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322 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 Shaw's more balanced stories concern a girl coming ofage during the war years of the 1940s, and may also represent a work like those of Huggan and Murphy at a preliminary stage of evolution. I certainly hope so. 'Transfer,' 'Raspberry Vinegar,' and 'RedSequinson Markham Street' are small gems of diSciplined art, revealing complexity through simplicity, and evoking time, place, and character with deft, vivid economy. Finally, most-honourable mention to Thursday's Voices (Childe Thursday, 1983, 75) which contains eight stories by fledgling writers. All show promise and repay attention, but one, 'Through the Iron Gate' by Soraya Erian, is quite simply the best short story I have read this year. For Erian, as for the majority of authors reviewed here, the term 'promising,' with its implications of unripened potential, seems inadequate. These are works of completed apprenticeship. 2/ MARK LEVENE Since the publication of Canada Made Me (1958), Norman Levine has been knownfor his austere craftsmanshipand sometimes chilly dedication. For Levine, writing, like life, is a serious business. Language, he suggests, is not the plaything of experiment and fantasy; it is, instead, a trust, a compulsion, and the only means one has to record bonds with people and the past. In Champagne Barn (Penguin, 253, $6.95 paper), this tight, clipped beliefin the value of memory and work is given to a figure whose experience, despite some variation, remains consistent throughout the .. stories and parallels the author's own life: boyhood in a Jewish family in Ottawa's Lower Town, early manhood in the Air Force, university life at McGill after the war, a decision to live on the Cornish coast of England, and an irrevocable commitment to life as a writer, its years of poverty and its final, deeply uncertain achievements. In the most recent stories, there is a flicker of ease and humour, an almost audible sigh that inexact phrasingmay notlead to moral chaos. Yet the strength ofthe best pieces is precisely the sense of darkness lapping at the edges of Levine's sharp phrases and severely controlled rhythms. With oblique, understated horror, the narrator records the sudden, inexplicable changes in people's lives: 'I heard she got back to England, married an Englishman. That they have a house in town and another in the country. I ke~p a letter in my drawer.' In this universe of shifting emotions and tremendous gaps in time and space between those who once cared about one another, only the past is stable, coherent. In 'The English Girl' the narratorbuilds images ofalife in England around someone who is a student with him at McGill. In her service, and after her stories of Hunt Balls and nannies, he 'kills off' his provincial, Jewish family, his entire past. But she suddenly withdraws from both his presentand his future. Herlettersbecome less frequent, and FICTION 323 she moves around the world like a silently taunting ghost. The style reflects these sharp changes: 'There was no sound from the corridor. It was the singing ofbirds. It came from the window. And then the window went blue. And the birds were singing as I suppose they do every morning, but never have I heard them as clear. And the blue became lighter, and you could see it growing.' The ease with which someone disappears from sight, then from memory, produces the grim conclusion voiced in 'Grace & Faigel': 'Perhaps, I thought, even when we are with people, it's a kind of pretence. Nothing really matters.' The tonal changes we hear throughout Levine's stories are subtle differences in the degrees ofpain the characters feel. The modestjoy there is appears, typically, with great suddenness. 'Ringa Ringa Rosie' details the poverty imposed on his family by the narrator's compulsion to write and his almost icy detachment in the face of his wife's demands and his children's constant moisture. He fails at getting friends to loan him more money, but the children, sensing that his 'game' is over, form a circle and begin to sing. Here, in the explosion of laughter and the contraction of adult wounds, change is welcome, a triumph. Two of Levine's finest pieces concern the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 322-388
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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