About halfway through this collection I scribbled in my notebook, "maybe Canadian writers excel at the short story simply b/c the gloom of Canlit is m...moreAbout halfway through this collection I scribbled in my notebook, "maybe Canadian writers excel at the short story simply b/c the gloom of Canlit is most easily digested in small lumps."
That's not entirely fair to Canlit or to Norman Levine, but it does illustrate one problem with this collection, the unrelieved gloom that hangs over many of the stories. It isn't the stories themselves that begin to bury you, it's the fact that they're served up one after another, piled up like so much late February snow.
The arrangement of the stories doesn't help. They're grouped more or less chronologically as an overview of Levine's career. Levine's continual use of first-person narrators, the autobiographical basis of his writing, and the surface simplicity of his prose combine poorly with this arrangement; you stop reading the stories as independent, self-contained stories, and they begin to blur together like chapters of a novel that actually doesn't exist. (Note that the Amazon.com description illustrates this very problem, ascribing all the stories to a single narrator.) The collection robs the stories of their individual impact.
Levine's stories need to be approached slowly and singly. This is an excellent collection, but it is one to dip into occasionally, not to read en masse.(less)
Eleven tirelessly inventive stories and a novella; each has a certain flourish, a sense that the author is saying, "watch what I bust loose on ya this...moreEleven tirelessly inventive stories and a novella; each has a certain flourish, a sense that the author is saying, "watch what I bust loose on ya this time," and it never grows old or seems contrived.
Magic realism in the short story, unless executed at a high level, often seems to be nothing but a gimmick adopted to relieve a writer of the chore of creating interest in a straightforward, realist narrative. It declares the story's originality with a blast of trumpets, shouts, "look at me, I am new." This is, no doubt, why it has become a staple of our little magazines. But there is no such cheap trickery here.
Rooke's stories are above all vocal performances; they're about voice. This is most obvious in the dialect-soaked novella, "Gator Wrestling"; at first, getting past the dialect is challenging, but then you adapt. And it offers up gems like this: In Prissy's estimation Ganger was a boy of weirdly morbid and demented disposition. He was gravely barbecued in the belfry. Not only barbecued, but gravely so, and in the belfry no less. Rooke, in this novella, invents his own idiom.
Standout stories in this volume include the hilarious "How to Write a Successful Short Story," in which a novice writer sits down to do just that, "Lamplighter Bridegroom 360," which proceeds not from character-with-problem but from the reader's curiosity as to what the heck is going on, and "The Last Shot," which won the CBC Literary Award.
You can't call Matt Cohen a one-trick pony. There's a lot of range in these posthumous short stories, a variety of approaches and voices and styles th...moreYou can't call Matt Cohen a one-trick pony. There's a lot of range in these posthumous short stories, a variety of approaches and voices and styles that not many writers can pull off. One of Cohen's feet is planted firmly in familiar CanLit territory, in the kind of critique of small-town mores found in other Canadian writers of his generation. The other foot is dancing, stomping around pretty much wherever it wants to. You might complain that some of the stories seem slight, but perhaps it's because of the company they're keeping. Well worth reading, especially for anyone seriously interested in the short story as a form.
Fresh, original, and funny. As in any collection, some stories are better than others; the best stories here are wonderful and ring with truth. Russel...moreFresh, original, and funny. As in any collection, some stories are better than others; the best stories here are wonderful and ring with truth. Russell Smith's description, folk tales without morals, is apt.
But I find myself wondering if, after putting this on the stove and bringing it to a rolling boil until only the essence remained, I'd find much left at all. These stories are more interesting on their surfaces than in their depths.(less)
As a collection, Rust & Bone is problematic. Davidson is deft with a phrase and has his finger on the truth. But this collection of stories featur...moreAs a collection, Rust & Bone is problematic. Davidson is deft with a phrase and has his finger on the truth. But this collection of stories featuring washed up boxers, drunks, repo men, amputees and sex addicts begins to strains its credibility. It becomes simply too much.
