Wednesday, February 2, 2011

W.P. Kinsella, Salvatore Difalco, Journey Prize #22

Short stories!

Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa
by W.P. Kinsella
Oberon, 1980

The Mountie at Niagara Falls
by Salvatore Difalco
Anvil, 2010

The Journey Prize Anthology #22
Various authors
M&S, 2010

I picked up the Kinsella book at a used book store on Bloor Street late in 2010. (Yes, there's at least one left.) This book is now 31 years old. Holy, Jesus. What blasphemy and all that.

I read Kinsella's "The Thrill of the Grass" in an Oxford anthology edited by Robert Weaver in, eeks, grade 13 in 1987. It was about Shoeless Joe, too, I thought, until I dug up that old anthology and realized it wasn't. But Shoeless Joe, and "if you build it, he will come," was the name of Kinsella's novel (1982) that became "Field of Dreams" (1989), starring Kevin Kostner.

I read Shoeless Joe, too, years ago and enjoyed it. I liked that Kinsella wrote Salinger into it, and I was interested to read Kinsella's recent comments about that online in Macleans: the movie producers' feeling was that "only 15 per cent of the movie-goers would have any idea who Salinger was anyway."


But back to the stories. There wasn't much risk in picking up this early Kinsella for $2.95, but there was a lot of reward. Yes, it was effen good. The title story is canonical, and at least half the collection is simply excellent. The rest is merely effen good.

Just a high-level analysis here. Stories that display sensitivity. Stories that display humour. Stories that integrate the power of the imagination with the gritty hum-drum of reality. The full range of rhetorical skills is on display here. It doesn't get much better than this.

Salvatore Difalco's The Mountie at Niagara Falls (Anvil, 2010) has more stories in it than I can count. More than 100 in 142 pages. They are intense narrative chunks, full of incident, frequently spliced with zingers and twists, emboldended with absurdity, on occasion sad. It's the full-meal deal, rapid fire. I don't know what to compare it to, except John Lennon and Spike Milligan.

The story "Peameal Bacon" killed me. The narrator meets a woman at a party. She's a "colonic hydrotherapist." She explains what this means. Quote: "She explained that over twenty gallons of fluid would be flushed through my system. I thought about that at some length. Nice to know that there are cures for being full of shit."

In 2010, the Journey Prize was at it again, promoting "the best of Canada's new writers." This year's selection is edited by Pasha Malla, Joan Thomas and Alissa York, and I have no dispute with their picks, chosen from short stories initially published in small, literary magazines. The Journey Prize, of course, includes a $10,000 cheque to the best of the best.

Money aside, congratulations to the Vancouver Review. Two of the most remarkable stories here (in my opinion) were initially published there: Danielle Egan's "Publicity" and Andrew Boden's "Confluence of Spoors." Krista Foss's "The Longitude of Okay" was excellent, as was Lynn Kutsukake's "Mating," Mike Spry's "Five Pounds Short and Apologies to Nelson Algren," and Andrew MacDonald's "Eat Fist."

I've just listed exactly half of the anthology, which shows how I'm struggling to limit the good good from the merely good. The best work, to my taste, pushes beyond the boundaries of the "real" into the wild, unknown and unmappable beyond. "Publicity" blew me away. It nearly defies summary. Told from the point of view of an author on a book tour in 2020 (or thereabouts), the story focuses on his visit to Vancouver, his relationship with his publicity assistant, and his desire to swim in the (now fatally toxic?) ocean. What isn't going on in this story? I was humbled. Wow. Fantastic.

There is much else to praise in the collection, and I could be snippy about a few things, too, but I won't. Congratulations to everyone included.

Short stories. Lots of life left in the old form yet.


Shina Willson said...

Very... Nicee... Blog.. I really appreciate it... Thanks..:-)

Andrew M. said...

Thanks for the kind words, eh.

Finn Harvor said...

Good review.

Any graphic fiction in this year's anth? And has the Journey ever published that form?