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Reviewed by:
  • No Margins: Writing Canadian Fiction in Lesbian
  • Peter Dickinson
Catherine Lake and Nairne Holtz, editors. No Margins: Writing Canadian Fiction in Lesbian. Insomniac. 316. $21.95

Their chosen title notwithstanding, it seems to me that editors Lake and Holtz have a rather narrow view of what constitutes Canadian lesbian fiction. How else to explain Susan Knutson's vaunted claim, in her introduction to the anthology, that No Margins 'is the first of its kind – the first anthology to gather together, and showcase, as such, Canadian lesbian literary fiction'? Intuiting perhaps some slack jaws among her readers, a footnote to this statement does acknowledge the 'ground-breaking work' of Dykeversions: An Anthology of Lesbian Short Fiction (1986) and Dykewords: An Anthology of Lesbian Writings (1989), as well as two collections edited by Lee Fleming: By Word of Mouth: Lesbians Write the Erotic (1989); and Tide Lines: Stories of Change by Lesbians (1991). I would add to this list Betsy Warland's InVersions: Writing by Dykes, Queers, and Lesbians (1991); Makeda Silvera's Piece of My Heart: A Lesbian of Colour Anthology (1991); and the four volumes of Hot and Bothered: Short Short Fiction on Lesbian Desire (1998–2003) edited by Karen Tulchinsky.

One discovers, then, that it is the qualifying adjective 'literary' that allows Knutson to stake a claim for this anthology's precedence. As far as I can tell, 'literary' in this case refers to 'award-winning,' 'best-selling,' and for the most part 'large press' lesbian fiction. Indeed, Lake boldly acknowledges the exclusiveness of the company when she writes that with this collection she set out 'to create an intentional gathering of our contemporary [lesbian] greats into one collection.' Presumably the further qualifier 'contemporary' explains why the earlier achievements of Marie-Claire Blais and Jane Rule have been 'set aside' in favour of showcasing the work of Dionne Brand, Ann-Marie MacDonald, and Shani Mootoo, among others (although the inclusion of work by Nicole Brossard and Daphne Marlatt confounds this theory). And yet it does not explain why Camilla Gibb, Helen Humphreys, SKY Lee, and Pearl Luke have been passed over.

The descriptor 'lesbian literary fiction' does allow the editors to exclude a rich tradition of lesbian genre fiction in this country, in particular work by mystery writers such as Lauren Douglas, Marion Foster, and Eve Zaremba. Ditto the children's and young adult fiction produced by Rosamund Elwin, Jennifer Whiteford, and Catherine Brett. Finally, much of the best, and most political, of lesbian writing in this country is challengingly experimental, and would that Lake and Holtz's exploded margins had included work from Gail Scott, Margaret Christakos, or Beth Follett. To be fair, the editors do include an example of speculative fiction from Luanne Armstrong (the apocalyptic 'A'thyraa'), and Marlatt's contribution is a dense critical fiction of [End Page 432] the sort we have come to expect from the author of Ana Historic. But, as Knutson again notes, 'The majority of pieces in this collection . . . are representational, bearing witness to lesbian lives in all their wide variety of experience and expression.' This also translates into most of the pieces being rather chaste, and another category necessarily excluded by the 'literary' is that of lesbian erotica.

I do not wish to diminish in any way the merits of the work included here. After all, it is the combined literary merit of this work that is the raison d'être of this anthology. My concerns have more to do with the politics of lesbian publishing in Canada, and with the historical role that small-press anthologies of the sort cited above have played in that politics. Those earlier anthologies were published after much struggle precisely as a way of creating a space for writing that otherwise would not have found an audience. By contrast, No Margins collects short stories and novel excerpts from Governor General's and Giller Award–nominated writers who for the most part need no advertisement. Those who do are consigned, instead, to a 'Selective Annotated Bibliography of Canadian Literature with Lesbian Content.' Drawn from a larger online database created by Holtz, the bibliography is an important, if quirkily esoteric, resource (why include...


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