Any of these stories stands well on its own. The characters are memorable and their stories contain brilliant flashes of humour. But mid-way through the collection, one can't help but feel that Davidson is piling it on too thick. You imagine him sequencing the stories: think that protagonist was degraded, do ya? How about this, then: an exploding penile prosthesis. How'd ya like them apples? Some of it is unmistakably gratuitous, an attempt to stake out a position as a writer who can shock. And that is Davidson's weakness.
Richard Ford's early novels contain bouts of violence that are utterly absent from his later novels and his acclaimed short stories. Thomas McGuane's early novels are full of smart-aleck wordplay and wild, larger than life situations that over time became more muted. Young writers rely on bold strokes and bright colours; with skill and maturity their pallette becomes more muted, their brush strokes more subtle.
You have to hope the same process will temper Davidson's penchant for depravity. Notably, the final story of the collection is a break from the rest. "The Apprentice's Guide to Modern Magic" is the most emotionally complex story of the collection. It's also the only one written in the third person, where Davidson's prose is less assured.
Whatever the numbing effect of these stories as a whole, though, individually they are very good. "Rust & Bone," "The Rifleman," "On Sleepless Roads" and "Life in the Flesh," in particular, stand out. (less)
This is simply one of the best recent short story collections I've run across; Pasha Malla's voice is so assured, his technique so polished, that you...moreThis is simply one of the best recent short story collections I've run across; Pasha Malla's voice is so assured, his technique so polished, that you have to expect he'll become a major figure of the next wave of Canadian writers.
Some of these stories, particularly "Being Like Bulls," in which Niagara Falls has dried up, rely on the magical. Some , like "Long Short Short Long," are entirely realist. Most are character-driven; some ("A Film We Made About Dads") are not. All are strong.
Brautigan wasn't always good, but when he was good he was very good. When he was not so good, he was self-indulgent and gimmicky. Both sides of Brauti...moreBrautigan wasn't always good, but when he was good he was very good. When he was not so good, he was self-indulgent and gimmicky. Both sides of Brautigan are on display in this collection, but the good outweighs the not so good by a wide enough margin to make it worth reading more than once.(less)
Alexander MacLeod's debut collection of short fiction, drawn from 15 years of writing for literary magazines in Canada, tempts you to indulge in the k...moreAlexander MacLeod's debut collection of short fiction, drawn from 15 years of writing for literary magazines in Canada, tempts you to indulge in the kind of superlatives that might be counterproductive in the age of hype; just how brilliant can it really be? Well, pretty damn brilliant, actually. Among the seven longish stories that make up this collection, there is not a single misstep. This book is that good.
These stories lead in one direction, dart down a side alley, and then return to themselves, without any bad welds or weak seams to give away their construction. "Number Three" erects the Chrysler minivan as a mythic object, while exploring the consequences of a devastating accident; "Adult Beginner I" finds teenaged lifeguards diving into the Detroit River from the roof of the Holiday Inn, as a swimmer goes out of her depth; and "Wonder About Parents" encapsulates, in staccato prose, the strange intimacies of parenthood. "Good Boys," an apparently simple story about four brothers and the kid across the street, manages to be both funny and moving while avoiding any form of predictability.
Should you set out to read The Complete Stories cover to cover, the single tool that will most aid you is a sturdy bookmark, one with which you can pe...moreShould you set out to read The Complete Stories cover to cover, the single tool that will most aid you is a sturdy bookmark, one with which you can periodically mark your place for extended periods while you recover from the effects of reading, because while one or two Flannery O'Connor stories are a wonderful thing, the effect of a dozen or so, following one after the other, is something like the effect of coarse sandpaper: wearing.
If this collection puts her genius on display, it also demonstrates that O'Connor was not always good. And if it showcases the enormous strengths of her writing, it also, by gathering it together in one place, illustrates her weaknesses. At some point -- approximately 36 percent of the total page count, I believe -- I found myself rolling my eyes at her characters; here we go again. Thus the bookmark. This writer is best absorbed in small doses.
Those who are strongly interested in O'Connor in an academic sense, or who want to read every single story she ever wrote (even the unsuccessful ones) would enjoy this collection; others will be better served by a smaller tome.(less)