- Established Fiction
As a literary form, the short story has a long and distinguished history, especially in Canada. From the nineteenth-century animal stories of Charles G.D. Roberts and Ernest Thompson Seton through the excellent tales of Morley Callaghan and later those of Sinclair Ross, Ethel Wilson, and Mavis Gallant down to the stories of Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, the short story has been steadily developing, growing, and changing, offering its readers a variety of perspectives on our shared lives. ''A short story is not simply a short novel,'' comments Guy Vanderhaeghe. ''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.''
Winner of Governor General's Awards for his first collection of short fiction, Man Descending (1982), and then for his third novel, The Englishman's Boy (1996), Vanderhaeghe received his third Governor General's Award for his fourth collection, Daddy Lenin and Other Stories, nine stories that often centre on middle-aged prairie men trying to figure out the meaning in their lives. Through retrospect they come to challenge their own beliefs, their sense of belonging, and their view of masculinity. A compassionate observer and recorder of the human condition, deeply indebted to the fiction of Robert Kroetsch and especially Alice Munro, Vanderhaeghe never gives his characters more than they can see, more than they can understand, leaving them with nowhere to turn for final answers to their fundamental questions.
In ''Koenig & Company,'' ''the summer my mother had her third nervous breakdown in four years,'' her fifteen-year-old son, Billy Dowd, has to take his evening meal at the poverty-stricken Koenig house while his [End Page 24] mother stays at the mental hospital and his father continues his two-week travels for his job. He meets Sabrina Koenig, two years ahead of him in school. ''A bout with polio had left her with a withered leg and a painfullooking limp.'' They create a secret pact: she will cook his dinner, clean the house, and give him company. She hopes to be her school's valedictorian, and she wants him to invite her to the graduation dance. ''She was a proud girl and I was a scared boy. Like so often happens, our friendship died a slow death because nobody intervened in time to heal it.''
His mother had once complimented Sabrina: ''I remember when you were just a little thing, pulling yourself along on crutches with a brace on your leg, and look at you now, how well you walk, how well you're doing. You just keep going, girl. Don't you ever let anything or anyone hold you back.'' These words echo in her son's mind, and forty years later, now a divorced man, he happened to be reading the Toronto Globe and Mail. The "celebrated Sabrina Koenig" was having a major showing at "a very high-end" art gallery. He does not attend the opening. "I am happy, glad to know that Sabrina took my poor mother's advice, that she never let anything or anybody hold her back, that she is a going concern, a thriving concern, and that Koenig & Company is out there in the big bad world, flaunting the family name, sticking it squarely in everybody's eye, mine included." At the end he is left alone, afraid to attend the opening, afraid to confront such visions from his own past.
In another story, "1957 Chevy Bel Air," Reinie Ottenbreit returns to high school for his senior year in the summer of 1968. He becomes involved with some less than respectable people, including his new girlfriend. Their relationship lasts for a year, then she takes up with another man who pays more attention to her. Reinie refuses to go to graduation, leaves home in his car, and travels through the country. Within ten years he has changed his name to Randy Bright and become married. He then has three sons; the third, Brendan, now seventeen, is a loner, a "moody...