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Letters in Canada 1999 Fiction 1 / NEIL BESNER If the forty-two volumes sent to UTQ in 1999 are representative as far as distribution by genre goes, then a disproportionate number of first books of fiction by Canadian writers this year - nineteen - are books of short stories of various kinds. This is worth thinking about, given what editors and publishers know about the difficulty of selling short fiction. Another, less genre-bound first impression: the thin allure of.ground-zero realism, dirty, heartfelt, brutish, or naive, overwhelms some of these books' better qualities, particularly the novels, by distracting the writers from attention to voice, style, form, and, above all, language. Why should so many writers in Canada begin their careers with a book of stories? The glib answers are just that: among the most common, that short fiction is an apprenticeship on the way to the master form, or that the limited stretches of time available at present to many writers make the short story the most attractive if not the only possible form. Regardless, some of our finest fiction writers, early and late in their careers, continue to choose the short story form. Maybe writers continue to find rewards for being faithful to the more flexible history of the story; short fiction has always been more open to variation and experiment in mode, voice, and style than has the novel, and the kind of experimentation that the story invites continues to be important to Canadian writers, eVidently, despite the vagaries of the market. Taken together the books, editions, and collections here form a quick but revealing survey of the contemporary condition of the genre. Alan Wilson's Before the Flood too nicely illustrates one propensity: careful, solid, competent writing, ringing the changes on the time-honoured theme, in Canada as elsewhere, of a small-town boy growing up into a world seduced by false ideals of progress that will betray its past and corrupt its soul. His version, set in the Maritimes, is engaging, thoughtful, and sincere; but it is also laboured and too cautious. I wanted more risk, or a memorable phrase, or a sentence that echoed somewhere.There is nothing very wrong with the book, but more needs to be right. A similar but more pronounced problem afflicts Rick Book's version of the form -linked stories that trace UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 70, NUMBER 1, WINTER 2000/1 176 LETTERS IN CANADA 1999 a boy's coming of age, these ones set on the prairies - in Necking with Louise. Authenticity alone, whether it be faithfulness to a feeling remembered, a setting reproduced, or the details of an episode itemized in painstaking sequence (as in the deke by skate stride account of the hockey showdown in 'The Came'), will not in itself bring a story alive or sustain a reader's engagement. Debbie Howlett'S We Could Stay Here All Night, however, shows how a quiet but highly skilled realism and a deft and unassuming style can grow, page by page, into a beautifully crafted and cumulatively powerful rendition of similarly linked stories. Howlett gives us a family of four living in Montrealamidst an intersecting array ofdepredations that eat away its integrity: from within, the drifting father and hapless mother falling out of love by painful degrees,creating a patina of loss that oversees the children's development; from without, forces such as the EnglishFrench conflicts in the Quebec of the 1970s, subtly rendered at the local level. Howlett can also be very funny, as in the wry depiction of her young narrator's first engagements with feminism ('New Women'); but what is most impressive is her fine management of tone and mood as she follows the girl's erratic path into adulthood. I was intrigued by 'Children of the Melange' and 'Nataraj: the very good opening stories of Raywat Deonanadan's collection, Sweet Like Saltwater .As he makes clear in his 'Introduction: Deonandan wants to trace the filaments of East Indian traditions as they are transubstantiated in North America, and also, as in the dreamlike cycles of narration in 'Nataraj: to call up old patterns of village life that predate the fatal migrations across continents...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 175-191
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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