Krista's Reviews > Daddy Lenin and Other Stories

Daddy Lenin and Other Stories by Guy Vanderhaeghe
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2015, can-con, short-stories, favourites

Daddy Lenin is a collection of very manly stories, in the best sense of that word. Mostly populated by mid- to late-middle-aged men, these nine short stories examine – through interior monologues, dredged up memories, and pressure-filled present-day situations – what it is to be a (white, middle-classed Canadian) man alive today, and it ain't no bed of roses.

The two stories that bookend the collection highlight the progression of the modern man: In the first, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, a teenage boy in the 60s falls in with a couple of tough kids, and when a prank they pull goes off the rails, he is left alone with a crazy old man; like confronting some addled Dickensian ghost of the future. In the final story, Daddy Lenin, a recently retired school teacher runs into his academic mentor, and although the erstwhile professor is now ragged and seedy, his arrogance ensures that our protagonist will never get over past wrongs; forever in the grip of the ghosts of the past. In between, we meet boys who start relationships with girls from the wrong sort of families, men who are being forced to retire, or are recently widowed and at loose ends, or are forced to confront their failures as providers; each at war with the ghosts of their present. Without being anti-feminist or “failing to check their privilege”, all of these stories demonstrate the existential angst of the modern man, each a perfect encapsulation of the effects of changing gender roles and expectations. What women there are in these stories tend to be emasculating (a penetrating therapist, a higher earning spouse, a sexual adventurer) but I wasn't put off by their portrayals; these are stories about men, and each of them needed someone to act as his foil.

If I did have a complaint about these stories, it's that they eventually seemed formulaic in structure: a situation is presented, background information is slowly revealed, and then a few final paragraphs charge off the page. This was nagging at me until I read this interview with Guy Vanderhaeghe:

I’ve always had the feeling that a short story is not simply a short novel. I have always felt that the short story shared more with poetry. I think you often hope that within a short story the puzzle with the narrative snaps into focus with the last paragraph. It should crystallize everything that has taken place in the story.

This crystallization happens in every story and the effect I felt of it being formulaic is likely just because I devoured this collection too quickly; should I really complain that something that worked so well once was then used again, to repeated success? Here's the ending to 1957 Chevy Bel Air, in which a successful businessman's only regret is the apparent unhappiness of his youngest son:

What he would like to do is hand the keys to the 1957 Chevy Bel Air to Brendan in the hope the boy would drive away as fast as he can. On nights when the hard little stars beat against the windshield like brilliant hail and the prairie wind moans its insinuations, he can imagine Brendan speeding down some road, the CD blaring the strange music that thumps night after night from his bedroom, the wind ruffling his blond hair, each mile bringing him closer to where he needs to be.

In his mind's eye, Randy Bright hungrily watches his son until a final twist in the highway pavement whips Brendan out of sight, the Chevy Bel Air carrying him on to a waiting refuge, safety, a haven of happiness. He knows it is not going to happen, but he wishes it would, wishes that Brendan could be as lucky as he has been. Thirty-five years of contentment is something, even if now the bill for it seems to have come due.

And there it is: the bill for luck and happiness always comes due, early promise often results in wasted lives, and even at the end of a modestly successful career, a man can be left asking, “What was the point of all that?” This is a very intriguing and well written collection from an author I have long admired and I highly recommend it.
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Reading Progress

May 12, 2015 – Started Reading
May 12, 2015 – Shelved
May 12, 2015 – Shelved as: 2015
May 12, 2015 – Shelved as: can-con
May 12, 2015 – Shelved as: short-stories
May 14, 2015 – Finished Reading
June 26, 2017 – Shelved as: favourites

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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Cynthia Alice I very much appreciated the way you put the author's approach to gender issues into words! Read Daddy Lenin soon after Confidence by Russell Smith, also a short story collection. Reading these two, apparently successful, white, Canadian male authors struck me as discovering the same kind of rigor that women have had to bring to the same issues. So encouraging to me as an aging feminist who thought we'd change the world even more profoundly than we have, in my lifetime.To me, these two collections are evidence of men who get it, and skillfully go about 'the work' with great passion and commitment.

Krista I have Confidence in my reading queue so I can't currently compare the collections (but am encouraged to hear that Smith might be as introspective as Vanderhaeghe). Thanks for taking the time to comment, I am conscious of the debt I owe to aging feminists everywhere. =)

Cynthia Alice Taking the time to comment is often easy for me when we're discussing solid evidence of either potential for or actual changes in consciousness!! (It keeps me going through what appears to me to be more extreme and horrifying changes in consciousness.)
And, of course I too owe the same great debt, which I often forget. Thanks for reminding me.
Discussing this with you suddenly roused the memory of yet another apparently white Canadian male writer whom I feel deeply encouraged by! I think his name is Michael Ritchie. Definitely the title of his latest novel is "If I Fall, If I Die". This book, like Confidence is on the long list for the Giller. Nowhere near as polished as the two books we've been discussing but evidence, in my humble opinion, of a similar kind of insight!

Krista Whoot! Great choice to win the GG for English Fiction.

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