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426 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 in the later novels to whose sophistication and technical skill she calls attention. (D.T. DOOLEY). Bruce Meyer and Brian O'Riordan. In Their Words: Interviews with Fourteen Canadian Writers Anansi. 211, illus. $12.95 paper This publication renews a concept initiated simultaneously by Graeme Gibson's Eleven Canadian Novelists (Anansi) and Donald Cameron's Conversations with Canadian Novelists (Macmillan) in 1973. These books offered genuine literary dialogues (Gibson's was conceived for radio), with insights forming in the energy of encounter with the interviewer who was also a concerned writer. As a result, the observations made by Timothy Findley, for example, to both Cameron and Gibson about the threatening clarity of act and utterance of the 'insane' outsiders in his fiction are still revealing and compelling. Of course, Canadian writers were innocent then, relatively speaking. They were babes in the woods. They hadn't yet been commodified by the McClelland and Stewart promotion department and a decade of Canada Council readings. But even without personas shaped for public consumption they were notoriously hard to interview, and it took the give and take of a real dialogue to penetrate the creative mask. Writers go dumb when asked to discuss their current work; when asked to talk about their past work they frequently mythologize. Meyer and O'Riordan's book is a collection of interviews, not dialogues . Conceived in a graduate course, it began as a student literarymagazine interview with Irving Layton, and much of the production has the impressionistic rather than penetrating air of the celebrity interview, with the reader entering the scene through the questions of a politely knowledgeable and sympatheticfan. We don't know which intervieweris speaking; we can't tell them apart; we can't see them as human beingsexcept in the Purdy encounter where some beer has loosened up the format. Here, as generally, no discussion with any depth and focus is sustained. When Leonard Cohen mentions his projected opera written in Spenserian stanzas, or when Gwendolyn MacEwen remarks, 'I am beginning to see Canada as the most exotic land of all,' someone ought to have gone for the jugular. Instead, there is a sideways hop and the observation is allowed to float away with that deflecting air ofheightened matter-of-factness which writers assume before a tape recorder. The interviews also seem to be invisibly edited, and there is a certain skill in this process which prefaces each interview by some tactful scene-setting and lets each one trail off into posterity with the false sense of resolution imparted by an author's more resonant quotation. A photograph of each HUMANITIES 427 subject supports this effect of a verbal snapshot rather than an inquiry. As well, an empathy with each writer, which is strengthened by some impressive homework, suggests an Olympian breadth of vision or a metamorphic adaptability on the part of the interviewers, who have added an index of any name or title mentioned by an author. In selecting their writers, the interviewers J attempted to give representation to the regional aspect of Canadian writing,' but this and other anxieties of balance are, I think, accidental. The choice of subjects was haphazard, often with one author suggesting to the interviewers the next. Yet this 'kind of treasure-hunt' has led to a productive diversity for, besides Livesay, Layton, Purdy, Findley, and Cohen, there are also Acorn, Souster, Reaney, Mandel, and MacEwen - writers not usually featured in books of this sort because they are not consistently taught. Elizabeth Smart, Sheila Watson, and Brian Moore are three other uncommon but significant figures interviewed here - and Roo Borson, destined to represent the invisible generation of the eighties until Dennis Lee's anthology The New Canadian Poets comes along. Besides putting before the eyes some Canadian writers who are in danger of neglect, a chiefvalue of a publication of this kind is that it gives young writers points of reference for their own creative dilemmas. This is no small service. Meyer and O'Riordan, who are creative writers themselves, communicate sympathetically about the creative process, though from within the interviewer's role in which they are jointly trapped. (SEAN KANE) B.W. Powe...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 426-427
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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