- Rick Maddocks (Author)
Sputnik Diner. Knopf Canada (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Gail Anderson-Dargatz (Author)
The Miss Hereford Stories. Douglas & McIntyre (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Libby Creelman (Author)
Walking in Paradise. Porcupine's Quill (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Roderick W. Harvey
Linked stories are often unified through recurring characters, distinctive settings, or the persistent explication of various themes. If read together, they can form the chapters of a novel, as in Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women. The linked stories in Libby Creelman’s Walking in Paradise, Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s The Miss Hereford Stories, and Rick Maddocks’s Sputnik Diner vary in their successful management of the common ground that connects their narrative segments.
Creelman’s stories are preoccupied with the rituals of family life. There is no consistent group of characters here, but the family activities—holidays, swimming, sailing, going to the beach—provide a common link between a variety of families. Often there are strong images of the effects of time. In "Three Weeks," a family visits their aging house in Maine: "The house itself is a small cape with pitched roof and weathered, nearly white, clapboards. Black shutters had long ago fallen off and were stacked now in an attic corner, the paint lifting like the wings of dark moths." "Sunken Island" describes a family at a cottage where the grandmother entertains the narrator with stories about the past.
These stories are mainly set in New England holiday places, and in some cases there are links with aspects of regional family history. In "Pilgrims" the main character, Charles Standish Avery, is said to be descended from "Myles Standish himself, and from Barbara, the woman Miles married when he couldn’t marry Priscilla, though Great-Aunt Rebecca said there was no truth to that romance." Thinking of these "undisciplined pioneers roaming the New England woods, half-naked, filthy, starved," Rebecca is "mortified." History is re-created and made real in the present through the reminiscences of various characters.
In no sense didactic or moralistic, Creelman presents moments of realization, small epiphanies, as they appear in the course of daily experiences. At the end of "The Biggest Mistake," for example, there is the simple but telling assertion about human self-interest: "The truth about children, Roy realizes, is that no matter how you measure your love for them, you love your own best." In the context of growing up, these stories are successfully unified as they describe the development of human awareness.
A different kind of linkage is provided in Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s The Miss Hereford Stories, a collection set in the rural community of Likely, Alberta. In the western Canadian tradition of W. O. Mitchell and Jack Hodgins, these are humourous, earthy stories that depend on a tradition of frontier humour, tall tales, and the daily activities of local citizens. Comic characters, fragmented anecdotes, comparisons between farm animals and the people who work the land—this is a kind of humour that depends on an accurate, detailed perception of small-town rural life. This is often new information to an urban reader, but the reader from a farming background would recognize such activities as just another part of growing up.
The successful characterizations in Anderson-Dargatz’s stories are eccentrics who avoid the limited comic stereotypes of frontier humour and who seem to exist as individuals living real lives. Like the eccentrics in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, they seem memorable because they are so different from the norm. One such is Al MacLean, the bank manager who moves to Likely to "take advantage of the cheap land and houses." Unlike most of the other residents, he insists on jogging while carrying on "conversations with himself," conversations that exclude politics because "it was difficult to maintain an interesting conversation about politics without a little heated debate." Instead, he talks about the Oilers and how difficult it is to park his car in Edmonton.
Though her emphasis is comic rather than philosophical, there are lessons to be learned from these stories. Anderson-Dargatz presents the world of Likely with sympathy and humour, showing tact and feeling for the absurdity of common social situations.
This amused, tolerant attitude certainly is different from the point of view presented in Rick Maddocks’s Sputnik Diner. These stories revolve around activities at the Sputnik Diner in Nanticoke, Ontario, a part of the truck-stop world often portrayed in modern country music and films. The three main characters in these stories—Marcel, the owner; Buzz, the cook; and Grace, the waitress—reveal themselves through scenes of eating, drinking, and talking. The reader discovers that on most afternoons, the eccentric Marcel "hung the Closed sign up in the window, sat behind the counter with his gin and lemonade, and jawed with George and George, a couple of old pisspots grinning across from him." Marcel usually expresses himself by using malapropisms and profanity. Grace is somewhat more reflective and insightful than the other characters, though she seems exhausted and self-defeating: "And she’s lifted up, perhaps across days or months, and she’s set down in the back seat of a noisy car where glass towers and redbrick buildings fall away on all sides and there are feathers or cottonwood parachutes floating thick in air." The stories portray individuals who live in a rather physically limited universe.
Like many contemporary writers, Maddocks uses a combination of postrealist irony, campy pop humour, and stream-of-consciousness. The most interesting and revealing story in this collection is "Lessons from the Sputnik Diner," in which the narrator reveals the fragmented nature of what he—and the reader of the stories—can learn from the diner world.
- New Canadian Anthologies by Alexis Kienlen
Books reviewed: Half in the Sun: Anthology of Mennonite Writing by Elsie Neufeld, New American Writing 23 by Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover, and The Journey Prize Stories 18 by Steven Galloway, Zsuzsi Gartner, and Annabel Lyon
- New Short Fiction by David Bezmozgis
Books reviewed: The Journey Prize Stories 19: The Best of Canadaâs New Writers by Caroline Adderson, David Bezmozgis, and Dionne Brand and Home Schooling by Carol Windley
- Hyphenating Minorities by Philipp Maurer
Books reviewed: Calendar Boy by Andy Quan and Flesh Wounds and Purple Flowers: The Cha-Cha Years by Francisco Ibanez-Carrasco
- Three Books of Stories by J. Russell Perkin
Books reviewed: Between Trains by Barry Callaghan, A Heart in Port by Emily Givner, and A Grave in the Air by Stephen Henighan
- Let my joy endure by Cedric May
Books reviewed: The Exile and The Sacred Travellers by Marie-Claire Blais and Nigel Spencer and These Festive Nights by Marie-Claire Blais and Sheila Fischman
MLA: Harvey, Roderick W. Linked Stories. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #177 (Summer 2003), (Duncan, Wiebe, Jameson, Thérault, Martel). (pg. 133 - 134)
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