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2 LETTERS IN CANADA 1980 Fiction 1 I HELEN HOY For the literary angler the 1980 catch of Canadian fiction by new authors is reassuring if not on the whole exciting: plenty of perch, a few young of the year, not a single arctic char, but several exotic, satisfying trout. The Canadian tradition of strength in the short story continues although no I single work excels, and in the area of the novel the most impressive and substantial achievement appears in the experimental fiction, especially in I work by Derk Wynand and Robert Allen. Among seven collections of short stories Sean Virgo's White Ues and Other Fictions has the greatest resonance and power while most of the others are solid and workmanlike. I shall deal briefly first with the less satisfying. Stanley Freiberg's Nightmare Tales (Borealis, 93, $15·95, $9.95 paper) presents Nova Scotia scenes and people through a distorting lens in brooding and portentous stories of loss, fear, bafflement, and cruelty. While suggestive in evoking the primitive, the stories with their lurid scenes and lush, extravagant, self-indulgent prose ('darksome: 'vermillion : 'titans: 'phosphorescent: 1ambent') make excessive demands on the reader's forbearance. Similarly flawed is Ed Kleiman's The Immortals (NeWest, 154, $12.95), a tribute to Winnipeg's North End. In this uneven collection a poignant sense ofchange (delicately conveyed in the image of Greenspan's Photo Studio) and some emotional perceptiveness war with clumsiness in tone, stock figures of juvenile and Jewish lower-class life, and, at times, pointed conclusions. On the whole, though, the 1980 short stories show competence and promise. Varied though it is in its characters and situations, Donn Kushner's The Witnesses and Other Stories (Borealis, 77, $14·95, $7.95 paper) is unified by its focus on occasions of emotional unease and uncertainty, often on the part ofcharacters detached from the tangle of life around them - a minister grappling with the death ofa drinker, a student disturbed by a beggar, a self-conscious Jew attempting assimilation, a married woman intrigued by her unmarried maid's pregnancy, a scientist 's wife caught between academic chilliness and the warmth of simplicity and ignorance. Irony enriches these stories of emotional reaction and many turn skilfully on a fmal ironic reversal. Both Veronica Ross in Goodbye Summer (Oberon, 143, $15.00, $6.95 paper) and Terence Byrnes in Wintering Over (Quadrant, 120, $6.95), on different levels of sophistication, examine methods of coping and individuals fighting for a place. Ross's stories about Nova Scotia create unimportant people with modest dreams - of beginning or maintaining a love affair, of finding dignity within an institution for the old, or of resisting eviction. With FICTION 3 restraint the author implies the hard necessity of simply persisting, of keeping up one's spirits in the face of disappointment or the absence of remedies. The Simplicity of style suggests that she is concerned not with the complexity but with the existence of the emotions she depicts. In Wintering Over the attempt to prove oneself, to fit into a particular place or job or social group, is undertaken, for the most part, by more sophisticated characters, often middle-class intellectuals or academics. It is the imperfect alignment of the protagonist and his or her world - the Canadlan boy out of place in the hustle of Florida, the academic intimidated by his own prOvincialism, the businessman condescending to street-wise freeloaders, the town girl and former faculty wife belatedly applying to university, the artist irked by his gourmet acquaintances which Byrnes explores with precision and wry awareness. Along with these contributions by relative newcomers, we have the fiction of the poet Ralph Gustafson, written over a number ofdecades and previously collected only in part in the limited edition The Brazen Tower. Gustafson's The Vivid Air (Sono Nis, 115, $6.95) includes basically three sorts of stories: stories of children (as intelligent, independent, and vulnerable beings), short reflective pieces in which interest derives from the direct, conversational, and personable voice of the speaker, and, in the predominance, stories of sexual tension, particularly of male frustration over disturbed or frigid women. Despite awkward, abstract, and elliptical sentences (with misleadingly placed...


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