Monday, July 26, 2010

Eye wuz here

This is a review of an anthology published in 1996 of women writers under 30. Perhaps by now they are all under 44?


This review first appeared in Paragraph (Summer 1996).

Eye wuz here: Stories by women writers under 30
Edited by Shannon Cooley
Douglas & McIntyre, 1996

Forty, fifty, sixty years from now, graduate students will read this book and discuss the 1990s feminist consensus the same way that we now read W.H. Auden and the rest of the Angry Young Men and wonder what it was exactly about socialism that so intriged them.

In the meantime, however, readers will be pleased to spend time with the 28 sharp-witted writers brought together in this collection. Eye Wuz Here presents 28 Canadian female writers under the age of 30, all of them working in the short story form. The writing is intelligent, daring, insightful, dangerous, provocative, searing, sad, funny, delightful.

The collection is the project of Shannon Cooley, who began gathering stories for this publication as she was working on a creative writing degree at the University of Victoria. The Canada Council assisted its publication, and now we know what young women have on their minds: mostly sex.

It would be easy, of course, to complain that the view of the world that emerges from these stories has rather sharp borders. The men, for example, tend to be shallow. They are lovers, losers, boyfriends, abusers, husbands, brothers, uncles, accessories all to the drama of the female narrators. This criticism, I recognize, is cheap, and I wouldn't make it, except that it leads me to where I want to go.

Which is here: In her introduction, Cooley claims a peculiar "goal for all art and literature." Cooley writes: "Through sharing point of view comes empathy, and through empathy, the lessening of loneliness and isolation," which plays an important role "in the process of working towards positive change." A fine sentiment, surely, but as misguided as all attempts to link art and politics.

I would argue, for example, that Cooley's collection feeds a middle-class feminist myopia and assists in the splintering of society, not its healing. Class issues, for example, are dealt with very poorly in this collection, if at all. And it's hard to believe that a generation of writers which grew up during a period which saw two referendums in Quebec, plus the Meech Lake and Charlottetown debacles, has nothing whatsoever to say about the fate of the nation. To say nothing of the fact that this collection heavily favours West Coast writers over East Coast writers, and includes not one Quebecois or First Nations voice.

But these are political issues, not aesthetic ones, and I have already said that this collection contains some fine writing. I expect publishers to pursue each of the 28 writers in the collection. If they do, Canadians will be offered a rich array of literary work in the years ahead. If I was to offer any advice to the group of 28, I would ask them to move beyond the Jack Kerouac school of journalism as fiction and to let their talents take them into deeper waters.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Unless they have been traveling at relativistic speeds...