playwright is also intriguing.  However, Martel’s story itself plods along and it is unclear whether Martel’s point about the Holocaust is that we should appreciate how vastly horrible it was — notwithstanding that, with the exception of true historical Luddities or denialists, the understanding is widely shared that, indeed, the Holocaust was immensely terrible.  So, this is not much of a revelation by Martel.  Maybe, like Martel’s fictional novelist in Beatrice and Virgil, Martel wanted to conjure up a more creative way to approach the Holocaust, or the subjugation of animals by people,  than one can find in traditional literature on those subjects.  Yet, at the end of all this, this novel feels like a work that is more of a palette cleanser than the satisfying main course we expected.

Canada Takes Over The New Yorker

 

At the beginning of June, I noticed two full back-to-back pages of travel-related ads in The New York Times.  It stood out both because of the dense ad compilation and the fact that each of the ads was laid out as a sort of website screenshot including various social media links and references to comments, uploads, albums and the like.   I thought how cool that these Canadian organizations, including Tourism Toronto, Rail Canada, Canada.travel and Air Canada, among others, obviously banded together to make a more impactful impression.   I intended to comment on that before now but this past month has been unusually busy personally and professionally so I clipped the ads and set them aside for later comment (which is now!).

So, how much cooler is it that something similar but even more ambitious has been done with the June 28, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.  When I saw the ad on the inside cover (above) I was happy to see such a nicely laid out and to the point ad on Canada.  As I thumbed through the issue one after another distinctive maple leafs made it unmistakable that something was up with this issue.  Other than customary adverts for The New Yorker itself, every single ad was from a Canadian agency, province, business or institution.   In the online interactive edition there are also embedded videos that add to the message.

I’ve been a subscriber to this publication for over 20 years and the only other time I recall a similar campaign was when Target, the department store, took over every ad page and scattered its target logo throughout the magazine.  I’m sure the reason it’s not done more often is that it takes a good deal of expense and coordination, but that also makes it stand out all the more.  Bravo, Canada!

My fave is the fun “Bring Your Boots” ad by Alberta.

Link:  http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2010-06-28#folio=CV1 (may require a subscription to access)

The Journey Prize Stories (21)

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the pleasures of annual short story anthologies, particularly New Stories From the South, The O. Henry Award Stories and The Best American Short Stories, each of which showcases some of the best American short fiction printed during the previous year.   To that list, I’m happy to add The Journey Prize Stories, of which I only recently became aware.  The Journey Prize is awarded annually to the best short story published by a Canadian writer and is sponsored jointly by the Writers’ Trust of Canada and the publisher McClelland & Stewart.  While the $10,000 cash prize that accompanies the Prize is not insignificant, more important is the critical recognition bestowed on the winning writer.

Prior to the announcement of the winning story, the finalists are collected into an annual volume entitled The Journey Prize Stories, with the 21st volume having been released this past October.   The twelve stories that make up the most recent collection are truly quite good.  While several of the stories share the element of a central character being afflicted with illness, overall, these tales are a diverse lot and most readers will surely find something of interest among this dozen.  Below are brief summaries of each (with the respective author’s name noted in parentheses).

“Lure” (Adrian Michael Kelly):  Explores the intricate relationship between a young boy and his father against the backdrop of their first fishing trip together.

“Away” (Lynn Kutsukake):  Poignant tale of a young girl who went missing and the impact of the revelation many years later that the girl had not run away as had originally been thought but was abducted.

“Easy Living” (Jesus Hardwell):  Reflection on life’s daily struggles as told through the mundane conversations among the denizens of a local bar.

“Highlife” (Paul Headrick):  A wife deals with the distance that develops between her and her music critic husband following his diagnosis of a terminal illness as she struggles to emotionally support him as he pursues his musical passions and ignores her.

“The Wisdom of Solomon” (Dave Margoshes):  Amusing reflections of a fictional newspaper advice columnist who spins one tangled web too many to his later chagrin.

“Miracle Mile” (Alexander MacLeod):  Insight into the mutual respect displayed by two friends, both dedicated track competitors, and the resulting emotional tension between them when one finally decides to hang up his running shoes.

“Floating Like the Dead” (Yasuko Thanh):  Insight into the daily fight for survival by a small group of inhabitants on a leper colony for Chinese-Canadians off the coast of British Columbia.  This story was announced as the winner of the 2009 Journey Prize winner

“Deaf” (Sarah L. Taggart):    A young couple deal with the realities of their daughter’s diagnosis of being deaf.

“Pyro” (Sarah Keevil):  A woman wrestles with the consequences of her interest in pyromania and her conflicted feelings for two men.

“On the Line” (Shawn Syms):  Amidst the daily tedium of working in a meatpacking plant and just trying to get by, the story’s heroine has an epiphany that finally prompts her to radically change the direction of her life.

“Picturing God’s Ocean” (Fran Kimmel):  A couple take their seriously ill daughter to see the ocean as the husband wrestles with his disgust at the capriciousness of life while his wife clings to her religious faith.

“The Last Great Works of Alvin Cale” (Daniel Griffin):  Another father-son tale, this one about their estrangement in the face of the adult son’s affliction with cancer and the father’s candid recognition of his feelings of jealousy toward the son’s artistic talent and their complicated relationship with one another precipitated by a woman who served as an artistic muse for them both.

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