- The English Short Story in Canada: From the Dawn of Modernism to the 2013 Nobel Prize by Reingard M. Nischik
Reingard M. Nischik's monograph maps the development of the literary short story in Canada, beginning in the 1920s and culminating with Alice Munro's Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013. Structured in three parts, the text explores [End Page 147] the history of "Canada's preeminent literary form" across the twentieth century, provides an ambitious range of formal and thematic approaches, and concludes with in-depth analyses of short stories by Munro, John Metcalf, Thomas King, and Margaret Atwood. Covering major authors with a deft touch that demonstrates the breadth of her reading, Nischik offers a valuable and wide-ranging contribution to the study of the Canadian short story.
Examining the earliest origins of tales and sketches of Canadian prose in newspapers and literary magazines in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Nischik connects the development of the short story genre to the rise of print culture in Canada. The first section, titled "History," offers a panoramic view of more than a century of short-story writing in Canada, with a focus on the modernist–realist tradition but with attention also paid to more experimental iterations of the form. Nischik offers comparative analyses of modernist works by Canadians Raymond Knister and Morley Callaghan and by Americans Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway. Attentive to the material conditions of publication, circulation, and reception, Nischik considers the impact of the marketplace on writers like Knister, Callaghan, and Frederick Philip Grove, who frequently published outside of Canada. These internationally published writers are linked to later writers like Munro and Mavis Gallant, who came to be associated with The New Yorker, "the genre's foremost international forum." Nischik offers detailed textual analysis and contextual cues that link writers' lives and works to their contemporary milieu. She concludes this section with an analysis of Munro's oeuvre, which, given Munro's retirement from writing, can be treated as her "completed life work." Nischik explores Munro's "esthetics of the moment" to examine the "fluidity, variability, ambiguity, and ultimate unfathomability of life." Nischik sees the acknowledgement of the Nobel Prize as a recognition of the legitimacy of the short story form as a serious literary endeavour.
While the first section traces a chronological history of the short story form, and benefits from being read in sequence, the second and third parts offer more self-contained thematic and formal analysis. The focus shifts from mapping the breadth of Canadian literary accomplishment in the short story form across a century of writing to exploring its depths through detailed analysis of individual thematic clusters. The second section, titled "Approaches," focuses on diverse topics including the poetics of the short story, the figure of the artist, intersections of gender and genre, aging, liminality, and representations of Vancouver in writing by First Nations and Chinese Canadian short story writers. Although this section can be approached as a series of independent analyses, Nischik flags points of connection between topics discussed here and explored elsewhere in the monograph. The diversity of approaches gives a sense of the debates that the short story provokes (one such debate might be the aptness of including Emily Carr in her analysis of depictions of Vancouver by Indigenous authors). In the third and final section, "Analyses," Nischik provides detailed examinations of individual short stories by Munro and Metcalf, explores King's work in the short story form, and analyses Atwood's [End Page 148] The Tent, a "short prose" collection, which allows Nischik to explore formal definitions and generic borders of the short story.
Each chapter in Nischik's text presents its own self-contained, autonomous analysis, but the text also reminds readers of its integration as the arguments gain additional resonance and cohesion from being read as part of a sequence of analyses. In this way, Nischik adopts the form of the short story cycle for her survey of Canada's "national genre." Employing a critical...