This is quite a collection. On finishing it, I had to wonder why Jarman isn't better known.
The answers to that are obvious. First, he writes short sto...moreThis is quite a collection. On finishing it, I had to wonder why Jarman isn't better known.
The answers to that are obvious. First, he writes short stories, which many people view as a training ground for beginning novelists rather than a serious discipline in its own right, and so he doesn't get wide exposure. Second, he's at odds with the conventional "Canadian short story," which is realist and character-driven -- see Munro, Alice. (Not that I have anything against Munro, Alice.)
But Jarman is so, so good. His prose crackles. Jarman lives at the level of the sentence, and often seems more concerned with sentences than with plot or character, and the results are remarkable.
Furthermore, he's drop-dead funny. "Fables of the Deconstruction," in which a professor struggles to interpret the intentions of a student who removes her bra from under her shirt, is not only drop-dead accurate but hilarious. "If Derrida didn't exist, we'd have to invent him," she remarks, borrowing from Voltaire, "and then beat him up at recess."
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)
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)