4th Review of The Lizard

This review is now posted, corrected, below. First edition credited me with some superhuman feats. Ask me about it sometime.

Review from the Maple Tree Literary Supplement.

*

The Lizard and Other Stories
by Michael Bryson
Ottawa: Chaudiere Books, 2009
118 pp. $20.00

Michael Bryson’s stories have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies for over a decade. He is the author of two previous collections, Thirteen Shades of Black and White (Turnstone Press, 1999) and Only A Lower Paradise (Boheme Press, 2000). In the words of the book jacket, The Lizard and Other Stories “probes hearts in conflict”; “Love and the frailties of existence are the obsessions of this collection. The stories showcase absurdity, humour and tremendous sensitivity.” The stories in this collection certainly speak to the twin obsessions spelled out in this blurb. The collection ends with a trilogy of stores, “Hard Core Life,” “Flight,” and “Isn’t It Pretty to Think So” that speak to and explore different ways of grieving about the events of September 11th. Indeed, many of the stories in the collection seem haunted by this international tragedy. Bryson is at his best when he is most specific. Take this opening of the short story “Hit,” for example:

John put me up to it. I must have been sixteen or seventeen. Grade eleven or twelve. John[,] my best friend, the team’s leading scorer. I could make third line centre, he told me. I didn’t make it past the first cuts. This was no heartbreak; I was small, had no appetite for raised elbows and would never be able to dig the puck out of the corner quick enough for the coach. But John pleaded my case until the team said it would dress me for its exhibition games. On my third shift[,] I was flattened by an over-eager two-hundred pound fifteen-year-old. I remember lying on the ice, my insides crushed, a sharp pain pulsing in my guts as the team trainer skidded across the ice toward me. “You’ve got to learn to take a hit, son,” he said as [he] knelt beside me. Later[,] I managed to pick up an assist on one of John’s two goals. I had a bruise on my hip the next day the size of a watermelon. I told the coach I wouldn’t be back. (7)

With very few words, in short emphatic sentences, Bryson sets up some of the tensions in the often-strained friendship between the narrator and his friend John, one that reminds us of Dustan’s and Boy’s in Robertson Davies’ The Deptford Trilogy. Bryson’s attention to human relations also recalls the stories in Michael Redhill’s collection Fidelity, but what makes Bryson’s stories unique is his writing style. His minimalist approach is not for everyone, and it takes getting used to, yet his style contributes significantly to the facets of postmodern and urban environments to which his stories repeatedly turn.

It is difficult to identify with the many unattractive characters in The Lizard and Other Stories, though, in the context of postmodern writing, character identification is perhaps less important. The copy editing can benefit from a rereading. Bryson gives us a lot to think about: he is quite skilful in writing stories, and his writing reverberates with literary echoes. In sum, Bryson delivers a solid and ultimately promising collection.