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Keefer, Janice Kulyk.

Ottawa, Oberon Press, c1986. 127pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-623-2 (cloth) $23.95, 0-88750-624-0 (paper) $12.95.

Reviewed by Dianne Clipsham

Volume 14 Number 5
1986 September

Many of these stories have previously appeared in literary journals, and, indeed, have won awards. The title story took first prize in the PRISM International Fiction Competition in 1984 and the last of the collection, "Mrs. Putnam at the Planetarium," won the 1985 CBC Radio Literary Competition.

Keefer has a good ear. Her conversations in those stories that are not interior monologues, carry enough of the sound of the characters' speech to give them a solid presence. Many of the characters are immigrant Canadians and none are more vividly created than Mrs. Mucharski in "Mrs. Mucharski and the Princess."

I be having twin babies; girl and boy. I
be in camp; no food, no water, nothing;
filth everywhere, filth and empty, dead,
everything . . . I be skin, bone, no more
fat on me than this knife, but I feed my
children ..."

This is the housekeeper working for Laurie, a pampered new mother, whose infant screams endlessly because she is trying to follow the La Leche regime of breast feeding, when her baby is starving for more than she can provide. The contrast is sharp and the irony obvious.

Like Laurie, many of Reefer's characters are men and women struggling to come to terms with their own reality, not some other's illusion of it. The author handles the difficult shift in point of view from man to woman in a story dealing with relationships, such as "Somewhere in Italy," with a remarkable naturalness.

The most disturbing story in this collection is "In a Dream." It stands out as a sharp cry of pain among the more subdued murmurings of discontent that precede and follow it. Is there a connection between the "camp" suggested by Mrs. Mucharski and the chamber of horrors the pregnant protagonist of this story enters every night in her dream? Or do the horrors spring from the images shown on the nightly news, as her husband suggests? Only Keefer may know the answer, if she has heard of (or imagined) such dehumanizing episodes from her eastern European family and friends. By the end of this story, the edges between dream and real life are so blurred that the reader has trouble distinguishing one from the other; no doubt, the author's intention.

The volume itself attests to the quality and beauty of Oberon's reputation; a portrait of a wistful, woebegone woman by Egon Schiele adorns the cover, the paper and binding of the paperback copy is durable, yet attractive. For libraries with a literate clientele who enjoy this genre, which combines the best of poetry and narrative, I can wholeheartedly recommend Janice Kulyk Keefer's first book.

Dianne Clipsham, A.Y. Jackson S.S., Kanata, Ont.
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