best short stories in Canada from 2012, but some of them are very, very good.
The anthology includes 10 stories, and I would like to celebrate what I consider the best of them.
Caroline Adderson’s “Poppycock” opens the book. Holy cow. This story
will have me quivering for the rest of my life. It wouldn’t be out of
place alongside the stories of Thom Jones’ The Pugilist at Rest.
Paragraph by paragraph, it terrified me. The protagonist is a woman, a
divorced mother of two, whose has been alienated from her family (father
and sister, mother deceased) for over two decades. Her daughters are
young adults and moved out. One day, her father shows up. She hasn’t
seen him in 20+ years. He’s extremely unwell. Is this a chance for
redemption? A corrective? A chance for explanation?
The whole thing tore my heart out. Unbelievable.
Or as Justin would say, Unbeliebable.
Lynn Coady’s “Dogs in Clothes” is another boot shaker. Ostensibly the
story is about a young female publicist who shepherds a famous male
(deep thinker) publicist around a metropolitan city (which seems a lot
like Toronto during the G20 summit, when there were fences all over
downtown and paranoid security apparatus[es] all over). Meanwhile, the
publicist is texting a (female) friend and (married-to-someone-else)
boyfriend and her brother (who is at the hospital where her father is
under the knife for heart surgery). Grace under pressure? Is this
Hemingway all over again? Are Coady and Adderson taking the same drugs?
Once again, a story about full catastrophe living. And not a Buddhist in sight.
Shaena Lambert’s “The War Between Men and Women” seems, at first,
more straightforward. We’ve all lived through Phase I, II, III, IV, V,
VI Feminism(s), so we all get this, right? Well, this is more like
Faulkner’s “the human heart in conflict with itself”
Nobel Speech (1949). [And isn't that great? Isn't the internet useful
for something, once and a while?] “Endure and prevail.” Words
post-Boston. Post-catastrophe. Eternal.
Lambert’s story starts: “It was 1968, and there was a war between the
men and the women.” Holy crow. The story is told from the point of view
of the child of two parents at war. As readers, we are once again in
the middle of it all. In the middle of a war of all against all. Is it
total destruction? Is there a chance for safety? Is peace an option?
What does all of this have to do with Canada, circa 2012?
“The story is constantly changing,” says the back cover, “and readers have to change as well.”
Well, okay, but why does it all seem so 1918?
Douglas Glover’s “The Sun King and the Royal Child” offers historical
context as respite. In perhaps the “deepest” story in the collection,
Glover offers (again, like the others) a narrator under pressure. Here
is a young man who has had an long-running affair with another man’s
wife. The other man is an archaeologist who has become famous as a
researcher of pre-European contact Iroquois history/cosmology in
southwestern Ontario. The “Sun King” and “Royal Child” of the title are
Iroquois “artifacts,” except maybe they’re not, as the story eventually
explains. Like much of the Glover-opus, the “present” of the story is
both now and “then.” Or, to quote Faulkner again, “the past is never past.” (Though the quote is often paraphrased, as I have done here, according to Wikipedia: the real quote is from Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”)
Oh, Hemingway. Faulkner. Canada. 2012. What gives?
I don’t know. But it makes for a startling collection of short fiction.
Could use something by Tony Burgess, though. A little zombie ice fishing.
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