A Sense of Community

Laurie Kruk’s Double-Voicing the Canadian Short Story focuses on the short fiction of eight established Canadian writers. Kruk suggests that they exemplify the way Canadian literature speaks in “two voices,” reflecting multiple selves. She loosely relates this notion of “double voice” to Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of polyphony and dialogic imagination, and considers it to be part of “a subordinate culture, whether such subordination is due to gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality, or any other position.”

With an emphasis on focalization (or viewpoint), Kruk studies aspects of narrative that are related to “conflicting contexts” in order to explore “personal, cultural, and national identities.” The writers she studies—Timothy Findley, Carol Shields, Alistair MacLeod, Jack Hodgins, Olive Senior, Sandra Birdsell, Thomas King, and Guy Vanderhaeghe—were chosen because they are Canadian and roughly contemporaries, but the analysis is guided by an aesthetic-formal concern that enables her to examine experimental aspects (such as magic realism or postmodern self-reflexivity) of what she sees as predominantly realistic fiction. Kruk thus explores what she calls the “age-old theme of identity” within a national framework. Her national(istic) concern is evident in the final part of the book, “L’Envoi,” a piece of personal writing—Kruk is also the author of three collections of poetry—in which she tells about a bus trip “home” to Nipissing. Her conclusion reads like a celebration of both family and community, in all its variety, in a remote part of the country. And this is the main point of the book: to celebrate the achievements of short-story writers as well as the kind of national identity, based mainly on regional identification, that they helped to highlight. The presence of Olive Senior (originally from Jamaica) and Thomas King (Indigenous) points at the acknowledgement, should it still meet with skepticism, of the “multicultural” and “Indigenous” elements that are also part of this national identity.

Along with critics such as Amelia DeFalco and Sally Chivers, Marlene Goldman has recently helped to establish the field of age studies in Canada. In Forgotten: Narratives of Age-Related Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in Canada, Goldman explores a new direction in age studies. The book brings together historical, biomedical, media, and literary narratives of Alzheimer’s disease, demonstrating how across most types of discourse, the Gothic perspective of decline and loss predominates.

Over the course of nine chapters, Goldman deals with a range of literary works, including Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912), Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel (1964), Mordecai Richler’s “The Summer My Grandmother Was Supposed to Die” (1969), Jane Rule’s Memory Board (1987), Michael Ignatieff’s Scar Tissue (1993), Caroline Adderson’s A History of Forgetting (1999), and a group of stories by Alice Munro (“Dance of the Happy Shades,” “The Peace of Utrecht,” “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” and “In Sight of the Lake”). The reading of these texts is combined with a description of their historical context, such as the influence of John Locke’s definition of the “idiot” in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), the anti-asylum movement of the 1960s, the founding of the Alzheimer Society of Canada in 1978 (the first of its kind in the world), or the growing shift from cure to care. Goldman simultaneously surveys the evolving biomedical perspective on the disease, from the Victorian theory of “waste and repair” to the naming of the disease after German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer in the early twentieth century, and the shift from psychological to biomedical theories. She identifies literary modes of response to the disease, from elegiac consolation to Gothic apocalyptic vision, and to ironic doubt about the disease’s actual nature, jokes that highlight the limitations of our understanding of dementia, and narratives of compassion rather than progress. Her goal is to shed light on how stories influence attempts to cope with dementia, both in families and at the state level, and change the personal experience of dementia. Her conclusion examines several more works that highlight “an awareness of multiple and sometimes contradictory narratives” of Alzheimer’s. Forgotten offers no redemption for the loss caused by dementia—as Goldman acknowledges—but it does provide important alternative perspectives that emphasize a sense of community.

This review “A Sense of Community” originally appeared in Lost and Found Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 236 (2018): 150-151.

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