Best Canadian Stories 12

Toronto-20130416-00407It has been a long time since I’ve attempted even a basic book review. Somehow last summer I wrote a piece on Hamlet. What?

My mind, meanwhile, is on the folks in Boston and beyond. Unneeded catastrophe. Devious murder.

“A tale of sound and fury.”

And then the last thing I wrote here was all about savoring the beauty of life. Well, keep doing that. While also giving your heart to those who are suffering.

And so, a book review. Seems right. Living fully, open heart and mind.

I’m not sure if these were the best short stories in Canada from 2012, but some of them are very, very good.

The anthology includes 10 stories, and I would like to celebrate what I consider the best of them.

Caroline Adderson’s “Poppycock” opens the book. Holy cow. This story will have me quivering for the rest of my life. It wouldn’t be out of place alongside the stories of Thom Jones’ The Pugilist at Rest. Paragraph by paragraph, it terrified me. The protagonist is a woman, a divorced mother of two, whose has been alienated from her family (father and sister, mother deceased) for over two decades. Her daughters are young adults and moved out. One day, her father shows up. She hasn’t seen him in 20+ years. He’s extremely unwell. Is this a chance for redemption? A corrective? A chance for explanation?

The whole thing tore my heart out. Unbelievable.

Or as Justin would say, Unbeliebable.

Lynn Coady’s “Dogs in Clothes” is another boot shaker. Ostensibly the story is about a young female publicist who shepherds a famous male (deep thinker) publicist around a metropolitan city (which seems a lot like Toronto during the G20 summit, when there were fences all over downtown and paranoid security apparatus[es] all over). Meanwhile, the publicist is texting a (female) friend and (married-to-someone-else) boyfriend and her brother (who is at the hospital where her father is under the knife for heart surgery). Grace under pressure? Is this Hemingway all over again? Are Coady and Adderson taking the same drugs?

Once again, a story about full catastrophe living. And not a Buddhist in sight.

Shaena Lambert’s “The War Between Men and Women” seems, at first, more straightforward. We’ve all lived through Phase I, II, III, IV, V, VI Feminism(s), so we all get this, right? Well, this is more like Faulkner’s “the human heart in conflict with itself” Nobel Speech (1949). [And isn’t that great? Isn’t the internet useful for something, once and a while?] “Endure and prevail.” Words post-Boston. Post-catastrophe. Eternal.

Lambert’s story starts: “It was 1968, and there was a war between the men and the women.” Holy crow. The story is told from the point of view of the child of two parents at war. As readers, we are once again in the middle of it all. In the middle of a war of all against all. Is it total destruction? Is there a chance for safety? Is peace an option?

What does all of this have to do with Canada, circa 2012?

“The story is constantly changing,” says the back cover, “and readers have to change as well.”

Well, okay, but why does it all seem so 1918?

Douglas Glover’s “The Sun King and the Royal Child” offers historical context as respite. In perhaps the “deepest” story in the collection, Glover offers (again, like the others) a narrator under pressure. Here is a young man who has had an long-running affair with another man’s wife. The other man is an archaeologist who has become famous as a researcher of pre-European contact Iroquois history/cosmology in southwestern Ontario. The “Sun King” and “Royal Child” of the title are Iroquois “artifacts,” except maybe they’re not, as the story eventually explains. Like much of the Glover-opus, the “present” of the story is both now and “then.” Or, to quote Faulkner again, “the past is never past.” (Though the quote is often paraphrased, as I have done here, according to Wikipedia: the real quote is from Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”)

Oh, Hemingway. Faulkner. Canada. 2012. What gives?

I don’t know. But it makes for a startling collection of short fiction.

Check, that.

Could use something by Tony Burgess, though. A little zombie ice fishing.

Just sayin.