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FICTION 255 2 I DONNA PALMATEER PENNEE The days of historiographic metafiction's interrogations of master narratives would seem to be over in Canadian literature, if 1997's novel and short fiction titles by established writers are at all indicative. Master narratives are there (it is their 'nature' to be ubiquitous), but they are housed and treated in resolutely nuclear (if frequently divorced, separated, or single-parented) family narratives, and they circulate through topics or incidents whose scale is small, tiny even, and very often idiosyncratic or 'quirky.' The terrain of the quirky, the slightly Gothic, or suburban grotesque no longer belongs only to its early mistresses, Terry Griggs and Barbara Gowdy (particularly the Gowdy of the short story collections; see, for example, Nussey, Ravvin, Pullinger, Quaife, and Sarah). I urge you to read in this vein M.A.C. Farrant's collection in particular, What's True, Darling? (Polestar, 181, $16.95), especially the superbly satirical 'Closing Time at Barbie's Boutique,' the very different but also superbly satirical 'The Playground Supervisor,' and the strangely familiar 'A Short Manual on the Care and Cultivation of Boring Relatives.' The more I read, the more I laughed, and the more probable Farrant's worlds became. The terrain of Canadian literaturein the 'established' category no longer belongs predominantly to women, either, at least not in 1997, where 'men's' stories and books (i.e., stories of and books by men) predominate (about which more below). There are also numerous biographies, ifl may use that word to designate the broad narrative shape of so many of 1997's titles, from youth to old age (or at least middle; an aging demographic of both writers and readers is not sure if it wants to go so far as 'old,' especially given the frequency with which Alzheimer's appears in recent titles). And a last thing I would note by way of general characterization is a predominance of realism, though very little sense of apocalypse or millennialism, unless a persistent atmosphere of paranoia suggests the sort of malaise experienced by a middle and lower middle class teetering on the edge of all sorts of insecurities (economic, psychological, sexual, national, global, environmental) and on the edge of the twenty-first century, too. Ibegin with the group of the most established of the established writers, those whose work I found the most disappointing (and thus in some ways the most difficult to write about here). In Jane Urquhart's The Underpainter (McOelland and Stewart, 340, $29.99), I found the metaphor of 'underpainting ' the real, then painting over it to obscure it from view, to be very effective for the psychic and emotional practices of repression of the painter whose (fictionalized) biography is charted here, but I found the painter himself to be completely without interest; the metaphor alone was not enough to sustain the text. I wanted novels about everyone else in this novel except the painter; he was not worthy of their inspiration, their 256 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 loyaltyJ their discretion in not judging him in ways he only learns very late to judge himself. Those parts of the novel that I found most satisfying had to do with the war hospital and the veterans' hospitat where the matter for repression and the means of dealing with it were of far greater interest and, I think, import. I know many people who read a lot, and I've yet to hear a good word from any of them aboutCarolShields's novel, Larry's Party (Random House Canada, 339J $31.00). It isn't that anyone has said that it is really bad; everyone has just seemed quietly disappointed. I was bored by this particular life-story when it went on for over three hundred pages, though I found any single chapter in that life made an excellent, deft, quietly humorous short story. The non-meteoric rise of Larry Weller from one kind of ordinariness to another -no matter what happened in his relationships or his path from flower arranger to labyrinth (garden maze) designer of some renown and income, he remained boring Larry Weller. I suppose there is a certain talent required to write...


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