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482 LETTERS IN CANADA 19B2 the margin. 'Atwood is a writer of themes and style: he informs us on p 1: not a good start. And what does he mean when he assures us that Robert Barr's Measure of the Rule (surely a tawdry, unreadable book) 'is convincing even when it is not at all believable'? Or that Connor's The Man from Glengarry (tawdry but almost irritatingly readable) 'rightfully belongs' in the 'abyss of past pulp' but 'historically and culturally ... is of primary importance'? Sometimes he is downright enigmatic. Matt Cohen's 'syntax bends and even breaks to serve clarity' but George Elliott's 'language is so clear it is ambiguous.' And who else would describe Klein's prose as 'spare'? This Reader's Guide would have benefited (but what McClelland and Stewart book, one sometimes thinks, would not?) from more stringent copy-editing: I found some forty errors of spelling, grammar, and wordusage . And the classified lists at the back, where raunchy high school students will turn for easy access to fiction on 'sexual politics' or 'homosexuality : could have been dispensed with (Ethel Wilson would surely have been outraged to find Swamp Angel listed under 'feminism'). This all smacks of publisher's packaging to me. This book is, then, anything but definitive, and should certainly not be regarded as if it were a literary-critical bible (alas, one knows that the very people who shouldn't will treat it as just that). But it is a valuable work of reference to be consulted rather than read from cover to cover. Moss is a good critic against whom to test one's own responses. As a provocative and engagingly opinionated account of the best of the nation 's novels (plus those others that got in by mistake) the book deserves its place on any educated Canadian's bookshelf. (w.J. KEITH) John Metcalf. Kicking against the Pricks ECW Press. 216, illus. $8.95 - To kick against the pricks. To struggle against fate, to protest when the odds are against one. See Acts ix. 5, and xxvi. 14, where the reference is to an ox kicking when goaded. - If one cares about what Canada could become, it's difficult to restrain criticism of what it is. Which is a mess. - Canada drives me into opposition - loving opposition, of course. And opposition does tend to encourage sermonizing and castigation and fulminating like one of the gloomier prophets. - I have a lively sense that everything I value has been driven to the waH by what are called 'commercial interests', by hucksters with degrees in Business HUMANITI ES 483 Administration from our seats of learning who hustle breakfast cereal and scratch-and-smell books. And what has all this rant to do with the decline of poetry? Everything. - Canadians have so little regard for serious literary work that if the Canada Council were dissolved there would be no literature. - We have created a society so vulgar that you cannot be happily of this world and at the same time a good teacher. All literature now is subversive. All literature subverts with its passionate craft the very bases of our society. - Would Evelyn Waugh have washed his hair with a shampoo called Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific? This is an important book that every writer, critic, editor, literary journalist, and teacher in Canada ought to read for its laying painfully bare our embarrassing cultural and educational inadequacies. Witty, acidic, above all provocative, the nine pieces gathered here - eight essays preceded by an interview with Metcalf conducted by Geoff Hancock are designed less to persuade than to disturb, to unsettle, the Canadian literary community - to provoke a reaction of some sort. That the book has so far not elicited a major public response, outraged or otherwise, from anyone - not even from those explicitly pilloried (but not in an ad hominem fashion) and alluded to in the paronomastic title of the book sadly echoes the knell that rings throughout the book: the real problem with Canadian writing is a sociological one, for there is no substantial audience for it. The essays are written in the tradition of the informal or familiar essay - relaxed, self-revelatory...


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