- Helen Meilleur (Author)
A Pour of Rain: Stories from a West Coast Fort. Raincoast Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Charles G. D. Roberts (Author)
Kindred of the Wild. Exile Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Paul Stuewe
Stephen Hume’s foreword to A Pour of Rain describes it as "a document of great importance to British Columbians" that offers "a unique portrait of the origins of this province." Helen Meilleur ’s narrative style intersperses discursive autobiographical reminiscence with evocations of the relevant historical contexts, and if A Pour of Rain is indeed "a unique portrait"—although the phrase probably reflects its editor’s enthusiasm rather than a conclusion derived from comparison with the thousands of similar volumes it is also a randomly organized and disturbingly colonialist text that would not be granted canonical status by many British Columbians.
The question of organization arises not so much because of the leaps and gaps between Meilleur ’s remembrances this is, after all, her life, and she can choose to narrate it any way she likes but because of the historical material that she brings in as background to her stories and anecdotes. Since this material is as jumbled and achronological as her reminiscences, and there are no reader friendly accessories such as a timeline or other editorial apparatus, A Pour of Rain does not provide anything resembling a coherent account of British Columbia’s "origins." Although readers who already possess the necessary historical framework will be able to place Meilleur’s recollections within the larger context of the province’s development, anyone lacking such a background will find it very difficult to organize the book’s content into a coherent narrative.
A more problematic aspect of the author’s treatment of origins is her attitude toward British Columbia’s Native Peoples. The latter are represented as only marginally human savages whose culture consists of "the tyranny of the medicine man, the terrors of witchcraft, the inexorable class system, slavery and retaliatory killings." Meilleur cites these practices in justifying the removal of Native children from their homes in order to place them in residential schools where they will be assimilated into the white world. Noting the regimented behaviour and uniformly respectable dress of a group of such schoolchildren, Meilleur observes that "most of them appeared to be happy in their lives," a judgement that subsequent events have cruelly refuted. Her constant disparagement of Native cultures makes A Pour of Rain more of a denial than a celebration of British Columbia’s origins. Although students of social history will find useful source material in this volume, its lack of organization and pervasive racist discourse make it inappropriate for other than specialist use.
Kindred of the Wild reprints a 1902 collection of Charles G.D. Roberts’s animal tales minus "The King of the Mamozekel," and with the addition of "The Gauntlet of Fire" from More Kindred of the Wild (1911). Editor Sean Virgo justifies this on the grounds that the omitted story has been frequently anthologized, a true but irrelevant consideration for those of us who see some merit in preserving the circumstances of a text’s original appearance. We are not so blessed with in print editions of Roberts’s work that we can afford to dismiss a mildly tainted one, however, especially since this is a representative offering of the often melodramatic but nonetheless consistently engrossing narratives that captivated period readers.
Virgo’s introduction deftly sets these tales in the context of the late Victorian fascination with animal stories such as Kipling’s Jungle Books, London’s White Fang, and Seton’s Lives of the Hunted, a phenomenon that in its frequent anthropomorphism seems to reflect deep anxiety regarding the unruly desires that might render the social as well as the natural order "red in tooth and claw." Although the attribution of human characteristics to animal characters has been an issue in the reception of Roberts’s stories, his afterword to Kindred of the Wild makes a strong case for seeing human/animal as a continuum rather than a dichotomy: "The animal story at its highest point of development is a psychological romance constructed on a framework of natural science."
In addition to their convincing integration of observed behaviour and inferred psychology, Roberts’s narratives also exhibit a characteristic progression from the evocation of nature’s spiritual essence to the graphic depiction of how the fit survive by consuming the less fit. "The Homesickness of Kehonka," for example, opens with a resonant portrayal of an "illusive atmosphere ... full of the ghosts of rain," where "tenuous spring clouds ... shut out the stars" and "Space and mystery, mystery and space, lay abroad upon the vague levels of marsh and tide." The goose Kehonka enters this world flying freely through the skies, but a farmer’s well-meant clipping of his wings leads to an inexorable death in the jaws of a wily fox. In lesser hands this transition from edenic setting to predator prey conflict could easily be sentimentalized, but Roberts remains faithful to the logic of such situations by recording, rather than regretting, the means by which the stronger consume the weaker. By turns allusively poetic and harshly realistic, Kindred of the Wild offers far more mature and complex versions of the animal story than our Disney dominated popular culture is capable of providing, and also deserves the serious attention of students of Canadian literature.
- Shore Lines by Beverley Haun
Books reviewed: Curiosity: A Love Story by Joan Thomas and Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart
- In Touch with the Land by Bryan N. S. Gooch
Books reviewed: Tom Thomson's Shack by Harold Rhenisch, Summer Gone by David Macfarlane, and The Clouded Leopard: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire by Wade Davis
- Nordicité et amérindianité by Maxime Bock
Books reviewed: Le truc de l'oncle Henry by Alain Gagnon, Au nord de nos vies by Jean Désy, and Le mort d'un chef by François Chabot
- A Mediated/Meditatory/Mediating Life by Sneja Gunew
Books reviewed: Mothertalk: Life Stories of Mary Kiyoshi Kiyooka by Roy Kiyooka and Daphne Marlatt and Pacific Windows: Collected Poems of Roy K. Kiyooka by Roy Kiyooka and Roy Miki
- Aboriginal Storytelling by Susan Gingell
Books reviewed: Braiding Histories: Learning from Aboriginal Peoples' Experiences and Perspectives by Susan D. Dion and The Drum Calls Softly by David Bouchard, Jim Poitras, Shelley Willier, and Steve Wood
MLA: Stuewe, Paul. Editor's Choice. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #181 (Summer 2004), (Wiseman, Livesay, Sime, Connelly, Robinson). (pg. 165 - 166)
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