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university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 Letters in Canada 2002 Fiction 1 / LORRAINE YORK I was especially eager to take on the reading of new fiction for Letters in Canada because I welcomed the chance to read books without much anticipatory publicity or foreknowledge. Lately I=ve been thinking a lot about how we choose to buy and read books, because I=ve been writing a book about literary celebrity in Canada. Who are our literary celebrities? What does their celebrity mean? How are notions of celebrity caught up in the marketing and buying of books in Canada? And, indeed, reading these twenty-two first novels reminded me just how bound up my own bookbuying habits are in publicity, reviews, word-of-mouth: the >buzz= about a book or its author. For the most part, I pick up books in bookstores if I=ve read a review, if a friend has recommended the work, or if I=ve read something else by the author. I=m ashamed to admit that I rarely, rarely, just pick up a book to buy because it looks interesting. And I=m someone who gets paid to read, write about, and teach Canadian writing. So I wondered: how would contemporary Canadian fiction look to me if it just seemed to float onto the book table beside my bed without being preselected through the usual filters? I mainly found out that new writers in Canada seem to be looking for a middle ground between what=s been called the >traditional= novel and what has been referred to in the last few decades as postmodern experimentation. It seems as though new writers are loath to choose one mode over the other, and are, instead, intrigued by the possibility of launching fantasy out of the fabric of a fairly >realistic=-sounding story. I was also struck by how many of these fictions pose the question of escape: escape from a life that has become routine, painful, pointless. This may be the sign of a relatively youthful group of writers; however, as I ponder later in this review, the question of how to live meaningfully acquires even more force at a time in which working for >the company= has become a globally impersonal proposition. And there continue to be works of fiction that explore troubled youth, hurtful relationships, ethnic histories, but I found relatively little in the way of comedy. If these books are to be taken as any xxxxxx sort of barometer B which I suppose is itself debatable B it seems to be a 2 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 rather sombre moment. In terms of fiction of immigration, Robert Pepper-Smith=s The Wheel Keeper takes as its subject a fascinating portion of British Columbia history: the migration of so-called >golondrinas,= southern Italian workers who worked in the province=s orchards and vineyards starting at the end of the nineteenth century. The novel steadily builds towards its narrative climax: the bulldozing of Italo-Canadian homes by the BC Hydro company in order to build a dam. Forceful descriptions of company bulldozers crushing the walls of a house, pushing them into the house=s cellar, create a metaphor for both the displacement of immigration and the harshness of Canada=s response to this new community. The writing is subdued, sometimes too much so, and occasionally the inclusion of Italian phrases can seem forced; the narrator persistently refers to >nostra nonna,= for instance, whenever he refers to the character of the grandmother, and this comes to seem stilted, too predictable a shorthand. Still, the descriptions of the forcible destruction of working-class homes are memorable and haunting. Rachael Preston=s ambitious first novel, Tent of Blue, is one of the most promising of the season. It divides its focus between the British past of ballet teacher Yvonne Rose, who grew up having to deal with with an alcoholic music-hall singer mother, and the story of an older Yvonne and her adolescent son Anton, the result of her relationship with a Russian ballet dancer, Alexei. She and Anton weather a number of...


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