Not After All!
Reviewed by Barbara Pell
This fifth and final volume in Porcupine’s Quill’s Hugh Hood: The Collected Stories
series contains 17 stories (15 previously unpublished) written by Hood between September 1991 and December 1996 (according to the “Checklist” at the end). The “Foreword,” by W.J. Keith (who prepared this text, as well as Hood’s last novel, Near Water, for the press), explains that Hood usually interspersed publication of his stories between his novels in The New Age/Le nouveau siecle series (1975-2000), but his failing health before his death in 2000 kept him from publishing this completed and organised collection as planned.
Keith is right that Hood (despite the critics’ scepticism concerning The New Age series) has always been acknowledged and anthologised as “one of the most skilful and probing Canadian practitioners of the short story.” But these final stories are not up to his usual standards. These sketches (most of them fewer than eight pages) display Hood’s trademark stylistic grace, intelligence, humour, encyclopaedic knowledge, and loving detail of the world and the arts. They include fantasies (“Bit Parts” and “Assault of the Killer Volleyballs”), travel anecdotes (“Swedes in the Night” and “Deconstruction”), urban satires (“Too Much Mozart” and “The Messages Are the Message”), moral exempla (“A Subject for Thomas Hardy” and “A Catastrophic Situation”), aesthetic allegories (“There Are More Peasants Than Critics” and “Finishing Together”), and uncomfortably politically-incorrect parables (“”A Gay Time” and “After All!”). They arise, as Hood’s stories always have, out of everyday events. But these brief pieces do not develop into his usual fully-realised narratives and spiritual epiphanies. They make interesting anecdotes out of cocktail party chit-chat, but their plots, characters, and themes never seem to transcend triviality and attain significance as the best Hood stories always have. The exception might be “Life in Venice”: a charming tale of two frugal vacationers on a quest for a carrot-scraper who get “lost” in contemplation of the three churches that surround a Venetian hardware store and discover both “a miracle of the principles of engineering . . . as applied to ordinary human need” along with a lasting memory of spiritual beauty.
Hugh Hood was one of the greatest short-story writers Canada has ever known. Read “Flying a Red Kite” (1962), “Light Shining Out of Darkness” (1967), “The Fruit Man, the Meat Man, and the Manager” (1971), “Going Out as a Ghost” (1976), “God Has Manifested Himself Unto Us as Canadian Tire” (1980), and “The Small Birds” (1985) and marvel at his mastery of the genre. Go on to read all of his ten collections of short fiction (1962 to 1992). Don’t judge Hood on After All!
- Problematic Relations by J. Russell Perkin
Books reviewed: From a High Thin Wire by Joan Clark, Last Notes and Other Stories by Tamas Dobozy, and Translating Women by Bill Stenson
- New Canadian Mysteries by Elizabeth Hodgson
Books reviewed: The Thief-Taker: Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner by T. F. Banks and John Pass, A Carra King by John Brady, Dead White Males by Ann Diamond, and Whistling Past the Graveyard by Peter Sellers
- Seeking in Chaos by David Creelman
Books reviewed: Open by Lisa Moore
- BC Lit in Extra Innings by Travis V. Mason
Books reviewed: The Fed Anthology by Susan Musgrave and Baseball: A Poem in the Magic Number 9 by Claude Boisvert
- The Story's the Thing by Neil K Besner
Books reviewed: Sanctuary and Other Stories by Jennifer Duncan, Birds of Paradise by Helen Pereira, and Promise of Shelter by Robyn Sarah
MLA: Pell, Barbara. Not After All!. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #186 (Autumn 2005), Women & the Politics of Memory. (pg. 144 - 145)
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