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Joan Clark.

Edmonton, NeWest Press, c1982.
150pp, paper, $14.95 (cloth), $6.95 (paper).
ISBN 0-920316-514 (cloth), 0-920316-50-0 (paper).

Grades 11 and up.
Reviewed by Tony Cosier.

Volume 11 Number 3.
1983 May.

Joan dark's stories are unassumingly unique. They come from an ardently regional Alberta publisher, yet the only regional touches in setting or idiom relate to Nova Scotia. The point of view is feminine, yet Clark projects neither the bitterness of a feminist tract nor the sentiment of a romantic fantasy.

Clark tells traditional stories with straightforward plots. Her main characters think and act credibly within clearly defined family and community structures.

"God's Country" is excellent. With each flashback into the life of a small mining town, with each new detail of the mine, the framework is tightened until it seems the story can take no more. But in her final encounter, Clark takes us that one turn further, pulling us all the way from the simple tension of feeling "slightly foolish" to a firm desire to fling a horseshoe at the pitiless sky. "Passage by Water" is a convincing contemporary hospital ode, calling up admiration for a convalescent learning to urinate after a bladder operation.

"Her Father's Daughter," "Salvation," and "The Tail of the Female" deal flexibly with adolescent sexuality from the experiences of three clearly different, vividly defined girls.

The comparison of a deceased mother to a sparrow that "sang two notes from a high thin wire" in the title story is characteristic of the author's ability to solidify essential material with memorable imagery.

Clark is thorough. If there is a flaw in her style, it is the strain that this tendency puts upon her narrative flow. When Florence McDermott enters Marcy's mother's kitchen, she contemplates the mess for five sentences, such as: "The loudness of her voice jolted her into the guilty realization that perhaps she had deliberately kept her voice too soft when she had called before to gain more time to look around." "Historical Fiction" sustains a joke relating school misdemeanours to knightly romance through every incident, every character reference, every detail. A hockey brawl becomes: "Immediately Prince Walter dropped his lance-stick and hit the knight who had fired the offending rubber at the princess." But "Historical Fiction" is forgiveable as a rare author's flight of fancy in an age geared almost exclusively to flat readability. Moreover, the social realism of most of the book is not out of step with a plethora of observation in the early stages of a story. And Clark's endings are invariably sharp.

Joan Clark is the author of three children's books. In From a High Thin Wire, she makes the transition to adult fiction successfully.

Tony Cosier, Confederation H. S., Nepean, ON.
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