CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Roberts, Kevin.

Lantzville (B.C.), Oolichan Books, c1985. 133pp, paper, $8.95, ISBN 0-88982-088-0. CIP

Reviewed by Lo˙s Maingon

Volume 14 Number 6
1986 November

"Picking the Morning Colour" is the all-encompassing title of both Kevin Roberts's second collection of short stories and of the tenth tale of this, his latest book. As in Roberts's first collection of stories, Flash Harry and the Daughters of Divine Light (Harbour, 1982), and most of this west coast author's works, one is confronted with a bicephalous attempt to reconcile the identity problems of an Australian who has grown increasingly strong roots in Canada. This oscillation of allegiances, obvious in Roberts's work as the editor of True North/Down Under, can often smack of puerile jingoism, as the author impishly notes in the fourth tale. "Hangi." Fortunately, Roberts is able to avoid what could be an overbearing reflection on trite nationalisms, but deflecting the preoccupation for nationalisms into a question of personal identity in a consumer society of anonymity, and by using very notable poetic talents that sometimes successfully give his prose a rhythmic cohesion, helping to add structure to his work.

The twelve stories that make up Picking the Morning Colour reflect Roberts's strong sense of structural unity of meaning. They arc divided into three parts that balance and complement each other. The first five stories, "Hunting Trip," "Flight." "Trailer," "Hangi," and "Enlightenment," are all placed in a Canadian setting. The two pivotal prose poems of the second section are set in a libidinous region where myth forces itself to the surface of chaos, somewhere in that pacific collective unconscious of Derridean écriture and Lovejoy's Ghaya theory of life. They form a life-giving reflux of a word-ocean that bridges True North and Down Under by subterranean identification of Haida myth in the first, "The Pure Wound," and aboriginal dream world in "The Perfect Bow." The bridge gives way to the five stories of the third section set in Australia, "North Heads," "Carchar-hindae," "Picking the Morning Colour." "The Punter," and "The Junkman."

"Picking the Morning Colour1 examines the warp and weft of perceived social order and its underlying reality. Set in the pastoral world of Australian fruit picking and temporary employment, we are not given a grim idyll of working-class virtues in the vein of The Grapes of Wrath, rather we are shewn its corruption, the re-enactment of the Fall, which goes together with antagonistic forms of order. Social relations become a menas to mutual exploitation that devalues communication. Just as the young university students who work as fruitpickers resent being exploited, the union's bribery, which makes them lose their innocence, brings them into another sphere of social order, which from the moment they consent to it, also exploits them.

Innocence and youth arc associated with purity and fluidity of imagination, which allow the individual to recognize his Self. Inasmuch as the Self deviates from the restrictions of social order, it is viewed as irrational Hence, the phrase "picking the morning colour" can appropriately be said to designate the freedom to recognize one's Self beyond limitations imposed by social pressures. This takes many expressions in Roberts's book, which covers an extremely varied range of prose styles, from surrealist to realist, and humorous to tragic, which all ultimately answer to a very sceptical view of reality that defines itself not according to some objective external verifiables, but according to the individual's recognition of tolerance necessary to effective communication with everything that surrounds him, of which he is but a small integral part.

This particularist view of reality as it is handled by Roberts in this instance does present one serious defect, which could be a source of irritation to readers unfamiliar with either the West Coast or Australia. In certain instances, particularly in "Enlightenment A La Mode," the humour of British Columbian institutional fiascos such as BCRIC shares and Cold Mountain Institute, will most probably escape the uninitiated reader. Roberts has the unfortunate tendency not to develop parochial jokes sufficiently to reach a wider audience, and this may spoil his skill as a teller of tales.

This is a highly recommendable book, not only for the high calibre of its prose, but also for the excellent quality of the print and binding, presented with a very appealing painting reproduction on the cover by Jocelyn Foyer.

Lo˙s Maingon, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works