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Letters in Canada 1991 This year we welcome two well-known Canadian writers, Aritha van Herk (English, University of Calgary) to the Fiction section, and Rhea Tregebov to the Poetry section. After a year's hiatus, the Translation section returns to 'Letters in Canada,' under the capable hand of Jane Koustas (Department of French, Italian, and Spanish, Brock University). Regrettably, there is no Poesie section this year. I would like to thank this year's contributors for the exceptional amount of time and energy that they have devoted to their respective essays. B.-Z. Shek's assistance in organizing this issue has been invaluable. (AB) Fiction 1 / ARITHA VAN HERK The year 1991 showed some distinctive beacons for first fictions by new Canadian writers. Happily, although bored disaffection continues ubiquitously as the fashionable subject of the new writer, it appears to be marking lts own demise. A more thoughtful depth-charge intimacy is beginning to make its presence known in both novels and short stories, an indication that new writers are moving beyond the rather retrograde desire to replicate the modernist bad-boy text. Attention to detail, the care of the intricate, is evident in the style and polish of much of the new work that appeared, resulting in a body of generally impressive fiction. Some texts neglected in 1990 or published late should be discussed first. Four collections of short fiction deserve mention as outstanding specimens of the genre. Of these, the most strikingly powerful is Kenneth J. Harvey's Directions for an Opened Body (Mercury, 122, $11.95). The stories included here articulate a beautifully choreographed, never sensationalized , and always elegant violence. This is a difficult collection to read, difficult because it is so profoundly shocking, purely unwilling to let the reader off the hook of impuissant onlookerheid. These stories take as their subject the depredations ofworking-class, frequently down~and-out, male characters: bikers; angry men abandoned by their wives or on parole; UNlVERSITY OP TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 62, NUMBER I, PALL 1992 / I 2 LETTERS IN CANADA 1991 unemployed men desperate for a habit. Yet, Harvey does not succumb to a facile romantidzation of the life of the underclass male: he articulates its sadness, its need, its horrifying remove from a controllable world. These stories serve as a guide to wreckage rather than convention and order; for, as one character says, 'the preservation of order means trust in lies.' Harvey uses provocative material and a capacity for sensual detail alongside bare necessity: a character crowbars open a coin-operated washer to get money to buy food; a cod fisherman walks into the sea to die; another character has no choice but to kill a public park swan in order to feed his family. There is, in these stories, the ominous passivity of television, of unexploded violence. Yet Harvey manages to establish a real tenderness for his male characters, a tenderness missing from trendy, trashier fiction that tries to use the sensationalism of a macho underclass to bolster thin writing. This collection asserts Kenneth Harvey as one of the most gifted new writers in the last ten years. If his first book is any indication of his talent, he will become a major voice in Canadian fiction. Rick Hillis's much-touted collection, Limbo River (McClelland and Stewart, 142, $14.95), won the American Drue Heinz Literature Prize for 1990. Like Harvey, Hillis writes from the margins of the working-class world and its dreams of desire for a different life, monetary mobility. These stories are, however, less successful than Harvey's, perhaps because Hillis does not focus so sharply on the decentred male's point of view. He works around the circumference of events, so his characters' anger seems muffled, created rather than real. Physicality, whether hunting or fishing or welding, seems to invite absence; unable to hold onto their lives, his characters lose hands or fingers, their macho pride frustrated. Yet, they persist in pursuing absence, as exemplified by a character who feels unemployed because he has not suffered enough. The most satisfying stories in this collection, 'Blue' and 'Big Machine,' are interconnected, located around three gas pipeline workers and their family situations. And the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 1-21
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-25
Open Access
No
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