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Edited by John Metcalf.

Toronto, ECW Press, c1986. 238pp, paper, ISBN 0-920763-92-8 (cloth) $20.00, 0-920763-91-X (paper) $12.00. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Bohdan Kinczyk

Volume 15 Number 3
1987 May

The back blurb warns you that “The Bumper Book comes out swinging at the sacred cows of CanLit.” Believe it. By the time you are through with the book, you will wonder whether the CanLit establishment has plans to sponsor a shelter for battered bovine.

Canadian identity, did you say? Irving Layton, in a snide little poem, has overheard that Leonard Cohen's TV film was titled "I am a Hotel." "Praise the Lord," murmurs Layton. “Here at last is one Canadian/who doesn't have an identity problem.”

Irreverent, engaging, and very very funny, The Bumper Book should be considered a sequel to Kicking Against the Pricks (ECW, 1982). (Indeed, the new volume, prior to its publication, was known internally as Pricks Two). Editor John Metcalf, hoping to "Provoke argument and discussion about our literary cultures," has gathered over thirty essays, poems, jibes, jeers, and cheap shots from some of the sharpest pens in the land. The discussion that Metcalf wants to provoke is largely one-sided, opinionated, and satirical at this point, but it is still great fun. Margaret Atwood's Survival,* for example, gets a good kick around, particularly in Fraser Sutherland's delightful essay, "Frisking Laura Secord." In "Notes of a Natural Son," John Mills carries the fight to the corridors of power and the halls of academia. He points out that "a whole generation of readers… has been taught that Canadian literature must conform to a set pattern. This has affected, in turn, who gets the grants, who gets published, who gets praised and who attacked and discouraged." Mills goes on to relate the story of a young lady who stood up at a recent conference and confessed that "she had always wanted to try writing a novel but felt too intimidated, too terrified to begin." The insalubrious air sitting like a cloud on the northern literary landscape chokes her: "she must not just tell a story, she must also reflect a culture. She must not write about what she likes, she must write about losers and the fortress mentality." Why do we permit these dreary restrictions to cramp our style, Mills wonders? We do not have to be victims just because Meg Atwood says we are.

Canadians do, of course, want to discover and express their uniquely Canadian identity. But it is a great mistake to caterwaul, as some seem to do, for the "superimposition of Canadianism by an imagined cultural and intellectual elite."

Broad in scope, The Bumper Book includes essays on Canadian theatre, Canadian humour, the writer and the taxman, the publisher, the arts councils, and the absurd canonization of so-called Canadian classics such as The Mountain and the Valley. There is even an article called "Some Kicks Against the Prick: John Metcalf in his Essays." But, best of all, there is hope for future kicks. At the end of his introduction, Metcalf hopes that some people "will be so irritated or amused by these essays that they'll send [him] essays or other contributions for a second volume of The Bumper Book to be published next fall." Look out, cows.

Bohdan Kinczyk, Central Elgin C.I., St. Thomas, Ont.

*Reviewed vol. II 1972 p.64.

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