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series contains 17 stories (15 previously unpublished) written by Hood between September 1991 and December 1996 (according to the “Checklist” at the end).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!
- 178 secondes ou plus by Laure Tollard
Books reviewed: 178 Secondes by Katia Canciani and R.I.P.: Histoires mourantes by Claude Forand
- Giving the West Its Due by Alison Calder
Books reviewed: Banjo Lessons by David Carpenter, Courting Saskatchewan by David Carpenter, Due West: 30 Great Stories from Alberta Saskatchewan and Manitoba by Wayne Tefs, Geoffrey Ursell, and Anita Van Herk, and The Middle of Nowhere by Dennis Gruending
- Visions of Love by Janet Melo-Thaiss
Books reviewed: Ladykiller by Charlotte Gill
- Short Simplicities by Kathryn Carter
Books reviewed: Truth and Other Fictions by Eva Tihanyi, Fragments of the World: Wednesday Night at the End of the World by Helene Rioux, and Vanishing and Other Stories by Deborah Willis
- Trapped Tales by Dee Horne
Books reviewed: Traplines by Eden Robinson
MLA: Pell, Barbara. Not After All!. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #186 (Autumn 2005), Women & the Politics of Memory. (pg. 144 - 145)
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